By Kurt Chirbas
The members of the 13th Undergraduate Senate took office on Tuesday night and made their first decision by electing Senators
Rafael Vasquez ’12 and Dan Ashton ’14 to the posts of Senate chair and deputy chair, respectively. The transition, however, did not come without its share of controversy.
Prior to the oath of office, the 12th Undergraduate Senate discussed the constitutionality of having the new Senate vote on its own budget. In the past, the outgoing Senate has been the one to approve the ASSU budget for the upcoming year.
But with revisions still being made to the document by the Graduate Student Council (GSC), the 12th Undergraduate Senate was unable to vote on the budget by the fifth week of the quarter, when the ASSU Joint Bylaws say the transition to the new Senate must take place.
ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 said the Executive Committee had an emergency meeting over the weekend to review the student government’s Constitution.
“We looked through the Constitution and the Joint Bylaws, and we didn’t find anywhere where the 12th Undergraduate Senate had to vote on the budget,” Cruz said.
Incoming Senator Alon Elhanan ’14 responded by saying it was not a matter of constitutionality, but one of ethics. Included in the ASSU budget is the stipend amount for Senate leadership positions like chair, deputy chair, secretary and webmaster.
“This is still a budget that was written by the previous Senate,” former Senate Chair Madeline Hawes ’13 said. “It only becomes an issue if you are changing salary amounts.”
Incoming Senator Janani Ramachandran ’14 suggested that the 12th Undergraduate Senate isolate the part of the budget that referred to the GSC and vote on the rest of the budget before the transition. She said this would eliminate the conflict of interest for the new Senate.
Cruz, however, said that budgets could not be split up into different parts. Constitutional Council member Deepa Kannappan ‘13 added that the Senate could not vote on the budget that night in any form.
“Constitutionally, you have to put the budget on previous notice before you vote on it,” Kannappan said. “So we cannot vote on it this week whether we wanted to or not. It’s not a rule of order. It’s in the Constitution. The GSC would also have to approve of us suspending the rule.”
Hawes said the only alternative was voting to suspend the Bylaws, and delaying the transition a week.
“From my position, it would be easier to transition next week,” Hawes said. “But I wanted to stick with this week because I had already told the Senators that we were going to transition this week.”
Nanci Howe, associate dean of the Office of Student Activities, recommended that the 12th Undergraduate Senate take an advisory vote on the budget to help guide the upcoming Senate’s decision next week.
Hawes motioned Howe’s idea. The 12th Senate voted in favor of the advisory bill and all outgoing senators supported approval of the budget.
ASSU Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 then said it was unlikely that the new senators would make any changes to the budget, stating that the GSC was likely to block the approval of the budget if it was revised.
The 13th Senate was then sworn into office and unanimously chose Vasquez, the group’s only incumbent, to be the senate chair. During the first meeting of its term, the new Senate discussed a possible restructuring of its subcommittees. Earlier in the evening, all funding bills were passed.