It became clear at the first meeting of the 106th Student Senate that there is a severe lack of understanding of the purpose and an even further lack of knowledge of Student Government's basic rules. In all fairness, many of them are entirely new to the student government, but even "senior" members failed in fully participating constructively.
They must represent the students' voices, but they also must act as an independent body, and they must know their own rules to achieve this.
It is in no way my intention to bitterly attack the Office of Student Body President or Vice President. They are learning a difficult job quickly; any mention of them in this paper will be merely in their passing connection to the senators’ many mistakes. Instead, I am focusing this critique squarely on the new Student Senate’s shoulders, which is an institution that I served on for two years and feel much more comfortable critiquing personally and professionally.
I was able to observe the first Student Senate meeting over Zoom on Tuesday, Oct. 20. During the election of new Senate Leadership, which are The Speaker of the Senate and Parliamentarian, it became clear that most Senators didn't have an idea of what those positions were designed to achieve. The role they are meant to play in Student Government.
The Speaker of the Senate is supposed to act as the Senate leader, making sure resolutions are well written, and they go to the Senate floor properly. They are also responsible for keeping Senators accountable for their requirements and attending meetings. The Parliamentarian's primary role is not that of a judge, but to mentor new Senators and know the rules. It is a more honorific distinction for Senators to look up to and seek advice and counsel. The Parliamentarian has no real power, except in cases of impeachment.
Each office was elected in a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Ray. First, with the Senate election of Speaker between Senator Amanda Fox and Senator Azar, Ray casting the winning vote for Azar. Then again, Ray voted a tie-breaking vote in the Parliamentarian race between Senator Amanda Fox and Senator Tyler Kochman. Ray cast his all-important vote for Kochman.
The problem with this action is that it would be like having Vice President Mike Pence decide who the Speaker of the House would be if the Democrats couldn't determine who it should be. It's handing incredible influence to the executive branch of the Student Government. The Speaker of the Senate and the Parliamentarian are meant to be elected "from among the Senate". Ray or any voting member of the Senate could have raised this issue and asked for another round of voting. Instead, they quietly gave up due to a lack of understanding or competence. I cannot answer the question clearly if the Office of Vice President has the right to vote on Senate Leadership. Still, it is undoubtedly avoidable, and it should have been.
A Senator's job is to represent the student body and to hold the executive board accountable. Without this, the Student Body President could/would walk all over the university rules and the bylaws of the Student Government. Hundreds of thousands of our tuition and tax dollars could be wasted and mismanaged. If this happens, the student government’s integrity would slip further in the minds of students and the university at large.
It appears further that the Senators do not understand the role of my previous post, Parliamentarian. Again, I did not seek to be Parliamentarian this year, nor am I a Student Senator. The Parliamentarian post is not one of a judge. They have no power, beyond that of any Senator, to enforce their will on the Senate. They can not make the Senate adopt resolutions, push through parliamentarian motions, nor even implement their view of the bylaws onto Student Government. These things are addressed in the Bylaws, and all of them have multiple layers of protection. The Parliamentarian cannot act solely or make any decisions by themselves. The best they can do is make recommendations on specific actions, and the Student Government may follow them the way they wish.
Taking away the Parliamentarian's standing as a Senate member would only neuter the position and weaken the Senate. The old Judicial Sergeant position, which I also served as, was at best a "do little" job or, at its worst, a gossip post. To be clear, the old post of Judicial Sergeant, which almost none of the current Senators have a clear memory of, held all the same responsibilities and powers that the Parliamentarian holds now. With the only exception being the power to vote and make motions on the floor of the Senate. By having the right to vote and making it so that the Parliamentarian was a member of the Senate, empowered the Senate to have greater representation on the Executive Board and be more effective. There has been no precise instance nor action to show why we ought to go back to the days of Judicial Sergeant, where it was largely an abused or a neglected post.
If you have read this far, you may be asking yourself why anyone should take the time to address these issues. The matter is that this is our leadership. They are our voice to the administration and faculty. Those of us who have the time and inclination ought to hold our elected officials accountable. I have the experience to write this wonky article. The Senate has the chance to turn this issue around; they have the time and ability. They indeed appear passionate and genuinely care about the student body. Still, they must learn the actual power they have if they want to be a strong voice for the students and themselves.