The Casualties of Special Fees
by Joseph Nicolls
Groups such as Club Sports and IFC lost bids for Special Fees funding.
On Saturday, April 18th, the ASSU Elections Commission released the final tallies for the 2015 election, with Special Fees decisions among the most anticipated results. Requested by groups that require an exceptional amount of capital to function, Special Fees require the approval of the student body through a general election. Special Fees require the explicit support of 15% of the entire student body. This is in contrast to General Fees where smaller clubs request below $6,000 for the academic year and only requires the ASSU Senate’s approval. This year, students rejected many notable clubs and joint groups’ requests. Stanford Speakers Bureau, the Inter-Fraternity Council, and the Stanford Golf League were among several such groups.
Club Sports’ failure at the ballot has attracted the most concern of all the results of the 2015 election. Club Sports was supported by 81.8% of undergraduates that voted, but it only gained 14.44% of general campus support. (Anyone who neglected to vote was counted as an abstention, including graduate students.) In addition to providing a broad range of extremely competitive athletic activities such as rugby, water polo, and lacrosse, Club Sports supports intramural sports, a program particularly beloved by underclassmen.
In correspondence with the Stanford Review, Eric Theis — former Deputy Chair of Appropriations for the ASSU Senate — shared his concerns about the process. “[A]bout 1/3 of their annual budget comes from the ASSU … I personally think that club sports should be funded by the student body/ASSU in some way. Almost every year now, the 15% yes rule punishes groups that are honest about their membership and apply for joint special fees — even if a majority of voters (read: people who actually care where their student fee goes) support them.”
Travis Jew, Senior Assistant Director of Recreational Sports & Camps which is the umbrella organization behind Club Sports, expressed concern with a tone of optimism: “While disappointed and surprised that the decision turned out the way that it did, it gives us a great opportunity to change the structure so that our student-athletes have a sustainable foundation of funding so that this doesn’t happen again.” He also made sure to emphasize the security of Intramural Sports: “This will not change our Intramural Sports program as this is funded through general funds.”
Though Intramural Sports are not going to be impacted by the Special Fees election, other clubs will not be so lucky. In particular, the Stanford Speakers Bureau faced several misfortunes on the way to the ballot. According to the minutes for the April 21st Senate Meeting, a “ballot error displayed 26% budget increase rather than 16%, and the group (SSB) believes their budget would have been approved if it had been displayed correctly.” Another major student group that was denied funding, the Inter-Fraternity Council, believes that many student events enjoyed by most undergraduates in prior years will be impossible to put on without the funding Special Fees would have provided. According to a financial coordinator of one of the member fraternities of the council, “Students will see fewer quality musicians, less security staff [at events hosted by fraternities], or fewer open social events altogether. … [T]here will likely be fewer all-campus events organized by the IFC itself, such as the tailgates before football games.”
These clubs may be able to receive some funding in the upcoming year. Eric Theis is optimistic that, at least for the upcoming year, Club Sports will not have any issue securing funding. “I expect that the Graduate Student Council and the Undergraduate Senate will be open to contributing some funds to make up the difference. They can also ask the athletics department for more funding. The President’s Fund might also be open to provid[ing] funding due to the fact that this is hopefully a temporary issue .“
Members of next year’s Undergraduate Senate also hope to fund Club Sports. Justice Tention, the Undergraduate Senate candidate with the most popular support in this year’s election, told the Review: “A large portion of the student body participates in club sports, and Undergraduates overwhelmingly support them, so we will certainly be working with club sports in the coming year.”
However, this kind of support is not realistic for most clubs. It is clear that something is wrong with the Special Fees policy when an organization is denied funding despite earning the support of over 80% of voting undergraduates. Funding may have become more sustainable on a general level, but large student groups are still unfairly hindered by requiring a certain percentage of the student body to participate in elections in order for a supporting vote to count. The Undergraduate Senate may have taken a right direction in the past year’s funding reform, but there is still a long path ahead.