Money Makes the Senate Go Round: But Can it Interfere Less?
By Romen Borsellino '12, columnist
Monday night’s meeting started off with a senator from the class of 2013 resigning — in fact, he was the seventh or eighth senator to resign this year. And do you know how many members of the class of 2012 ran for Senate last spring? One. One student was on the ballot and there were eight open seats. Now, it would be bad enough if we had senators winning by default if there were, say, eight candidates for eight seats, but we’re facing a situation here where we literally have to beg students to run. This is unacceptable. It’s time some serious changes happen in the Senate. While I have seen little change besides membership changes during my five semesters on Senate, last night gave me hope with a number of proposed solutions that would literally revolutionize what the AAS does. In the coming weeks, the Senate will be faced with acknowledging that we are failing and giving some new ideas a shot, or sticking with the status quo.

A big problem with how Senate is run is the allocation of responsibility. One might expect that the President or Vice President has the toughest job, yet, the position of Treasurer is unquestionably the most exhausting and thankless job in the AAS. For proof, look to the fact that our previous treasurer resigned mid-year based on the fact that she was putting in somewhere between eight and 20 hours of work a week — which was unpaid, of course. The job sucks, but, thankfully, Senator Jared Crum ’11 wrote a proposal that seeks to seriously change the position. As it stands, the Treasurer must not only run budgetary meetings for two hours a week and then present before the Senate but must also oversee the hiring of clerks, write and submit checks and do another 50 miscellaneous things that would drive anyone crazy. Quite frankly, I have a hard time envisioning why anybody in their right mind would want to devote a year of their college life to doing this stuff. Crum’s proposal, however, seeks to split the role of Treasurer into two different positions, one of which would be paid. The role of Treasurer itself would remain an Executive Board position that gets elected by the student body, only now their responsibility would be to oversee meetings and make reports. In other words, the Treasurer job would be much more political. All of the real grunt work would be given to the newly created Comptroller, who would be hired through an application process and get paid $1,000 a semester, which is roughly $10 an hour. Let’s be real here, we don’t want our school’s money in the hands of somebody who is going to do a half-hearted job. By re-delegating the responsibilities and actually paying somebody for their hard work, we can avoid any future financial disasters. I hope to see this proposal succeed.

Believe it or not, that was the least controversial of the proposed Senate changes. Senator Alex Stein ’13 unveiled a new by-law that would literally change everything. Let me preface this: I was telling a professor today that I am on Senate, and he asked me in all seriousness, “You guys only appropriate funds, right?” He was certainly not the first person to assume that that is all that we do. If you have ever needed money from the AAS, you have probably seen how much of a pain it is to get it. First, requests must be submitted online. Then they must be reviewed by the Budgetary Committee (BC) before they finally make it to the Senate. Stein posed a great question: what is the point of the BC if the whole Senate has to approve things anyway? If Stein’s new by-law were to pass, funding decisions would be solely in the hands of the BC. Quite frankly, it would limit bureaucracy, which is a good thing. Honestly, over 90 percent of the time, the Senate simply accepts the decisions made by the BC, often unanimously. Even last week, we spent 20 minutes debating funding for the Jew Crew, only for it to pass with a single dissenting vote. This new by-law must be adopted. The BC is elected through the Senate because we trust that they are willing to give time and expertise to funding decisions that nobody else will. Therefore, why do we spend so much time scrutinizing their decisions every Monday night? This new proposal is the first step to making Senate much more efficient.

The way I view it, Senate meetings should be a forum where we discuss student issues and make decisions about student life. Currently, we get so exhausted from talking about funding that we do little else. Often, by the time many important proposals and ideas are presented at Senate meetings, we have been there for two hours already and do not devote the serious time and consideration to them that we should.

I imagine a Senate where we discuss important things like upper-class sub-free housing, improvements to our dining hall and other relevant student issues. While Senate meetings are technically open to the student body, nobody would dare sit through our long and tedious debates on Monday nights. But what if Senate was actually a forum for students and the occasional faculty guest speaker to really talk about how we can make the College a better place? In light of these concerns, a new committee was founded Monday night by myself and Senators Geoff Ainslie ’12 and Gabriela Mateo ’13. Through surveys, reports and dialogue, the Senate Improvement Committee will seek to address student concerns about Senate, with the goal of improving the Senate drastically. A number of Senators have stepped up to try and make things better. Let’s not blow a great opportunity.

Issue 16, Submitted 2011-02-23 00:30:59