February 1, 2012

Attendance policy raises concern

Facing an increased amount of conflicts with its meeting time, Student Senate recently passed a new attendance policy that has raised additional questions about what the nature of a senator’s commitment should be.

The policy, which was passed at the Jan. 26 Senate meeting, allows any senator who is unable to make Senate meetings for one term to appoint an interim senator from his or her class. This interim senator must be approved by Senate.

Student Senate President Gordon Barratt stressed that interim senators, although given a vote at each general assembly meeting, do not have the same duties as senators who are elected by the student body. Senators who cannot attend meetings are still required to serve on faculty and Senate committees, a responsibility not shared by interim senators.

“This interim senator just helps us be able to have full votes within Senate,” Barratt said. “We’re still able to keep ahold of the people who are democratically elected … It’s just that they’re not able to fulfill their commitment to go to the general Senate meetings.”

So far, two senators — senior Ian Malone and junior Jill Krippel — are unable to attend Senate meetings this term due to conflicts with sports. Senior Benjamin Greuter and junior Jordan Durrett have been approved to take their places.

Senator senior Greg Noth, while agreeing that the new attendance policy solves the problem in the short term, said that it is not without its faults, especially in regards to the specific roles of interim senators.

“I think the biggest issue is, how do we define these people?” he said. “Are they members of Senate? Because our constitution says members are elected by the student body.”

Senior Yumna Rathore also raised concerns about the lack of a democratic process involved in the new attendance policy.

“To have someone random appointed by the outgoing senator … seems like a personal favor,” she said.

Further complicating the process, according to Noth, is that the likelihood of a suggested interim senator not being approved by Senate is very slim.

“It seems an arbitrary mechanism of controlling this policy because … I have a lot of trouble figuring under what circumstances somebody would not be approved,” he said.

It is unclear, however, what alternatives might exist to this policy in terms of filling empty seats.

“I think [the policy] seems like a good idea. The other option would be to not have a senator representing that portion of the student body, or to go through the election process, which is long and obnoxious,” junior Stephanie Lashway said.

“As of right now, it’s two votes. That’s it,” Barratt said. “Similar things happen in most other elected bodies.”

Sophomore senator Esther Farler-Westphal, although not at the Jan. 26 meeting due to a family commitment in Germany, emphasized that the attendance issue in Senate reaches beyond senators who cannot come to Senate meetings for one term.

“I definitely think there is an attendance problem in Senate,” she said. “People should be in Senate because they … love the school and want to make it the best that it can be. Some senators don’t take the responsibility seriously.”

At the first two Senate meetings of the term, several senators were absent due to fraternity and sorority requirements, causing concerns about meeting Senate’s quorum of 16 out of 24 voting members. Interim senators to replace Malone and Krippel were also not yet in place.

“At the first meeting, we cut it close with the quorum,” Barratt said. “But by the third meeting, it’s become a non-issue. We actually had great attendance at this last meeting.”

According to Senate’s attendance policy, senators are allowed two unexcused absences from Thursday meetings per term before they are removed from Senate. Two unexcused committee absences count as one full absence. So far this year, no one has racked up more than the allowed number of unexcused absences, although Barratt said a few senators are coming close.

“If you get together a group of 25 people, whether that’s a class or a club or a student senate … there’s going to be somebody who’s irresponsible,” Barratt said. “Just like every other group, we have issues with attendance, but it hasn’t been that big.”

Like all attendance policies, the new policy is not a part of Senate’s bylaws. Instead, a new attendance policy is presented by the vice president at the beginning of each school year and then approved by Senate. Thus, next year will provide another opportunity to explore options for dealing with the need for interim senators.

“This [attendance] policy may be the best for solving the immediate problem of reaching quorum and being able to get stuff done,” Noth said, “but if it’s the best way to do that, I’m not completely convinced.”

Anna Meier

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