In a meeting characterized by tension between the Undergraduate Senate and Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) executives, the Senate discussed three bills, one of which was passed.
With the number of remaining meetings of the current Senate rapidly declining, individual Senators also delivered largely brief and vague reports on the progress of their projects and debated plans for making the job of future Senators easier and more productive.
Coterminal student and Senate ballot
Khaled Aounallah ’19 is a former Undergraduate Senator and a prospective coterminal student who filed to be on the ballot as a Senator for this year’s election. However, last week, the Elections Commission removed his petition from the website on the grounds that candidates must be a member of the community they are running to represent.
At last week’s meeting, the Senate discussed Aounallah’s attempted run, but held off on making a final decision in order to allow more time for discussion. At this week’s meeting, with Aounallah absent, the Senators began to discuss the bill. ASSU Executive representatives quickly stepped in to clarify general confusion over the rules of student government elections.
“According to University policy on this issue… once you hit the 13th quarter, you don’t have a choice,” said Luka Fatuesi ’17, ASSU Special Projects and Governance Manager. “You’re going to be put as a graduate student by the University Registrar.”
“I believe [ASSU President] Shanta [Katipamula ’19] said there could be exceptions to that rule,” Elias, the sponsor of the bill, said. Katipamula countered that there were exceptions in this particular instance.
“We have to grant membership according to [the University Registrar] documentation,” Fatuesi continued.
The debate then turned to the definition of coterminal students within University policy. Ex-officio Senator Tim Vrakas ’21 clarified that coterminal students can identify and run as either undergraduate or graduate students since there is no specific category for coterms on the ballot.
“We can go back and forth about whether or not we should allow a coterm to identify as an undergrad or a graduate, but I think specifically in this case when you look at the constitution it’s clear that it wasn’t meant for coterms to be able to decide what body they want to be a part of,” Jacob Randolph ’19, ASSU Elections Commissioner said. “They have to be committed to it for the entire term of their office.”
Fatuesi followed up, “For the entirety of his term he’s not going to be an undergraduate by virtue of University policy on who’s a graduate and who’s an undergrad.”
This tense pattern of Senators’ clarifying questions being met with ASSU quotes from governing documents was finally broken by fourth-term Senator Gabe Rosen ’19.
“In terms of this debate, it’s starting to sound a lot like a judicial hearing,” he said, to sounds of agreement. “I’d just like to clarify that, within the grand scheme of things, an executive actor, Jacob, has rendered a decision that [as] the legislative branch… we do retain the authority to override [executive decisions] if we like— that’s essentially what this bill is.”
Rosen explained that, in order to override the decision, the dispute would need to be brought before the Constitutional Council.
“We have conflicting interpretations of governing documents,” he said. “There is a mechanism to sort this out if we believe that is the venue for it; it’s just how this Senate feels about taking this step.”
The conversation continued briefly until Elias called a motion to vote. The bill to place Aounallah on the ballot was voted down 5-4 with two abstentions, including Rosen.
Vrakas bill to split elections
Vrakas’s bill, which was introduced at last week’s Senate meeting, is titled “Bill to Re-Establish the Senate As a Continuous Body.” The bill seeks to break up the election of the Undergraduate Senate into a two-part process with half of the seats filled in the spring election and the other half filled the following fall. The order in which Senators fill the seats will be determined by the number of votes the Senators receive.
All of this would be executed through a constitutional amendment rather than a bill. Vrakas’ bill just advocates putting the amendment on this spring’s ballot.
“The main purpose is it splits the undergrad elections into one at the usual time and one late in fall quarter, so half the year from the usual time,” he said of the bill. “And half of the Senate is re-elected in sort of a back-and-forth motion.”
He continued by saying that this new set-up would make it easier for Senators to collaborate on and execute long-term projects, would preserve institutional knowledge and would eliminate the warm-up time needed in the current system when most of the Senate turns over each spring. He closed his statement by saying that the bill must be voted on this week in order for it to make the deadline for the finalization of the ballot.
Katipamula was the first to raise issues with the bill.
“So over the past year, the ASSU Exec and the ASSU Executive Committee have been working on a constitutional reform effort,” She said. “You all voted, I believe last week, to approve those amendments to be on the ballot… I’m confused why you did not bring this up?” She addressed her final question to Rosen.
Rosen responded, “Tim just presented this bill to me very recently, and I wanted to just put my name on it to say, ‘Look, I believe this is an excellent supplement to the work [Katipamula’s team] has been doing’… A lot of these initiatives, specifically about midterm elections and rotating the class, that’s something I’ve been saying in public for a long time now and I’m a staunch advocate of that.”
“If you did think that that was really important and you talked about it so much, why did you not bring that up earlier?” Katipamula asked again.
Rosen responded saying that the committee’s focus shifted, and he had decided to follow the group rather than solely focus on his own pursuits.
The one-on-one debate between the two ended when Vrakas cut in to clarify that he had no idea about this disagreement between Rosen and Katipamula. Other Senators began to ask more clarifying questions regarding the specific application of the bill if passed.
“There are just a lot of variables that need to be addressed,” Senator Martin Altenburg ’21 said after bringing up issues with the current bill including the possibility that incoming freshmen could serve as Senators and that the new system would cause too much confusion.
Discussion of the bill continued for the final 10 minutes of the meeting. The bill was ultimately tabled.
Cost barriers to course enrollment
In the Tuesday night meeting, Rosen also introduced a bill to address issues of cost barriers to course enrollment, specifically in regards to high course fees, material costs and textbook prices.
This bill, titled “A Bill to Create an Association Joint Legislative Committee for the Express Purpose of Addressing Systemic Cost Barriers to Course Enrollment,” works to increase course equity. It cites statistics about course enrollment fees, which show that these fees affect a significant amount — 63 percent of one sample of 285 students — of individuals’ decisions when it comes to class scheduling, as well as a smaller percentage — 9 percent of aforementioned sample— of decisions regarding their ultimate field of study.
The bill pushes for the creation of a joint legislative committee to further course enrollment equity with the goal of “addressing systemic cost barriers to course enrollment.” The committee hopes to potentially eliminate additive course fees, subsidize textbook costs and reduce material costs.
Contact Zora Ilunga-Reed at zora814 ‘at’ stanford.edu.