Discourse / Editorials / Student Senate / May 13, 2009

Wake up Knox

The impeachment petition recently circled was about not allowing the Student Senate President to threaten our basic rights of freedom of speech and peaceful association, without the student body standing up and saying it’s wrong. The line of what I find permissible for someone in power to do was crossed, but now I’d like to address two examples of the many abuses of power in Senate that have been overlooked.

The first example is how certain members use their power to benefit their own interests while ignoring problems that don’t directly impact them. Upon hearing from the Faculty Diversity Committee in January that a Palestinian student on campus was having the Palestinian flag repeatedly torn down from the I-Club board, I began a discussion during Community Business on our school’s quality of discourse and tolerance. I asked the Executive Board of Senate to write a statement in TKS from Senate in support of international students and against harassment and disrespect. I was told in a public statement made by President Elaine Wilson during the following Senate meeting, despite many Senators supporting the letter, “…it is not the Senate’s place to act as disciplinarian. As much as I or we may disagree [with tearing down] a student’s flag or flyer…it is ultimately, a freedom of speech.” Ripping a person’s flag down from the International Club Board is a hateful action and one I believe it is appropriate for Senate to take a stance on.

In April, Senate President Elaine Wilson and Vice President Bryan Lund did, however, find it necessary to provide the “Senate” perspective in TKS as against the Greek moratorium. Senate only had one 30-minute discussion on the Greek Task Force report, of which much of the time was used by an ATP spokesperson. The discussion, led by Wilson, was geared toward the colonies, not the report in its entirety. The report came out at midnight on Wednesday and the next day was the only time Senate ever discussed the GTF Report. We still have not heard the report promised by Wilson back in February on the special faculty meeting on the GTF Report, closed to both TKS and the student body. Whether or not you agree on a Greek moratorium, a fair discussion is needed before an official Senate position can be claimed.

The next example is one in which certain members of the Executive Board took advantage of new Senators who did not know Senate rules, and financed a Beta Theta Pi party fall term. While the Executive Board was constitutionally allowed to allocate the Senate discretionary fund when Senate was not in session, I do believe this was a breach of ethics. The first action of Senate this year was to give $6,000 of additional funds to WVKC for a concert on the Beta porch because we were told that was the band’s preference. The Executive Board wanted to seek Senate’s approval and the vote passed overwhelmingly, largely because this was the first Senate meeting before any new members had time to read the information in the information folders handed out at the beginning of the meeting. The orientation on the rules and processes of Senate was given after the vote and discussion on the funds was administered. For both examples of abuses of power, I encourage you to investigate the other activities on campus our President and Vice President are involved in, and how they’ve used their positions of power to benefit their own interests.

People will try to frame this editorial as “anti-Greek.” This avoids and ignores the real problems in the Senate process, and the actions committed by specific individuals. Healthy criticism can only improve our community.

Lessons to learn from this year:

1. Stop the apathy and pay attention to Senate’s decisions. Question the minutes and what you’re told. If you do, you’ll find the potential and influence Senate has, as well as problems Senate is not addressing, or processes it needs to change within it’s own governing body. Next, voice those concerns to Senate, through editorials, and let your friends know. Without student input and concern, abuses of power go unchecked and Senate’s decisions won’t reflect what the student body wants.

2. This is a small campus, but we can’t be afraid to criticize and challenge our friends and representative body when they make mistakes. Healthy constructive criticism cannot be taken personally, and we can’t close the door to discussing uncomfortable issues. By not addressing them, we allow problems to persist under a thick atmosphere of tension, hostility, and bad academic discourse.

3. Senate is here for you. Part of your tuition money goes to the Senate. They controlled $34, 668 of the student body’s money this year. The person who takes minutes and members of the executive board are paid a salary each term as a campus job. Ask Senate what our money has been spent on. Believe in your right to question Senate when you don’t believe they are doing their job.

4. Vote for people you think represent you, and PLEASE run for office. Senate is not representative because students don’t run. Seats are often open and not competitive. More participation will better Senate and simple proposals can make Senate more democratic, transparent, and accountable.

Alison Erhard

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