Campus / News / February 28, 2019

Senate attributes resignations to communication failures

(Graphic by Michelle Dudley.)

Senate has lost one third of its executive committee and one fifth of its overall membership to resignations this term. The current exec is trying to find ways to fix these problems and the tension and stress they caused.

The round of recent resignations started with former president and senior Leonard Monterey resigning over winter break. Former secretary and sophomore Tehreem Anwar and junior senators Musaddiq Jahen, Leslie Macias and Momin Zahid all resigned in early January. Vice president and senior Irene Stephenson resigned Feb. 18.

Additionally, sophomore senator Jillian Morris left Senate due to poor attendance.

The openings left by the resignations were filled through a mix of campus-wide and Senate-only special elections. Senior Sam Cohen and junior Eliza Dehlin were elected president and secretary, respectively, in the campus-wide election.



Despite this high rate of turnover, Cohen does not believe Senate has a retention problem this year compared to other years.

“I don’t think retention is that bad this year, specifically amount-wise …” Cohen said. “The problems are that number one, they all happened this term and number two, that three were high-profile positions.”

Diversity chair and junior Amn Farooq said she had served on other exec boards of clubs and that they did not have as many resignations.

Sustainability chair and sophomore Caitlin Edelmuth agreed that she thought Senate had a retention problem.

According to Cohen and Monterey, part of why so many have left in a short time is that people bring in their friends and then if one leaves Senate, the others do too.

“I [know there was a lot of turnover at the beginning of the term] because one person wasn’t happy with their job or didn’t like Senate, but the thing is then all their friends then resigned too because they were only on it for them,” Cohen said.

Cohen had encouraged Monterey and Stephenson to run for exec because he thought they would be good in the positions, he said, but other students may encourage friends to join Senate just as another activity to do together.

This did not explain the problems in exec. Monterey said he resigned over different visions for the direction Senate would take and frustration over not being able to achieve what he had planned when he was elected. He found himself dreading Senate meetings, which had become tense.

“Because tensions were so high, I felt people could not freely share what they felt about the organization and have their own thoughts on certain matters,” Monterey said.



Farooq believes part of the communication problems stem from the lack of leadership and diversity training among the Senate exec. She said that those who have leadership and diversity training on exec only had it because they were RAs or parts of other clubs. To Farooq’s knowledge, only she, Monterey and Anwar had completed the training.

“Everyone joins an organization with their own goals and their own perceptions …” Farooq said. “To be a leader you have to give them their space, so they can grow into that space. But if they’re operating in an environment that they feel is non-cooperating and very rigid, how do you expect them to grow in that position or want to stay in it?”

Farooq has been pushing for diversity and leadership training to be required for exec this term. The current exec and Director of the Center for Intercultural Life Tianna Cervantezhad a trial session on Feb. 27. Exec will give feedback on how it goes and then decide if it should be required for exec or all of Senate.

Edelmuth thinks that requiring training would be a good addition and felt that she was unprepared for a major role in Senate without it.

“I think [leadership training is] definitely invaluable not just exec but to all of Senate in general,” she said.


Communication Failures

Cohen said some of the problems with communication came from not having any guidelines for communication methods within exec. Last term they relied on a group chat but have now decided it was too informal.

They have now created expectations for communication and switched to email and talking in person. “Everyone’s got an opinion on how Senate should be run,” Cohen said. “I know that’s where a lot of the conflict was first term so I’m trying to be better about it this term. Because I know even I was a little much about it last term.”

Ehrlich was also brought in to help exec work on their communication and maintain a respectful atmosphere in meetings. She will be meeting with exec each term to check up on how they are holding to the standards and talk about any changes.

Much of the tension and miscommunication came to light over the non-discrimination policy introduced by Common Ground during Fall Term.

Early meetings between Senate and Common Ground were spearheaded by Cohen, Monterey and Health and Wellness Chair junior Carolyn Ginder. Ginder was included because Common Ground had originally reached out to her as someone they knew and were comfortable with on Senate.

According to Cohen, they were hesitant to bring in more exec members or other senators until they had a full understanding of how the issue would be resolved and what role Senate would play.

“Everyone was brought in a little too slowly …” Cohen said. “We didn’t want too many people because … we weren’t sure it was going to be an issue yet, because it was still in the middle of their dialogues.”

Farooq was worried she was left out of the early conversations despite being diversity chair. She said she had originally been informed of the meetings but that a follow-up email had limited the meeting to those already involved — Monterey, Cohen and Ginder.

Additional problems came up over Anwar’s work as secretary. Cohen said he had eventually told her they needed work done faster. However, he did not have Monterey’s prior approval nor, as treasurer, direct authority over the secretary.

“Looking back, my tone was probably aggressive but I tried for it not to be,” Cohen said.


Moving Forward

For Cohen, this year has moved away from focusing on campus issues to fixing Senate itself.

“What this year has mostly become is not necessarily a ‘how do we help campus’ or ‘how do we help GA?’ but how does exec actually function as a thing, how do we make sure exec doesn’t break down constantly,” Cohen said.

Other exec members see more problems within the system itself and those currently in positions of power.

“We need a whole new exec of new people …” Farooq said. “[The current exec] have provided a framework to work within. I respect that, I recognize that, but it’s not working. I’m not saying it needs to change, I’m saying something needs to be added to it.”

Connor Wood, Editor-in-Chief
Connor Wood is a senior with a double major in English Literature and Environmental Studies. He started as a volunteer writer and then staff writer his freshman year and was a news editor his sophomore and junior years. He has also worked as a communications intern for the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and as an intern with Unified News Group, both in the Madison, WI, suburbs.

Tags:  communication failures Exec Board Exec committee resignations sam cohen senate senate exec Student Senate

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