Student Senate has failed in operation, morale and consistency for a while but the 2018-19 academic year has been a new opportunity for the student body to see just how dysfunctional this entity is.
While there have been many contributing factors to Senate’s chaos, the largest issue that plagues Senate is the absolute lack of direction, integrity and clarity in its procedures.
We as an editorial board know that at the heart of Senate’s issues sits the inadequacy of its constitution and bylaws and how the organization regularly steers away from its own rules.
Senate constitution and bylaws are edited annually during Spring Term by the General Assembly. However, even after years of additions and revisions, the constitution and bylaws remain purely horrific and filled with contradictions and a lack of clarity on how to approach crises.
The elections for the 2018-19 executive board positions featured a leniency in the application of election guidelines to applicants. One applicant, who later on went to win the position, submitted their ballot after the deadline. This led to an ad-hoc committee being created to assess the eligibility of the candidate. One would think that after the trouble everyone went through to reach a conclusion, Senate would have taken steps to avoid similar disasters form taking place in the future.
So far, the 2019-20 executive board elections seem to be facing similar troubles. In an email to Erika Riley, Senate President Sam Cohen stated that one ballot statement for the secretary position, submitted after the deadline, was accepted. However, in an interview with Jonathan Schrag, Cohen mentioned that a different ballot statement which was also submitted late, for the position of president, would not be included in the elections. Although this issue was later addressed and fixed when both late submissions were declined, such inconsistencies should not be happening in the first place.
Student Senate is supposed to be for all students. Equally. If the bylaws are not applied to all students equally, then Senate is participating in discriminatory behavior and unfair treatment of the people it is supposed to serve.
While the issue of how bylaws are followed or applied may seem like a technical one, we know that logically, if Senate were to radically edit its constitution and bylaws and dedicate themselves to operating by these documents, most other organizational issues would be fixed. If Senate were to be as predictable as it is supposed to be in its decisions, students — senators and non-senators alike — would be more likely to trust Senate. At any point, the student body would be able to look at the bylaws and know how Senate will react in any given situation.
One of the biggest issues former president Leonard Monterey says he faced during his service was the lack of respectful communication between senators and the executive board and between the executive board members. If all members of the Senate were held up to the same standards and understood the respect and integrity that comes with serving on such a board, childlike behavior and deliberate miscommunication would cease.
Student Senate must elect a committee and charge them with a radical redesign of its bylaws and constitution. This committee must find a way to include accountability to bylaws in the written rules. Our suggested solution is the addition of a parliamentarian who would oversee the parliamentary procedures of the Senate and ensure that the rules are followed. This is a very important role that has been somewhat adapted into the responsibilities of the vice president and president. But if things worked the way they already do, Senate would not be in the situation it is today. Another suggested solution is to require students who choose to serve on the executive board of Senate go through some sort of standardized diversity and leadership training to ensure that all of them have a shared base of knowledge of what is acceptable, what is inappropriate, what is expected of them and the ways in which they can professionally interact with their fellow senators.
Senate must take time to reorganize its efforts and resketch the fabric and hierarchy of its rule. Although in the past, candidates have run campaigns based on campus change, internal restructuring seems to be the focus of many of the candidates this time around. But we must move fast. Change is due, and unlike student Senate, the student body does not accept late submissions.