Last week, the Student Association Senate voted 18 to six, with six abstentions, to approve a resolution that calls for the University to divest from companies that allegedly contribute to Palestinian suffering. At the same meeting, SA senators also voted not to censure, or temporarily ban, Sen. Brady Forrest, G-at-Large, after comments surfaced during his campaign for executive vice president earlier this year that students called anti-Semitic.
Voting on the resolution was done by secret ballot and discussion was held in an executive session. In the middle of the meeting, the SA Senate broke for a private censure hearing. Both votes barred the public from hearing discussion or knowing how senators individually voted. For both of these measures, a two-thirds majority must vote in favor to approve.
SA senators are elected to represent the needs of students in their school, and students who run for a position must acknowledge that being open with the student body is something that is expected of them.
When a contentious vote comes up in the SA Senate, students have a right to know how the senators that represent them voted – however, safety concerns leading up to the vote likely pushed senators to call for a secret ballot. Student safety is the most important factor, but the SA Senate has a duty to represent student interests and will need to gain students’ trust back after this divisive vote was done behind closed doors.
Neither deciding to vote by secret ballot nor discussion in an executive session are prohibited by the SA’s bylaws, but this practice prevents students from knowing how their representatives voted. Students who were against the resolution or wanted Forrest to be censured are now left in the dark about whether or not their specific senator represented their stance in last Monday’s vote. Students who supported the resolution or did not want Forrest to be censured likely feel less affected because the votes swayed in their favor, but they also deserve to know if their senator represented them. Senators owe it to their constituents to be transparent about their votes – just as other representatives are expected to do so in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. SA senators are elected to represent the needs of students in their school, and students who run for a position must acknowledge that being open with the student body is something that is expected of them.
However, with the safety concerns that were raised leading up to the vote, it is understandable why senators wanted to vote and discuss in private. Signs calling Jewish members of pro-Palestinian groups “fake Jews” and “anti-Semitic” were found around campus less than 24 hours before the vote was originally scheduled April 16. The original meeting was also called off amid concerns about a lack of security and rescheduled to the next week. Constructive conversations, especially on sensitive and controversial topics like this resolution, are hindered when students are threatened or feel unsafe.
While safety is the number one priority, elected officials cannot fully do their job of representing students if they aren’t willing to publicly stand by their decisions or can’t do so because they feel unsafe. The Hatchet’s editorial board came to the consensus that senators should continue to aim to always vote publicly. However, some members of our editorial board believe that senators should always vote publicly and if there are concerns about doing that – the senators shouldn’t vote at all. While we couldn’t come to an agreement on this, we all agreed that voting by anonymous ballot should be done sparingly, if at all, because it leaves the student body feeling uneasy about the vote that occurred.
University President Thomas LeBlanc announced Tuesday that the calls in the resolution will not be implemented by administrators. Although the University said it will not take action, students still publicly responded.
The censure vote and resolution have prompted protests and other gatherings around campus. While the resolution could not satisfy the wants or needs of all students, it sparked an important conversation on campus and represented an issue students deeply care about, showing that the SA Senate is tuned in to students’ concerns.
While safety is the number one priority, elected officials cannot fully do their job of representing students if they aren’t willing to publicly stand by their decisions or can’t do so because they feel unsafe.
On a campus that is so focused on politics, this will not be the last time a controversial vote takes place in the SA Senate. Going forward, the SA Senate should continue hearing resolutions that involve issues that students care about – but they need to be wary that the way they vote affects students just as much as the outcome. As these issues come up, safety should remain the priority, but the SA Senate should consider how their voting procedures affect students on all sides of an issue before making decisions so that all students on campus feel represented by their elected officials.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversation with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, culture editor Matt Dynes and sports editor Barbara Alberts.