Discourse / Editorials / Student Senate / May 15, 2008

Senate inaction hinders the democratic process

The Student Senate Presidential debates continually brought up how the Knox campus has suffered from “civility” issues. Even though I believe the phrase “uncivil discourse” has been grossly overused, serving a propagandistic function, I will entertain the idea. The remedy I think would be to unify students around a common concern. A prime opportunity to do this recently came before Senate in the form of proposed amendments to the Honor Board Constitution. Specifically, the Honor Board asked President Taylor to provide a consistent and public procedure for presidential appeals of Honor Board decisions, but President Taylor has refused to write down these rules.

President Taylor’s reasoning for not writing these procedures is that the requirement is supposedly a disgrace to himself and to the office of president. He also suggested in an academic standing committee meeting that the short text was “unnecessarily complicated,” and (my personal favorite) that writing down procedures could open lawsuits if they were not followed correctly. These arguments promote an egoism not necessary for a President of Knox College to have and they devalue the ideas of community consensus. The Honor Board’s final compromise was to allow President Taylor to revise the appeals procedure whenever he liked and the changes would be immediately implemented without any verification or approval process. But President Taylor dismissed this as “rigmarole,” and the Academic Standing Committee obeyed him.

Then the Honor Board brought the amendment to Student Senate on April 17. The Senate, at this meeting, saw this as a positive measure to bring transparency to the Honor Board process. Mike McKearn, a member of the Honor Board, stated that the Senate meeting seemed to enthusiastically support this proposition, but Dean Romano and some senators asked to postpone any vote until President Taylor’s viewpoint was heard.

During the April 24 senate meeting, both Dean Bailey and President Taylor were present to answer questions and state their reasons against the Honor Board amendments. Their case revolved around how the transparency of the Honor Board is secondary to Taylor’s personal interests and that writing out procedural guidelines could cause mistrials and lawsuits. Senate caved, and the resolution failed by a vote of five for, 15 against, ten abstentions. This prompted Mike McKearn to declare that “Senate is nothing, if not a junior high dance.” He echoed the feelings of many, that most senators’ opinions were blown by the wind and that their attention spans were “ten to eleven seconds” – too little to do their jobs.

After this meeting, senator and Honor Board member Kelsey Kreiling resigned her seat on Senate and Brian Camozzi resigned from his position as Co-Chair of Honor Board, both in protest. Kreiling’s resignation letter can be found in the May 1 TKS, while Camozzi’s’s letter is available on The Wiki Fire.

Camozzi’s letter places most of the blame on Roger Taylor, stating, “He [Taylor] is steadfastly unwilling to moderate this absolute power for the community good. Simply put, from the Honor Board’s perspective, he is putting his own convenience and privilege ahead of the needs of students whose academic futures are at stake.” Kreiling focused on Senate’s failure to address the issue and on senators who “refused to interact” and inquire about important issues. I, however, place equal blame on Roger Taylor and Student Senate. Student Senate had a perfectly good opportunity to unify and advocate the clear student interest on the Honor Board appeals issue, but instead it did nothing.

As for Roger Taylor, all he was asked to do was write down his procedure for hearing appeals, which he could fluidly change at his own will as long as he simply told the community what the changes were. But he does not feel responsible to the bulk of the Knox community. At the April 23 Academic Standing Committee meeting, Taylor stated, “The check on the office of President is with the Board of Trustees, not the students.” But as Camozzi said, “The confidentiality requirement for Honor Board proceedings and records means that the Board of Trustees has no access to the evidence, and the Honor Board cannot report specific instances of abuse – therefore, whatever President Taylor says, there is no effective check on his powers.”

On this campus, when people express problems about the transparency of government or how we are unfairly represented, there will be a vast majority of students who support substantial change, whether through Senate legislation or through more creative means (such as petitions, sit-ins, protests, writing letters to faculty/administration). The question senators should ask is how does one mobilize the student body to promote the change they wish to see. The current majority of Student Senate must realize that laziness and inaction greatly hinder the democratic process, and limit their ability to act as student leaders. In my view, those who refuse to stand up for student rights are the individuals who are harming the campus by being uncivil, not those who raise their voice against administration.

Angelo Kozonis

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