Enclosed Gardens, Sealed Up Fountains

This is the Special Fees Season, the time of year when Stanford student groups decided that there is no better way to honor the Founders and all long-suffering parents than to ask them for a little more. So out came the alms bowls, and students would peer-pressure others through facebook, email lists and chat programs for that a single precious signature. One signature closer to fiscal irresponsibility. One signature closer to the university selling its treasury bonds to China.

So last week, I decided to sign the petition for SPOON, a student organization I deeply respect for feeding the needy in the area. I don’t know which was a worse decision: deciding to figure out where their budget would go or drinking mocha while at it. When I reached the final line of the budget, through some inexplicable happenstance, coffee flew straight from my mouth to my laptop screen, much to the consternation of the girl sitting next to me in the library. SPOON had decided to allocate $5,000 to a honoraria to a former U.S. Congressman. Raising awareness for poverty issues is great, but come on, isn’t $5,000 for a single speaker a little too much? (In comparison, a peer-psych counseling service only ask $200 for honoraria).

Model UN, Debate and Mock Trial all falls into the same category of extravagance. It is perfectly fine in the fat years, but now we are in the lean years. Why don’t we cut one or two tournaments out from our traveling routine? Why don’t we have a more selective process? Why don’t we enter local, cheaper tournaments rather than indulging our delusions of grandeur by going to Harvard, Oxford or Timbuktu? (Most recently, the Debate team decided to send 22 membered team in Chicago at $400 per person rate, so I am not really exaggerating). They say we have the best teams in the country. Ok, then why don’t you prove that to us by winning prizes (yes, in monetary form) instead of bringing us your alms bowls every budget season?

Reading Stanford Solar Car’s budget is one of those long hmmmm moments. With all due respect, building a solar car should be under auspices of the engineering department (and racing it, under the Stanford Athletics maybe?). Solar Car receives corporate donations over a quarter of a million dollars (according to their petition page), but how they plan to spend this is not outlined. If I had to choose between various organizations to vote for my special fees, I cannot in good conscience vote for one which asks for $50,000 more after receiving a quarter of a million dollars. It will be like Richie Rich asking “Can I have a little more please?” Also, their justification for their contribution to the greater Stanford community is that they “hold events on campus [and] show [their] car to members of the Stanford community”. I think I might apply the special fees for my traveling petting zoo.

Sigma Nu’s request for party funding, on the other hand, was one of those “in principle yes, in practice no” dilemmas. Their parties are attended more people than Model UN, Debate and Mock Trial combined, and definitely more than Solar Car (which represents less than 1% of student population here). And I think it is nice gesture for us to chip in for all the alcohol and speakers we burnt through. However, this is a slippery slope. What if every fraternity and sorority decided that they need funding for their parties? If will just break the bank (better bank than countless beer bottles).

Then there is Stanford Band, which asked for $20,000 for uniforms where we all aware that they don’t wear any. Additional $7000 is for five Dollies who no doubt only wear YSL’s latest Paris collection. Staggering $5000 are for copying music sheets, a task that should be undertaken by individual members. Some $1600 are for maintaining a phone line, in this age of cellphones and emails.

Among the other expenses we are encouraged to support include: 4 intercollegiate dance events for an Indian dance troupe, $80,000 for Flicks (where the attendance is lower than at the UN during Mahmoud Ahmedinajed’s speech which is quite an accomplishment, now come to think of it.) and weirdly, $7,000 for Green Store and $9,000 for Airport Shuttle. Yes, I understand this entire ‘business’ thing is novel to you, but aren’t they supposed to be ‘commercial enterprises’ and making ‘profits’?

Finally, we have the Daily, the acclaimed and respected student newspaper. No, I am just kidding about the last part. I don’t have any problem funding a newspaper (so speaks young Rupert Murdoch in me) but we must go lean during lean times. Why don’t we reduce 5-day a week paper to 3-day a week paper? Not a lot of things happen on Stanford campus everyday. Also, we can cut circulation, and distribution (now it is distributed to 200 locations on campus and 700 locations around the area!). It will cut printing costs, distribution costs, and also, is green. We are Stanford students and we love going green, don’t we?

I know a university supposed to the place where one supports another’s intellectual pursuits however foolhardy or courageous they maybe. John Donne Scotus once denounced the concept of university for being hortus conclusus, fons signatus. We don’t need to shut our minds and sign these petitions, just because they are our friends, peers, colleagues. We need to talk to them, communicate our concerns. Some things don’t need to happen just because a handful of students are very keen on them. (I am very keen on sending my croquet team to Zimbabwe if comes to that.) People point out that the special fees are only around $300 of my $50,000 tuition bill, but I am also very keen on knowing why can’t Stanford fund all student groups even after taking the remaining $49,700 of my money. Just saying.

One Response to “Enclosed Gardens, Sealed Up Fountains”
  1. Brad says:

    This article is really annoying.

    And if you really have a problem with it then just submit a refund.

    The petitions are to let it be put up for a vote, and I think that’s exactly what it should do. Special fees allow for my student voice in what our money goes too. Where most of our tuition is carefully decided by the university– most of us can’t tell the university to foot the bill for the band or for MUN despite the fact that we would like some of the 36,000 we pay per year to go to some of those programs. It’s a small price to pay for more flexibility in campus offerings and I think that it allows for a diverse amount of campus organizations to exist. While you might think some of the things they spend money on are extravagant– to me the opportunities it provides is what makes stanford so great.

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