Following a major downsizing of Student Senate this year, six specially elected Senators took office at the beginning of winter term, filling the seats that were previously left empty. This has called into question the general willingness among the student body to participate in Senate.
This year’s assembly was intended to be 10 or 20 seats smaller than last year, according to Senate Vice President and senior David Barton.
“Looking at a school our size, to have as many people as we did in Senate, meetings got unruly, they were difficult to control and we had too many voices,” Barton said. “It was, procedurally, a mess.”
Despite the deliberate decrease in size, six seats were vacant after the fall term district elections. Barton contends that this could be due to a general lack of interest, the inclination of former senators to study abroad or the time commitment that comes with student representation.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand student government in general,” Barton said of the aforementioned lack of interest. He highlighted some of Senate’s powers that may be overlooked, including distribution of the activity fee and appointment of student representatives to faculty committees.
Senate recently created the Special Committee on Rules (SCOR), which intends to look at the constitution and propose some changes. One of SCOR’s major goals is to conduct a survey of other Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) schools and their respective representative structures.
“A major setback at our meetings has been unnecessary procedural nonsense,” Barton said. “They would get so stuck with tiny minutia because our constitution is so out of whack that Senate is not appealing to anyone.”
But questions remain as to whether constitutional changes geared towards making meetings work better can revive interest among the student body. At last week’s Senate meeting (all of which are open for students to attend) the only non-senators present were Dean of Students Debbie Southern, Associate Dean of Students Craig Southern and President Roger Taylor, who delivered a speech.
Senior Abe Zumwalt, one of the newly elected senators, said after last Thursday’s meeting that Senate was not coming up with enough ideas and at times got caught up in “pedantic debates.”
During the meeting, Communications Officer Senior Chris Bugajski talked about the Special Meeting on the Use of the Restricted Fund (SMURF) committee and its online student survey. Bugajski mentioned that they had not yet reached their goal of 400 surveys completed.
“We have a surplus of cash and a deficit of ideas,” Zumwalt said. “This is the only place in the country where that has happened.”
District XIII senator freshman Allison Bader said Senate is usually orderly and able to get through agendas, but she noted a tendency to get caught up with certain issues.
“Sometimes people get a little too passionate about their ideas,” Bader said. “It isn’t bad that we have good discussions, but sometimes people get locked into their view and it ends up being a debate.”
Bader’s comments draw attention to the ways in which Senate is lacking both qualitatively and quantitatively.
“I think we need more people,” Bader said. “It would be good to get some fresh perspective from people with opinions about how things should be done differently.”
Bader said some senators seem unenthusiastic and do not regard their position as important. Despite that, she is confident that SCOR will be a successful endeavor by virtue of the commitment of its members.
Zumwalt could not comment on his expectations for SCOR.
When asked whether she will run for Senate next year, Bader was uncertain.
“I can’t really tell at this point, but if I don’t feel like I can do anything to make things better, and in the end don’t feel passionate about it, then I don’t think I will,” she said.
Note: Allison Bader writes for The Knox Student.