My Fundamental Disapointment
This Friday I said a rather muted goodbye to a long standing love-affair with the ASUW Student Senate. I came to the Senate for the first time three years ago as a Senator for Haggett Hall Peoples’ Council, the student government for my residence hall. From that position my involvement with the ASUW spread into every imaginable facet. The following year I became the Chair of the Senate and initiated a long and painful reform process that culminated in a Constitutional Amendment approved by the voters two years later. But more important than the Constitutional Amendent was a building of a Senate culture, one that valued its position in the ASUW, demanded respect from other ASUW entities, and wasn’t afraid to voice its opinion over those claiming an electoral mandate (aka the Board of Directors). As of this Friday the Constitutional Amendment still stands, but I regret to say the culture is dead.
There are two possible explanations for the change. One, the amendment altered the membership of Senate such that power is more diffuse and includes more groups with a moderate position on student government. I have troubles believing this theory only because the composition of the Senate is really not that different, just bigger. Sure, there are more Res Hall, Greek, and Commuter Senators than ever before, but in my experience those seats are filled by the most radical Senators, even though the groups they represent are moderate.
No, I believe the plausible explanation is one of leadership. Knowing how blogs have a way of getting around, let me clarify that I don’t believe this is a case of bad leadership, just different leadership. Starting with my term and ending with the subsequent Chair, Cammie Croft, the Senate received regular updates from the Chair that were designed to indoctrinate. Sounds sorted, I know. But the point was to infuse into Senate a sense of purpose, a reason for their long meetings and attention to process. I my mind, it more than paid off. When Senators were asked to refer an important issue of student policy to the general assembly ballot, the Senate rejected 2 to 1 the idea that the Student Senate was not the place to make these sorts of determinations. When the Board of Directors vetoed resolutions and rewrote bills, the Senate was outraged and made that outrage clear. Senate liaisons felt empowered on their committees, knowing that if they were treated poorly the Senate would come to their aid. Board members feared the Senate and knew that they were being watched.
This year, the Senate is adrift. The current leadership has been unwilling to stand against the Board of Directors on any important issue. When it does fight it goes to Judicial instead of relying on real political strength. The one time it tried to use its new Request for Information power, the Senators were unprepared with questions and quickly ended debate, far before the Board member admitted his wrong-doing. Procedure seems to be followed, but I get the sense that they have no understanding as to why the procedure is important. But the last straw, for me, is how the leadership chose to handle my resolution.
I mentioned the resolution in yesterday’s giant catch-all posting. On Friday the Senate Steering committee referred the resolution to a Standing Committee, over my express wishes. Now, this issue is their decision… but what strikes me as amazing is why Steering made the decision. Committee waiver is not often granted, and generally only for time-sensitive resolutions. My resolution related to elections, which conclude this Wednesday, and is about as time-sensitive as they come. But the Senate Leadership felt the resolution was so inappropriate that it didn’t deserve the privilege. Arguably I was asking the Senate Leadership to trust me on this issue, something they appear unwilling to do at this time. Underneath that, however, is a new fear from the Senate Leadership of encouraging Senatorial dissent in the ASUW. This sends the message that the Senate is not the place to lobby for change. I was even told by the Senate Chair that I would be better of directly lobbying the new incoming BOD, a comment that remains a complete shocker! To think the Senate Chair portraying the Senate as too weak to make a real impact on the issue.
This leads me to my final decision. I have cut ties with Senate before, mostly for reasons dealing with these same underlying issues. But this time I think its best I cut the last cords and move on. Returning only brings headaches and a longing for better times, and worse yet, yelling and screaming at people who I generally like as friends. Maybe next year’s leadership will return to the previous style and reclaim the Senate’s earlier prominence in the ASUW… I might be able to associate with that group in the future, but until then, I think its best for both parties that I just stay away.
Farwell Student Senate, and thanks for all the memories.