By Erin Woo
In an “emergency” Sunday morning meeting, the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) Undergraduate Senate voted to reject the recommendations of an ASSU internal review on the Standard Grant process, citing “inconsistencies” in the internal review’s recommendations.
The vote upheld the Senate’s prior decision not to fund a Stanford College Republicans (SCR) event hosting conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, which is slated to occur in January.
In the aftermath of the meeting, SCR threatened legal action against the ASSU and demanded that the University “reign [sic] in this rogue and irrational student government.”
“The student government is holding funds for other groups hostage to stop our event,” SCR wrote in a public statement posted to its Facebook page.
SCR added that it is in contact with First Amendment lawyers on the issue, which comes on the heels of a recent legal settlement in which the University of California at Berkeley granted concessions to the Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation.
SCR did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Daily.
As with the D’Souza request, all Standard Grant funding decisions made by the Senate at the meeting on Nov. 27 will stand.
The internal review — led by ASSU financial manager LoMo Phillips ’17 and ASSU governance and special projects manager Luka Fatuesi ’17 — was conducted in response to concerns brought by Phillips and ASSU President Shanta Katipamula ’19, alleging inconsistencies in how the Senate appropriations committee applied funding guidelines to the voluntary student organizations (VSO) who applied for standard grants.
The perceived inconsistencies include consideration of documentation submitted after the deadline and of applications from groups whose financial officers did not attend the appropriations committee’s office hours.
In an attempt to standardize the review process, VSOs were given additional time to submit documentation supporting their funding request. After the period for additional documentation closed, Phillips and Fatuesi went through each application and made recommendations based on the ASSU’s funding guidelines.
These recommendations would have funded $111,678.87 of the $231,238.24 requested. This includes $3,617 to fund Dinesh D’Souza’s visit, subdivided into $117 for a plane ticket for D’Souza and $3,500 for “event services.”
According to Phillips, SCR submitted additional documentation to address previous concerns that its funding request contained funding for alcohol.
In Sunday’s meeting, the Senate voted 6-5 against the internal review’s recommendations. Senate chair Leya Elias ’21 argued that the internal review itself contained inconsistencies, including what she saw as “contextual” factors that were not addressed by the review.
“The notion that one of these [the appropriations committee recommendations or the internal review] is more objective than the other is a false pretense to have,” Elias said.
Pressed to clarify which “contextual” inconsistencies she found troubling, Elias named specific groups which she believed did not receive proper funding under the internal review’s recommendation, but she did not specify why she believed those groups should have been funded, nor did she elaborate on what she perceived the larger contextual issue to be.
Senator Faa Diallo ’21 argued that such concerns should have “no basis on the application itself.” In an interview with The Daily, Appropriations Committee Chair Gabe Rosen ’19 said “contextual” concerns “should just be logistical data that the group failed to explicitly list on GrantEd [the online funding request portal] that they need to tell us in the office hours,” such as approximate attendee estimates for events.
“If we decide to give wiggle room to one group, we have to be willing and ready to give that same wiggle room to every other group that comes before us,” Rosen said. “That’s why it’s important for us to be as consistent as we can and as fair as we can.”
Also in Sunday’s meeting, Senator Melissa Loupeda’s ’21 suggestion that the Senate go through each group’s applications individually was rejected because Senators were concerned that it would take too long.
Rosen suggested that the Senate discuss only the groups under contention and vote in a block on the rest of the funding applications, but the discussion continued without voting on his idea.
Senator Michal Skreta ’21 speculated that the Senate could vote on the recommendations at Sunday’s meeting and then hold a second vote at the beginning of winter quarter if needed; Fatuesi discouraged this idea, noting that the money would have already been given to VSOs.
Following this discussion, Elias motioned to adjourn the meeting. The motion was not seconded; instead, Skreta motioned to hold an immediate block vote on the recommendations. The motion to vote passed 6-5, and the vote itself failed 5-6.
“I am very disappointed in the final vote,” Rosen told The Daily after the meeting. “I find it bizarre that the Senate decided not to accept the recommendations that were generated as part of the internal review and that my committee in a vote last week also decided to formally recommend to the Senate as a whole.”
Rosen also expressed frustration that Sunday’s meeting was “improperly conducted” and “unprofessional.”
During the meeting, Elias raised concerns that the decision to reopen the standard grant process was conducted without consulting her or the appropriations committee. Phillips said she had texted both Elias and Rosen before the call for additional documentation was sent out.
“I shared it to Leya’s email, but unfortunately it was her ASSU email and not her Stanford email, so she didn’t check that,” Phillips said.
Rosen said the appropriations committee was not notified because some members of the committee were part of the issue that led to the review. He declined to name the committee members in question, but — when asked — told Elias he did not believe he was part of the problem.
“I am not on trial here,” Rosen said.
Throughout the meeting, Senators also expressed confusion about how the appropriations committee worked.
“Members that are not on the appropriations committee have reviewed funding guidelines in the past, but not dealing with them on a week-to-week basis means that there are some things that we just don’t understand, because we haven’t dealt with it in person,” said Senator Zakaria Sharif ’21.
Rosen noted that all senators had received academic credit for the one-unit spring quarter class CSRE 11SI: Leadership at Stanford that, among other things, explained the funding process. However, Rosen — who is currently serving his third term and is the only returning senator — added that a combination of high Senate turnover and a lack of written guidance on appropriations practices means that the Senate is operating with a dearth of institutional knowledge.
Going forward, he mentioned the possibility of compiling a handbook for the appropriations committee, including a “script” of questions for committee members to ask VSOs’ financial officers at appropriations committee office hours.
“Last year, I didn’t see the need for [a script],” Rosen said. “Last year’s committee, I never saw any of these issues.”
Katipamula also told The Daily that she is disappointed with the current functioning of the appropriations committee.
“The Senate needs a much better process for ensuring that they’re evaluating applications in a fair, consistent manner,” Katipamula said. “I don’t know that we’ve seen convincing evidence of that thus far.”
Rosen said he hopes that the “passion” shown for the appropriations committee in Sunday’s meeting translates to more senators becoming involved with the committee going forward, especially with annual grants coming up in winter quarter.
“They say now that they’re willing to put in the time and the energy,” Rosen said. “I hope that they uphold that part of what they proposed, because I am more than happy and willing to make sure that as many people on Senate as possible are involved in [the annual grants] process … based on the passion that was in the room today, I look forward to seeing a lot of new faces in the approps meetings going forward.”