By Erin Woo
On Tuesday night, the Undergraduate Senate declined to vote on a petition to fund The Stanford Daily’s printing costs for the 2019-20 academic year.
Senators additionally voted 13-0 to approve a resolution in support of the Stanford Asian American Activism Committee’s statement to University administration criticizing the Dean’s Leave of Absence policy, which is currently the subject of a class-action lawsuit.
“It’s so frustrating to learn that Stanford has made it a matter of institutional policy to treat students struggling with mental illness as security risks to be disciplined, and not as people with disabilities, worthy of respect,” reads the statement, which is signed by multiple diversity-focused activism organizations.
The statement asks the University to revise the policy to treat involuntary leaves of absence as an “extreme, last resort option” and for students already impacted by the policy to be retroactively refunded any fees incurred in the process.
The Daily’s funding
The Daily’s petition follows its financial officer’s failure to complete all steps of an approximately $100,000 annual grant application. Annual grants, voted on by the student body during Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) elections in spring quarter, are the largest method of funding for student groups.
This budget is used solely to pay the costs of The Daily’s five broadsheet newspapers per week and twice-quarterly magazine. While ASSU funds have been granted annually to The Daily for the purposes of printing, the paper has been an independent corporation since 1973.
Although all required documentation was submitted for the 2019-20 grant application, the documentation was submitted late, and The Daily’s financial officer did not attend appropriations committee office hours, which are mandated for student groups seeking to obtain annual grants.
A clause in the Undergraduate Senate bylaws allows a student group whose annual grant application was rejected to petition the Senate for an exception through which their funding request would be added to the ballot.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the Senate voted against a motion to vote on The Daily’s petition, citing concerns over fairness and precedent: approving The Daily’s petition would open the door for other student groups to appeal their funding decision as well, argued ASSU financial manager LoMo Phillips ’17.
“You’re one of the only clubs in the school that pays its business team, and everyone else managed to do it,” said ex-officio Senator Tim Vrakas ’21.
The Daily’s business manager is a full-time employee.
Senator Matt Wigler ’19 argued that The Daily’s role in student journalism should merit approval of its petition.
“One of the most important things I’ve realized as a student Senator is that The Stanford Daily reporting on something is one of the best ways that [the Senate] can get actions on the resolutions we pass because the administration reads this,” Wigler said. “The Daily is vital to our school.”
Wigler also suggested that a special fund be created to fund student publications in light of their contributions to campus climate, so as not to make an exception for The Daily.
Multiple senators, including Zakaria Sharif ’21 and Vrakas, asked for more information about The Daily’s funding structure, which also takes in revenue through ad sales and the non-profit Friends of The Stanford Daily, an alumni organization that funds scholarships and internships for Daily staffers.
Editor in Chief Claire Wang ’20 and Executive Editor Anna-Sofia Lesiv ’20, who represented The Daily at the meeting, noted that such information is publicly available on ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer platform. Wang and Lesiv emphasized that ASSU grants are the only funding source for The Daily’s print fees, despite the existence of alternate revenue that covers other costs associated with the paper’s operations.
Resolution condemning Dinesh D’Souza
Following the Senate’s decision to decline the vote on The Daily’s petition, Senators discussed a resolution condemning the Stanford College Republicans’ (SCR) invitation of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who is scheduled to speak on campus on Feb. 28.
Over the past few months, D’Souza’s invitation sparked controversy as the Senate twice declined and then approved funding for his visit, raising questions of Senate bias amid threats of legal action and a Constitutional Council suit filed by SCR.
“Although we are funding this event, we are not in support of both past activities and actions of Dinesh D’Souza,” said Senator Martin Altenburg ’21, who co-authored the bill condemning his invitation. “We support an environment in which there is a free exchange of ideas, but it should be done in a culture of mutual respect, civility and dignity, and we feel that there’s kind of a breach of that aspect with this event.”
Altenburg added that “the opinions of the Undergraduate Senate don’t equate to our funding decisions.”
SCR treasurer Ben Esposito ’21 told The Daily in response to the proposed bill that “the ASSU should spend more time fulfilling their campaign promises before they begin condemning the growing conservative movement on campus.”
Mozzarella sticks at TAP
Additionally, Wigler and Senator Jon Johnson ’21 introduced a bill to request “mozzarella sticks (with marinara sauce)” at TAP, which is run by Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE). Currently, mozzarella sticks are served at late-night dining services at Arrillaga Family Dining Commons and Lakeside Dining, but are not available at TAP.
According to Wigler, TAP’s manager told him that such a menu change would require “sufficient student interest,” such as a bill by the Undergraduate Senate. A bill differs from a resolution in that a bill is an “operative instrument” mobilizing ASSU resources towards a specific goal, whereas a resolution is a declaration of principles, according to Senator Gabe Rosen ’19.
“Even a simple menu item that can be changed shows the possibilities that can happen,” Johnson said, adding that the bill was about “elevating student voices.”
R&DE did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
At the end of the meeting, ASSU special projects and governance manager Luka Fatuesi ’17 presented on a bill to place amendments to the ASSU constitution on the spring ASSU ballot. The proposed amendments focus on standardizing funding proposals across the graduate and undergraduate population, improving the process of appointing students to University committees and ensuring that the ASSU is compliant with all local, state and federal laws.