So far this year, I have tried to use my columns to point to the myriad problems plaguing Senate and to browbeat your elected officials into doing something about it. It seems, however, for some of these officials who are accustomed to the current system and the benefits and special privileges they derive from its perpetuation, the problems and their solutions are lamentably (if somewhat understandably) obscured.
Senate has done some good work this year, it’s true, but not as much as it could, and often using methods at variance with the principles of good government. It’s time Senate take a serious look at itself and think about what it can do to be a better institution in future years, to take on the big issues instead of acting merely as a clearinghouse for faculty committee appointments and delicious Caf recipes. Lucky for us, I have a few suggestions.
First, Senate needs to develop an institutional memory. Without the sort of record-keeping and sense of continuity that characterize legitimate governments, doing work in Senate is like building a sand castle at low tide. Because there are no standardized procedures for keeping records, and because there are no officers specifically charged with collecting and preserving Senate documents, nearly every resolution passed in a given year is forgotten by the next year. This hamstrings our efforts to create lasting change on campus and, in situations where student opinion conflicts with that of other community members, puts us at a distinct disadvantage against the administration and/or the faculty, who have more consistent practices and far better institutional memory.
Who’s responsible for record-keeping now? It’s hard to say. The Communications Officer sends out agendas and minutes, but the only publicly available archive copies are in the College Archives, without their accompanying resolutions, which, aside from some scattered archives in the Senate office (to which the current Exec Board refuses to grant public access), have apparently been lost to the ether. Aside from that, the duties are carried out on an ad hoc basis, if they are carried out at all, and the format of Senate regulations and correspondence is set each year by each Executive Board, introducing a confusing amount of inconsistency into Senate’s procedures. This makes it harder for constituents and less experienced senators to learn the system.
In response to this crippling omission in Senate governance, I propose (and will bring a resolution to the Senate floor) that a Senate Secretary be added to the Executive Board to consolidate and augment Senate’s record-keeping efforts. The Secretary will supervise the taking of minutes and oversee the preservation and publication of all Senate documents and archives. In addition, the Secretary will publish regulations concerning document preservation and the format of Senate documents. This standardization will ensure Senate can build upon previous years’ work instead of starting anew, and it frees up the other Executive Board members to do more work on their other responsibilities. It also will ensure that there is always someone with an eye on the efficient organization of Senate; the Secretary will train senators and students in Senate’s procedures, and will provide technical assistance in writing resolutions (allowing every student to bring ideas before the Senate without the obstacles of bureaucratic regulation).
A new Records and Accountability Committee, in addition to assisting the Secretary in his or her work, will be charged to look inward at Senate, identify Senate’s institutional failings, and propose reforms. Once Senate is more self-aware and cognizant of its own foibles, it will be better able to self-regulate. With this in place, those concerned with the quality of student government will have somewhere else to go besides the Discourse pages when they wish to lobby for reform.
But while these are important first steps, they cannot be the last. Senate needs a new agenda: a recommitment to the principles of good government and to institutional self-confidence, marked by a radical reappraisal of its organization and its place in College governance. My column will in the coming weeks present and explain many of these agenda items, with the hope that present and future senators will recognize Senate’s flaws for what they are and aid in building a student government worthy of our college.
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Columns appearing in Discourse express the views of their authors, and do not reflect those of the TKS Editorial Board. To contribute, send a column for consideration (700 word limit) to the Discourse Editor by 6 p.m. on Tuesdays.