When a classmate chooses to skip lecture, one usually assumes they had something better to do. When that fellow student is an ASUCD senator and they decide to miss a senate meeting, it prompts questions about what might be more important than influencing an entire campus.
Attendance at mandatory weekly senate meetings has been low this term, said ASUCD vice president Previn Witana.
“More than half of the senators have missed at least one meeting,” Witana said. “When I was a senator, we’d have one to two absences per quarter, not on a weekly basis.”
Besides being required by ASUCD bylaws to be present at Thursday night meetings, the greater issue is that senators who aren’t there cannot contribute to decision-making. If a topic that concerns their constituency came to vote, the people affected by the decision would be without representation.
“Every time we have a meeting there are a lot of things brought up that most of us wouldn’t think about,” said Bree Rombi, president pro-tempore. “We should remember that we’re the voices and vote for everyone, and should use that power instead of being absent and having the vote go nowhere.”
ASUCD president Jack Zwald dismissed school pressure or involvement with another organization as valid excuses to miss a weekly meeting, and called the meetings the most important thing a senator does all week.
“If there is a something else during the senate meeting, your first priority is to go to the senate meeting, because that’s what you were elected to do – you are paid to do it, and you should be there,” Zwald said.
Part of the problem is that the senate lacks method of punishing those who do not attend meetings. Zwald, while a senator, co-authored a bill that would withhold pay from senators who did not attend more than half of that week’s meeting. The bill did not comply with university regulations and therefore failed, but was widely supported by the senate at the time.
There are only two ways to reprimand a senator, Zwald said. One is a formal censure – a two-thirds vote stating displeasure with a senator’s behavior that carries no actual consequence.
The second action that can be taken is to hold a formal recall, which has only happened once in the history of ASUCD, and is frankly unfeasible, Zwald explained.
“One-fourth of the voters from that specific election have to sign a petition of recall for the senator, which then goes to a special election ballot, which then takes a majority vote,” he said.
Senators this term have also neglected their duty to hold four office hours per week, according to Student Government Administrative Office (SGAO) documents.
Records from the first five weeks of the quarter, March 29 through May 7, show that nine of 12 senators had a week where they did not hold any office hours. Five – Levi Menovske, Liz Walz, Osahon Ekhator, Ozzy Arce, and Selisa Romero – had more than one week with zero office hours recorded.
Zwald said that while senators may have their own opinions of justifiable excuses for missing meetings, not holding office hours is just ‘silly.’
“Two of them are down the hall in your office, where you have Internet, and can pretty much do whatever you want,” he said. “And in your public ones you can study somewhere and appear approachable.”
Witana said office hours are the senators’ greatest opportunity to be accessible to students and be as transparent as they can, and that if a senator cannot hold hours one week, they are asked to make them up the next week.
Senator Ozzy Arce said senate members are aware of office hour requirements and have been holding them, and that trouble has come in recording them with SGAO. Many senators, Arce said, believed that SGAO would be notified at the beginning of every quarter where and when senators would be holding their office hours.
“It was not my understanding that every single time you had to check in and out,” Arce said. “Going in and out of the SGAO office in between running around from my own office, job, etc. doesn’t make sense to me, if it’s where I’m going to be at this time from now until the end of the quarter.”
Senator Osahon Ekhator said he is one of the most accessible senators, despite not having many hours logged with SGAO.
“I’m in the senate office, the Student Recruitment and Retention Center, or the Cross-Cultural Center over six hours a week; I’ve just been negligent in logging hours with SGAO.”
The senate has made a plethora of complaints about the process, according to Senator Levi Menovske [cq], who said he has simply stopped trying to record his hours in the SGAO office despite holding them every Thursday this term.
The primary goal of office hours, according to Chapter 13 of the Guideline of Ethics in the ASUCD bylaws, is to reach out to the student community. Chapter 13 also requires all members of the ASUCD Senate to be accessible through SGAO – which is why Witana maintained that notifying SGAO about office hours is necessary.
“The main reason that we have checking in is so that if there is a concerned student and they want to meet with someone, we can inform them of where they are,” Witana said. “Because when they post their office hours, it doesn’t say where they’re doing them.”
Despite the widespread disregard for senatorial responsibilities, Rudy Ornelas, director of legislation and policy for the office of the ASUCD president, said he does not expect anything to change.
“Without any feasible formal punishment, they pretty much know they’re going to be there until the end of their term,” he said. “When you have that many senators not fulfilling their duties, you’re not going to have a unanimous vote against one person.”
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.