Staff Editorial: Student senate grows increasingly irrelevant

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February 16, 2007

3:28 PM

Most students pay little attention to the Student Assembly. Why should you care about a bunch of government majors in suits, arguing about quorums and bylaws? But the student government matters. They control tens of thousands of dollars in student fees. They have the ear of the administration and can serve as an enormous asset for solving students’ problems. But recent events have damaged the standing of the senate, and without a major reevaluation of their mission and methods, they risk sinking into irrelevance and depriving students of one of their most powerful voices for changes.

p. Last week, a Student Assembly meeting devolved into a shouting match over a technical rule of order. This kind of childish, unprofessional behavior by a few senators is embarrassing for every member of student government and every student at the College. The passion exhibited during this debate shows an admirable, if misguided, dedication, but senators must remember that they speak not only for themselves, but also the students who elected them.

p. Senators are elected to respond to student concerns and manage student fees, but they also serve as ambassadors for the College. News stories about campus controversies often reference the Student Assembly’s actions. Over winter break, senators traveled across the state to advocate student voting rights. As some of the most visible members of the student body, entrusted with the power to speak for their fellow classmates, they have the responsibility to conduct their official business in a civilized manner. When they fail to demonstrate the basic civility of showing respect to their peers during a debate, they create a negative image of the College and its students.

p. This unfortunate incident is only the latest in a string of disappointments from the senate, which has become increasingly detached from the students who elected it. Their meetings, which can last four hours or longer, discourage student participation. Shorter meetings would make it easier for students affected by a bill to speak and have their voice heard. But far too often, students have no reason to be concerned about any of the bills the senate spends its time evaluating.

p. An inordinate number of bills focus on adjusting internal bylaws rather than responding to student concerns. Part of the blame rests on students; senators cannot help students if they don’t know what they want. Senators are almost always eager to help and quick to act when presented with a clear student concern. It is the senate’s job to create a welcoming atmosphere where students feel comfortable enough to express their concerns.

p. Beginning next week, readers will notice an important change in our Student Assembly coverage. We will no longer be reporting on the internal proceedings of every senate meeting, the minute details of seconding motions or amending proposals, but we will instead focus on how proposed and passed bills affect students. We will also start to cover the actions of the Student Assembly executive and the undergraduate council. By expanding our coverage to more branches of the student government and highlighting news that directly affects students, we hope to provide students with a more complete and useful picture of their student government.

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