Letters to the Editor 3/5/10

Senate article paints an unfairly pessimistic picture

After reading Danny Garcia’s article, “Student senate needs to shape up,” we couldn’t help but wonder if Mr. Garcia and we are in fact members of the same Senate. The picture he paints of the ASLC Student Senate does not do it justice. The Senate is not perfect: It is a fledgling democracy, still in the first year of its life. Even so, when you look at how far we’ve come over the past six months, the track record of the Senate is actually quite impressive.

The Senate has accumulated a laudable list of accomplishments. We’ve passed resolutions on weighty issues like student alcohol use, investment transparency, and greener campus energy. We’ve resolved to look into issues with print balances and weekend academic building access. We have been factored into crucial discussions about the chapel addition, smoking policy, hate speech and the College’s master plan.

Most importantly, the Senate has afforded students a voice in the affairs of the College. The Senate is a formidable force, and the legislation it passes is read, regarded and respected by administrators. Those “important people” who make decisions for the College are genuinely concerned when students are unhappy about something, notably when that unhappiness is expressed formally in legislation adopted by the Senate.

Though we agree with Garcia that the lack of rules of procedure and bylaws has made our sessions seem disorderly at times, it is certainly neither a “chaotic farce” nor a “joke” (also, as a point of clarification, the Senate is currently reviewing a draft of new bylaws that should come into effect within the next two weeks). The Senate listens, and it is listened to. It is representative, formalized, open and forceful. It is an outlet for students to formally express their views and have those views heard and respected. If you have your doubts, come to a Senate session. We promise we’ll prove you wrong.

The ASLC Executive Cabinet

ASLC Student Senate sessions take place every Thursday at 7 p.m. in J.R.Howard Hall Room 102, and all students are welcome to attend. Information about the Senate and legislation that has been passed can be found at http://go.lclark.edu/aslc.

Student government doing just fine

ASLC has made significant progress in representing the student body’s voice—Senate’s existence is a huge part of this, replacing a system that was run by a board, corporate-style. While the PioLog offers a solid critique of remaining issues, it leaves a key question unasked: is a system that channels representation through interest groups and factions best? Such a system is certainly familiar, and perhaps that familiarity breeds comfort: it mirrors the USA, where legislators (read: ASLC Senators) represent districts/states/etc. (read: Junior class/ISLC/etc.). While this system makes governing a nation of over 300 million manageable, this does not necessarily make it ideal for a residential college of a less than 2 thousand. There are two key issues with this system:
(1) One Size Does Not Fit All. Connecting representation to class standing, ISLC membership, or choice to be an athlete (the three non-executive groups that get votes) assumes that those are the only (or at least the most important) ways that LCers group themselves. Woe betide the First-Year who mostly hangs out with Sophomores, or others who do not identify first and foremost with the ‘right’ group.

(2) Stifles Student Leadership. To have a Senator’s direct voice in ASLC, you need to start the year knowing that you want to do it until May, have at least 25 supporters lined up, and be in good academic/conduct standing. Didn’t figure out that you wanted to make a change until October? Needed extra time to clear up that conduct thing from last semester? Fresh transfer student? Too bad—no Senate for you. At a school where study abroad is integral, we require Senators to serve for a full year. In a community that encourages its members to reflect on what causes matter to them, and how they can most effectively and responsibly fight for their beliefs, we close opportunities to those who do not reflect quickly enough.

There is a different way—and the difference, while small, has huge potential. Senate would begin its year with a few core members—the VP and class reps, for example—who would each have one vote. In addition, any student who attended a certain number of consecutive Senate meetings (say 2 or 3) would also become a voting member. Just as under the current rules, any senator who misses too many meetings may lose their position. Variants upon this system are used at other liberal arts colleges where student governments wield considerable power, and would allow LC students to make their voices heard individually and collectively, being flexible enough to meet LC’s unique circumstances, while also requiring those who want to be involved in student governance to focus beyond their personal interests.

David Rosengard

Forest Area Director

College of Arts and Sciences

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