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New Senate takes office, elects chair

The 13th Undergraduate Senate held its last meeting Tuesday night, followed immediately by a meeting of the newly confirmed 14th Undergraduate Senate. After electing a new chair and deputy chair, the newly elected Senate’s first order of business was to unanimously approve $1,000 in discretionary spending for the legislative body’s retreat.
Before ceding their seats, the members of the 13th Undergraduate Senate revised and approved next year’s ASSU budget. Senators eliminated stipends for the Senate chair, deputy chair and appropriations chair — $3,000, $1,000 and $2,000, respectively — and instead opted to allot each senator a $400 stipend for their service to the student body.
The senators also rejected a 33 percent pay increase for the webmaster of the Graduate Student Council (GSC), a change that the only present GSC representative, Sjoerd de Ridder, said he could not defend.

The senators debated the section of the budget reserved for Executive stipends. Several senators expressed concern that cabinet members are overpaid, especially considering their compensation relative to that of senators, which was nothing this year.

“Thirty thousand dollars are being spent on Executive discretionary; $34,000 are being spent on stipends. When people outside of the ASSU hear these numbers, they are shocked and…[think we are] using all of the money for stipends,” said Senator Janani Ramachandran ’14. “They’re not elected positions like we are [as] senators…When we’re spending $34,000 — which is more than the amount of discretionary we’re giving toward the Executive — I think that’s a problem.”

Incoming ASSU Vice President William Wagstaff ’12 announced that next year’s Executive is aiming to have five to 10 cabinet members.

“Something that me and Robbie have been talking about is general downsizing,” Wagstaff said. As a result of those plans, Wagstaff motioned to cut Executive cabinet stipends from $14,000 to $7,000 and moved $3,500 apiece to the Executive discretionary and to the Executive traditions fund, with the hopes of potentially financing buses to Big Game next year.

Dan DeLong ’13 expressed disappointment that the Senate had not discussed the issue of Executive stipends prior to its final meeting, saying that the issues of incentive to serve on the ASSU, reward for doing the job diligently and accountability toward the Association deserve more scrutiny and discussion. Both DeLong and Ramachandran encouraged next year’s Senate to look into the question more thoroughly.

After being sworn in, the 14th Undergraduate Senate nominated and approved Branden Crouch ’14 as the Senate chair and Garima Sharma ’15 as deputy chair. The new Senate also unanimously approved a motion to move the $1,000 remaining from the previous Senate’s discretionary funds to finance its upcoming retreat. In comparison, volunteer student organizations (VSOs) are allowed to allot up to $150 to retreats, according to current joint special fees funding policies.

Alternative Review Process
The 13th Undergraduate Senate deferred judgment on the Alternative Review Process (ARP), a judicial procedure developed for cases involving sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment and stalking. The 14th Undergraduate Senate will thus consider approval of the ARP and potential revision next week in its first full-length meeting.

Several students not affiliated with the Senate attended the meeting to discuss central points of conflict in the ARP’s provisions.

Mona Thompson ’13, who wrote an op-ed for The Daily on the ARP, strongly encouraged the incoming senators to speak with the figures on campus, such as Jamie Pontius-Hogan, assistant dean of the Office of Judicial Affairs, who are most knowledgeable about the procedure and its advantages and disadvantages. Thompson expressed support for several of the existing ARP provisions, citing statistics on the number of cases heard since the ARP’s inception as evidence of its success in making the procedure less intimidating for victims.

“Everything in judicial affairs is not unanimous,” Thompson responded to a question about the possibility of unanimity. “I think that by making sexual assault [require] unanim[ity], we would be giving it this really weird special treatment…an extra obstacle to overcome for probably what I would argue is one of the most delicate and sensitive processes.”

The senators also heard from Law School student Elliott Wolf, who served as student body president at Duke University in the 2006-2007 academic year, in the immediate aftermath of the 2006 Duke lacrosse scandal.

“Whittling away procedural protections will have unforeseeable, unintended consequences,” Wolf warned senators. He spoke of widespread abuse of power by police, University officials and judicial staff because of a lack of protection by Duke University’s judicial code, which resulted in faculty refusing to report student misconduct, disregard and mistreatment of student rights, all-encompassing mistrust and six years — and counting — of ongoing litigation against the university.

In addition to discussing whether to require unanimity, the senators also discussed the size of review panels, the lack of an obligation for a panel to hear the witnesses called by a responding student, the unitary appellate jurisdiction of the Vice Provost, the admission of past sexual history as evidence in hearing, the discretion of an investigator in determining relevancy and the legal obligation to abide by the Dear Colleague Letter of the Office for Civil Rights in relation to the existing ARP.

The 13th Undergraduate Senate concluded with a series of straw poll votes on several of the potential revisions or concerns with the ARP. Each straw poll heavily favored the ARP as it stands, with four-person panels, a preponderance of evidence burden of proof and a majority requirement for a responsible finding. The only revisions that received more than two votes in opposition were a unanimous requirement (three votes in favor of unanimous, nine in favor of majority and three abstentions) and the statute of limitations (four votes in favor of a one-year statute, nine for the status quo two-year statute and two abstentions).