On Thursday, April 25, the Student Senate held its first general body meeting under the 148th Grand Marshal, Charles Carletta ’14. The new senators approved Carletta’s appointments for senatorial positions, voted to recognize Carl Westerdahl, and discussed a proposed amendment to the Senate’s current GPA requirements.
The Senate first voted on whether to approve Frank Abissi ’14 as parliamentarian of the Senate. Abissi served as parliamentarian under former GM Kevin Dai ’14 and explained that he had developed a “digital discussion manager” to increase meeting efficiency. The manager was designed to determine the success or failure of votes and keep track of the queue of speakers. When asked by Kyle Keraga ’15 about his plans for the position, Abissi said he would help senators learn basic parliamentary procedure—based on Robert’s Rules of Order—during the first few meetings. He also stated that parliamentarian keeps order during meetings, determines the outcome of votes, and advises the meeting’s chair on parliamentary matters, answering a question about the matter from Michael Han ’16. The vote to appoint Abissi passed unanimously, 18-0-0.
Carletta appointed Jabari White ’14 for secretary of the Senate. White said that he had experience as secretary for his fraternity, Sigma Chi. He also served as secretary for Greek Spectrum. Senators then voted to unanimously approve of Carletta’s appointment, 18-0-0.
Greg Niguidula ’15 was appointed to be vice chair of the Senate, as well as chair of the Rules and Elections Committee. Discussion first focused on the position of vice chair. Niguidula said that he had experience working with the Senate Communications Group and the Finance, Facilities, and Administration Committee. He had also sat in on committee meetings for every committee except the Academic Affairs Committee. Niguidula also explained that he planned to have the Senate attend student government conferences, and he emphasized the importance of maintaining Senate projects. When asked by Shoshana Rubenstein ’16, he stated that he would address the issue of attendance by talking independently with committee chairs. On the issue of joint committees, introduced by Carletta and President of the Union Gretchen Sileo ’14, Niguidula said he was responsible for the senators in joint committees, but that the Rensselaer Union Executive Board members would be under the charge of the PU. He was quick to add, though, that he would help out in any way necessary. Niguidula was voted in as vice chair, 17-0-1.
When discussion turned to appointing Niguidula as R&E chair, he explained that the situation was unusual, but that “there’s no real time conflict.” Abissi asked if Niguidula was considering transitioning to electronic voting. Niguidula admitted that he was not knowledgeable about the technical side of the issue brought up by Keraga, but that he felt electronic voting would increase voter turnout. He also said he may introduce a policy that required election candidates to attend an information session before campaigning; this would, theoretically, decrease the number of yearly rule violations. This would not, though, prevent write-in candidates from being elected, easing the concerns of graduate student Robert Chase. Director of the Union Joe Cassidy asked about who would be in charge of elections if a GM were removed from office. In such a situation, the vice chair would run meetings and the Judicial Board would maintain fairness when deciding who would serve as the next GM. Abissi added that, in that situation, the R&E vice chair would replace R&E chair. Niguidula received the Senate’s support, 16-0-2.
Han was appointed to be treasurer by Carletta. He explained that he had experience with getting money from various resources to fund activities, but that he had not served as a treasurer of any sort before. Niguidula, the previous treasurer, added that he would “show him the ropes.” Han was voted in as treasurer, 17-0-1.
Keraga was appointed chair of the Student Life Committee. He mentioned that he had worked with the SLC during the previous year. He was officially appointed by the members of the Senate, 17-0-1.
The Senate decided to recognize and honor Westerdahl, a former Dean of Students and director of Alumni and Community Relations. They decided to send the motion to recognize Westerdahl, signed by each of the senators, in a frame to his wife. The precedent had already been made; Richard Hart was the most recent individual to be recognized as such. A roll call vote was taken, but it was passed unanimously, 18-0-0.
The final motion of the meeting focused on the motion regarding GPA requirements, which was passed on March 4. The proposed amendment would add that appeals could be made to the Rules and Elections Committee. If the appeal were to pass, the appealing student would be be allowed onto the Senate. Appeals could be made in the case of extenuating circumstances or if the student in question showed grade improvements. Keraga asked if there was a process that would be followed if the appeal is denied. Niguidula said that the Judicial Board “would have little influence.” Abissi added that there was nothing that could be done if the appeal was denied.
Donna Li ’16 then brought up the situation during which a position was filled while a senator was still appealing his or her case. To address this, Keraga suggested that appeals would only be able to be made within the first two weeks after the removal. However, Niguidula, Han, Rubenstein, and William Toth ’13 felt this was unnecessary. As a result, Keraga withdrew his proposed amendment. This portion of the full amendment was not discussed further during the meeting.
Graduate student Michael Caiola moved to change the GPA requirement from 2.5 to 3.0, feeling that a 2.5 was too low a threshold. Chase agreed with Caiola and felt that “the Senate does not have to represent every single grade range.” Niguidula agreed that 2.5 was rather low, but he stated that “grades are not always a good indication of leadership or value to the Senate.” Han also felt that senators should be held to a higher standard, but that a 3.0 was too prohibitive. Rubenstein said that the Senate represents the entire student body, not just those with a 3.0 or higher. Josh Plitnick ’14 added that the Institute average was “somewhere between a 2.5 and 3.0.” Keraga added perspective, saying that the reason behind a 2.5 was to prevent any issues with freshmen or transfer students, who may have issues adjusting to RPI life. Gary Crivo ’15 felt it was not democratic to cut out approximately half of the student body. Sileo added that a 3.0 may discriminate against certain majors, due to varying major GPA averages. On the other hand, Chase stated that “you do not have to be a senator to help with the Senate.” Graduate student Peter Muller added that the appeals process mentioned earlier allowed for a higher GPA requirement.
Niguidula pushed to change to 3.0 amendment to a 2.8. Initially, the vote failed. Discussion continued. During this time, Max Doyle ’15 and Marcus Flowers ’16 mentioned that the Senate was “not exactly a coveted position.” Carletta then informed the Senate that there had been an issue with the new discussion manager, and that the 2.8 change did pass. This essentially ended the discussion, and the GPA change went to a vote. Carletta broke the tied vote by killing the amendment. The original amendment then went to a vote, which failed 11-7-0.
Senate general body meetings are held weekly and are open to all students. The Senate is currently determining when to hold these meetings, but the next will be held at 7 pm on Thursday, May 2 in RU 3202. For more information, e-mail Carletta at firstname.lastname@example.org.