Logan Dobson: A troubling lack of transparency

Clarification appended

Unless you were paying very close attention to the Student Association Senate, you probably missed something relatively important last week.

On Feb. 2, the SA Senate met as usual in the Marvin Center to debate the great issues of our time. Well, not really, but you get the point.

During this meeting, a bone of contention arose over the amount of power allocated to the Joint Elections Committee, the independent group of students that oversees SA elections. Certain senators were disgruntled at the amount of authority wielded by the JEC, and wanted to propose some amendments to the bylaws which govern our elections.

I hope that before they came to this decision there was a robust and vigorous debate about these changes. I hope that many points were raised on both sides, and that consensus was reached based on the facts and the desires of the students.

I have to hope, you see, because I do not know. I do not know because the SA Senate chose to have this debate in secret.

Normally, there are many more people than just the senators at an SA meeting. You’ll find reporters from various campus news outlets, ordinary students who have something to tell their elected officials and janitorial staff wondering when all those kids taking themselves way too seriously will be leaving the Marvin Center.

But instead of having what counts as an ‘important SA debate’ out in the open, the senators chose to go into an executive session, which forces everyone, except the senators and certain other SA officials, out of the room.

In less than a month, there are almost certainly going to be SA Senators running for some office in our student elections. So consider in plain terms what happened here: The SA Senate, with only one senator dissenting, voted to shut out the student body from its meeting. When the meeting was over, the people who are supposed to provide a check on those very same senators during election were, all of a sudden, much less powerful.

What a cowardly and childish thing to do. How could any of them possibly have thought this was a good idea? Let’s leave aside the idea that campaign laws are too strict; disproven by the fact that current SA President Jason Lifton won his election without breaking a single rule and that SA Executive Vice President Rob Maxim was never in serious danger of being disqualified. Even if we accept their premise, there’s no good reason to be having this debate behind closed doors.

Worse than that, I’m not even the first person who noticed how silly this was. A week later, Tim Miller, the director of the Student Activities Center, delivered a stern message to the SA about necessary changes to the JEC charter and the impropriety of changing rules behind closed doors. The SA Senate’s response? Pass a non-binding resolution about an unrelated matter and adjourn.

SA election season is almost upon us. There will be, as there always are, members of the current SA Senate who will be out on the streets campaigning. If you see any of them out there, make sure you ask them why they chose to increase their power in secret, and why they felt the student body didn’t deserve to know why they chose to reduce the power of an organization designed to provide oversight.

If they can give you a good answer to that question, I’d love to hear it. If they can’t, I’d recommend you think long and hard before you consider voting for them.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

This article was updated on Feb. 10, 2010 to reflect the following:
An early version was originally uploaded to the website. The Hatchet apologizes for this error.

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