The 15th ASSU Undergraduate Senate got off to an inauspicious start in its first official meeting on Tuesday evening, failing to book the body’s regular meeting room and consequently starting fifteen minutes late in another Old Union room.
“I want to start by apologizing for the room snafu,” said new Senate Chair Ben Holston ’15. “I was unaware that that was our responsibility, but that still falls on me. We have it fixed and will be back in Nitery for the rest of the quarter and next year.”
The 15th Senate successfully passed its first bill, which amended the body’s committee structure from the previous Senate. The bill, authored by the Administration and Rules (A&R) Committee Chair John-Lancaster Finley ’16, dissolved the Student Life, Housing, and Education Committee and created an Academic Affairs Committee and a Student Life Caucus.
The 14th Senate, in fact, also had an Academic Affairs Committee, the structure and relevance of which came under debate towards the end of the previous Senate’s time in office.
“All this did was…reinforce the necessity of having an Academics Affairs committee,” said former Senator Shahab Fadavi ’15, who chaired the committee during the 14th Senate, after the meeting.
During debate, Senator Hisham Al-Falih ’16 proposed an amendment to the bill which would strike the changes and amend the bill to leave the Student Life committee unchanged while still adding an Academic Affairs Committee.
“I am really afraid that we will take this stance on our first official meeting and then realize later that this was not the wisest choice,” Al-Falih said. “I think we should keep in mind that we can review this in its whole situation at the beginning of next year. I don’t think we should try to leap into anything. I am just trying to play it safe.”
Finley did not include the amendment in the bill, explaining that Al-Falih’s amendment wasn’t feasible because Student Life is not a designated committee per the Senate’s bylaws.
Frustrations flared quickly, however, as the new Senate grew testy during debate.
“We spent 45 minutes today passing a relatively simple amendment,” complained Senator Ilya Mouzykantskii ’16. “Perhaps it’s worth thinking about how we are spending our time.”
Senator Natasha Patel ’16 clarified that in reality the debate lasted about 17 minutes. The bill ultimately passed with only Al-Falih in opposition.
Finley framed the bill’s passage as an important step in A&R’s efforts to update the Undergraduate Senate’s Bylaws, of which there is no fully updated version. In fact, the online version has not been updated since 2010 despite changes having been made in the interim.
“It’s our belief that we should start actually operating from the bylaws that are existing,” Finley said. “I want to change the bylaws now because I think that it should be precedent for the Senate that when we are operating to make sure our operating bylaws say what we are doing. I think that’s part of being accountable to the student body.”
The newly formed Student Life Caucus, headed by Mouzykantskii and Eilaf Osman ’16, spent some time discussing the future of the buffer fund. Spending from the buffer fund—unspent surcharges levied on students—stirred debate in the 14th Senate’s final meeting and is subject to relatively few guidelines.
Osman and Mouzykantskii said that they hope to distinguish this year’s Senate by serving as a resource for ad-hoc committees and using the buffer fund to grant money to different student groups and individuals to put on larger student life events.
“We see ourselves as another place to get money from. It’s much easier for us to issue money than it is to go through [appropriations],” Mouzykantskii said. “We see ourselves in a more reactionary capacity with regards to events and circumstances that are taking place on campus.”
To conclude the meeting, the Senate created a new ad-hoc committee currently named the Mental Health Initiative. Senators also passed a series of funding bills totaling $22,180.78.