Vice President of Student Senate senior David Barton has set out to change not the what but the how of Senate discussions.
“This fall, I and a few other people in Senate made the observation that our meetings were productive and good and everything, but they were focusing on the more procedural issues,” Barton said. “They weren’t really getting to…what we’re about, which is issues related to the student body.”
Barton came to the conclusion that many Senate meetings ended up addressing internal issues rather that dealing with topics truly beneficial to students. Problems such as redundancy in the constitution and bylaws (and for one nine-month period of time, being unable to locate a copy of said bylaws) led to confusion about procedures of a meeting. Inconsistencies, such as lack of clarification on the process of elections and appointing people to committees, also posed problems for the daily activities of Senate.
“Senate functions extremely inefficiently right now,” senator and junior Sam Frank said. “In an important discussion, it spends half of its time discussing its own power and its own rules. If we clarify, we’d be able to get more done.”
Barton, who first read Robert’s Rules of Order in the seventh grade and has studied parliamentary procedure extensively ever since, decided to attack the problem head-on by rewriting both the Senate constitution and bylaws to provide increased clarity and eliminate redundancy. He solicited volunteers and put together a committee called Special Committee on Rules (SCOR) that included himself and several other senators (including Frank).
After performing what Barton referred to as “triage” – addressing any problems that needed to be changed immediately – the committee began to look at how other student senates in the Associated Midwest Conference (ACM) functioned.
“Right now, we’re in phase two – just the gathering of information stage,” Barton said.
The committee is not looking to drastically rewrite the content of the constitution and bylaws. Rather, they intend to make the documents more user-friendly.
“It was very difficult to interpret,” said Barton. “It was very difficult to get anything done if you actually want to
abide by your governing documents.”
Frank emphasized the importance of establishing a distinction between the constitution and the bylaws.
“We’ll know if it’s a procedural versus an informational question and know where to go to figure it out faster,” he said.
Once the committee has finished studying what changes need to be made, they will bring their proposed rewrites to the other Senate committees to ensure powers and procedures have been clarified as necessary. They will also hold several forums, open to campus, to hear student input. Although most of the changes are technical, one of the proposed rewrites would change the way Senate seats are determined. Rather than be assigned through living situation, each class would have five to seven representatives.
Barton anticipates additional long-term effects for individual senators.
“It’s a good life long skill to have a working knowledge [of Rules of Order]” he said. “Conservative estimates say it’s used by about 80 or 90 percent of non-government organizations.”