Student Senate modifies policies, documents

Motions adjust Senate bylaws,

GRAND MARSHAL RUSSELL BROWN LEADS discussion over the three motions presented during Monday’s meeting. The two motions regarding senator GPA were passed, but the motion pushing for two greek senators failed.

This Monday, the Student Senate held its weekly meeting, discussing the prospect of adding a second greek representative and the idea of introducing GPA requirements for senators. They considered three motions affecting the Rensselaer Union Constitution, the Senate bylaws, and the GM Week Handbook. All three passed during the meeting, but one was later recalled due to misunderstood conditions on constitutional amendments.

The first motion brought to the floor was to hold a referendum on the addition of a second greek senator, which would put the question on the ballot this GM Week. The motion passed with nine in favor, seven opposed, and one abstained. (Grand Marshal Russell Brown ’14 cast the tie-breaking positive vote.) However, the next day, Brown announced that since the motion would amend the Constitution, it actually required a two-thirds majority and should have happened at least a month before the election, so therefore did not pass.

The next motion dealt with minimum academic requirements for members of the Senate. The motion will amend the Senate bylaws to require a minimum 2.33 GPA for senators, and an additional requirement of a 2.5 GPA and good academic standing for the GM. This motion passed 11-6-0, contingent on its approval as constitutional by the Rules and Elections Committee and an additional two-thirds majority vote by the Senate.

The very similar final motion instructed the Rules and Elections committee to amend the GM Week Handbook to add those same prerequisites (a minimum GPA of 2.33 for Senate candidates, and a 2.5 GPA and good academic standing for Grand Marshal and President of the Union candidates), and passed 16-0-1. Once revised, the handbook will have to be re-approved by the Senate, which will happen at the latest on the day of the primary.

Brown began the meeting by addressing other Senate requirements. “We have four weeks left of our term,” he stated. “That does not mean we can relax our commitment to the Student Senate.” He reminded senators that they must have sufficient committee membership for their graduate/undergraduate status, and admonished them for recent poor attendance. (Last week’s meeting was canceled because there weren’t enough senators for quorum.) He also announced that the Senate survey results are in, with over a thousand completed responses.

The meeting then turned quickly to the business at hand—the three motions accumulated over the past few weeks. The first was moved by Alice Yueh ’12 and called for a referendum to split in two the single Senate position currently shared by the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council. If it passed, the proposal would be added to the GM week ballot. “This would be changing the Constitution, and therefore we cannot change this as a Senate,” explained Senate/E-Board Liason Jon Stack ’13. “It would have to be voted on by the student body.”

President of Rensselaer’s Panhellenic Council Elisa Novelli ’13 explained the main reasons behind the proposal. Since the Panhellenic Council and the IFC are separate organizations, Novelli argued that they should be represented separately as well. There are over 300 greek women on campus, Novelli pointed out, highlighting that this number is around the same size as the constituency of any class senator. She also brought up possible legal concerns, explaining that sharing a Senate position with the IFC could jeopardize their exemption to be a single-sex organization.

Not all were in favor of the motion. “The Senate is about representation,” said graduate student Jess Jones. “Every student is represented first by their class, and second by whether or not they’re independent.” Jones contended that the Senate doesn’t need to “double-represent” greek students, while no other organization is similarly represented.

After an hour of back-and-forth, the Senate called a vote, with a result of 8-7-1. Since there was no majority, the Grand Marshal made the tie-breaking vote to pass the motion. (On Tuesday, Brown sent out an email to the Senate explaining that the vote should have needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and was thus invalid.)

The next issue discussed was the introduction of GPA requirement for senators. This policy proposal was broken into two motions—one changing the Senate bylaws and affecting senators in office, and the other modifying the GM Week Handbook and only pertaining to candidates.

Currently, there is no academic requirement to participate in student government. However, according to the official text of the motion, “The primary responsibility of its members is that of the scholastic purpose of Rensselaer,” and “students who neglect their school work to focus on the duties of the Student Senate risk failing and being dismissed from Rensselaer, leaving a gap in leadership.”

Originally, the motion (written by William Toth ’13 and moved by Christina Gilland ’15) called for a minimum GPA of 2.5 for all senators, in addition to good academic standing. This was quickly amended to a lower 2.33, and no requirement about academic probation. “There’s a lot of things that can go into [a student’s GPA],” said Erin McAllister ’14. She and several other senators worried that setting the bar too high academically would prevent otherwise sound leaders from participating in student government. Later, the original requirements of 2.5 and good academic standing were reinstated only for the Grand Marshal.

As a change to the Senate bylaws, the motion required a majority vote, which it passed. Next, the Rules and Elections committee has three weeks to determine the amendment’s constitutionality (and whether it affects other official documents), after which it will return to the Senate for approval by a two-thirds majority.

The last motion was the shortest, simply echoing the requirements of the previous one to any Senate candidates. It passed nearly unanimously, with 16 votes in favor, none against, and only one abstention. The motion was worded as instructions for the Rules and Elections committee to edit the GM Week Handbook.

Finally, Senate announced that the State of the Union report, rather than being postponed, has been canceled. Speeches given so close to an election could be interpreted as campaigning rather than simply informing, explained Gilland.

The Student Senate’s weekly meeting is open to all students, and is held every Monday at 6 pm in the Shellnut Gallery, on the third floor of the Rensselaer Union.