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Senate discusses committee reform, continues in-house elections

Patrick Monreal/THE STANFORD DAILY

At the second meeting of its term, the newly-installed 21st Undergraduate Senate discussed a bill that would strike the standing committees of the Senate and completed several housekeeping items, including the in-house election of Mià Bahr ’22 as Senate Parliamentarian and Jonathan Lipman ’21 as Faculty Senate Representative.

Reforming standing committees

The only bill discussed extensively by the Senate on Tuesday evening sought to reform the standing committee structure of the Undergraduate Senate. Currently, the Undergraduate Senate Bylaws enumerate six standing committees: Academic Affairs, Campus Advocacy, Student Life, Administration and Rules, Communications and Appropriations.

The bill, authored by Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22 and Senate Deputy Chair Veronica Ayala ’22 and sponsored by ASSU Executive President Erica Scott ’19, would strike down standing committees and instead allow the Senate to first create committees dealing with specific issues along with joint committees between the Senate and the Executive. The duties that traditionally would fall on the standing committees would then fall either on individual senators or on the joint committees.

Immediately after the presentation of the bill, Micheal Brown’s ’22 proxy Mohammed Gumma ’22 delivered a statement from Brown on the bill that criticized the ASSU Executive for attempting to decentralize the Senate’s power and authority.

“Although I very much agree that we should improve the Senate’s structure to improve our efficiency,  I do not believe that his bill correctly addresses the issues that face our Senate,” Gumma read. “It’s very important to me that ASSU Exec recognizes and respects the independence of the Undergraduate Senate.”

Scott and many senators were quick to point out that the language of the bill did not prevent the Senate from creating any committees they saw fit and also did not require them to create joint committees if they did not wish to.

“The idea of trying to get rid of the committees was to reduce the amount of mandatory meeting time that senators have to be in,” Scott said. “I don’t think that this bill necessarily takes away the ability of the Senate to create committees.”

Bahr and Tim Vrakas ’21 also made a point that the nature of the Administration and Rules Committee requires a team and that its duties could not fall solely on the parliamentarian.

The Senate also went back and forth on whether or not communications would require a committee. At first, several senators suggested that only one point person was necessary, but as discussion progressed, many expressed that multiple people would be necessary. Sam Schimmel ’22 even suggested that the committee be expanded to more than seven members, on which Mustafa Khan ’22 pushed back.

Discussion on the bill was tabled by Lipman, under the stipulation that the authors came back with a more concrete plan for the communications team. After the meeting, Scott told The Daily that she would be reaching out to senators clarifying the intent of the bill.

“We’ll be having some conversations over this week just to clarify what [the bill] meant,” Scott told the Daily. “I think some folks are just less familiar with the bylaws, but it’s a learning process.”

Parliamentarian

Earlier in the meeting, the Senate held in-house elections for parliamentarian, the person charged with staying up-to-date on happenings of ASSU legislative bodies and being familiar with the governing documents like the ASSU Constitution and its bylaws. Bahr and Eva Davis ’22 nominated themselves for the position.

Bahr stressed the importance of the nuances of the governing documents, especially with talks of institutional reform on the agenda. She also admitted that she had not looked at the documents in complete depth — to which Vrakas later commented should not discount her candidacy, given most of this material is new to freshman senators.

Davis cited her participation in a coexistence program in Israel during her gap year, which helped her facilitate structured discussions about serious issues. When Lipman asked Davis which Supreme Court justice she identifies with the most, Davis answered with Elena Kagan.

Bahr was elected parliamentarian 8-2, with two abstentions. Khan voted twice, once as himself and additionally as Martin Altenburg’s ’21 proxy.

Faculty Senate

Lipman and Schimmel nominated themselves for the position of Faculty Senate Representative.

Lipman prepared a fact sheet for senators, citing the fact that he had already attended 10 Faculty Senate meetings during his undergraduate career as well as his close relationship with some of the members of the body. He also suggested that Undergraduate Senate review the Faculty Senate agenda at its meetings.

Schimmel discussed his willingness to work with faculty and his past experience with government leaders.

“I’ve worked directly with senators from Alaska … I’ve worked with presidents, and I’ve worked with our congressman,” Schimmel said. “So I have this track record of making sure that these relationships are built in a way that allows change to be made. It’s through collaboration and not through an adversarial relationship.”

Lipman was unanimously elected by the Senate.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the Senate also passed a bill authored by Chair of the Nominations Commission Kristen Wilson confirming university committee nominees. Executive Chief of Staff Remy Gordon ’20 notified the Senate that applications for cabinet positions have been posted and encouraged everyone to fill out the Association of American Universities (AAU) Campus Climate Survey, citing low participation amongst upperclassmen.

The meeting concluded with Schimmel presenting political cartoons that circulated around campus that some concerned students deemed anti-Semitic, demanding action by the Senate on hate speech.

Contact Patrick Monreal at pmonreal ‘at’ stanford.edu

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