You’d like to think that distributing over half a million dollars of students’ money to many of the clubs and organizations that students join would be a responsibility the William and Mary Student Assembly would take very seriously. This is not to say it doesn’t, but watching the Senate meeting on 15 October you might not have received that impression.
“The Senate can’t just confer itself a power not granted in the Constitution,” said Mark Bergman, Chief of Staff to Student Assembly President Brian Cannon.
“It’s not Brian Cannon’s job to determine what the Constitution means,” said Junior Senator Luther Lowe.
Both were taking sides on Lowe’s amendment to the new student activities budget process bill. The bill establishes a committee to decide how much money each activity gets. Lowe’s amendment will require that the Senate confirm the President’s nominations to the committee, a requirement that the Executive branch thinks is in violation of the SA Constitution.
But what does it all mean to an average voter? Not much. This year has already seen hours and hours of Senate meetings with little tangible result, an opinion shared by some high-ranking student government members.
After the meeting, Chair of the Senate Eric Kronman expressed the opinion that the Senate probably spends 90 percent of its time on internal Student Assembly business and 10 percent on serving students, a ratio he would like to see reversed.
Similarly, Junior Senator Sean Murphy stated that only two of the bills the Senate has passed so far this year have been truly worthwhile and beneficial to students. Sophomore Senator Matt Wigginton added that his bill to create a committee to investigate the possibility of reopening the underpass on Jamestown Road also provided a service, which made some present laugh.
Kronman disagreed with those who found it funny, however, saying that no bill that may benefit students should be taken lightly. He reminisced about a resolution he had introduced and passed years ago urging the Chick-Fil-A establishment in The Marketplace to provide multiple packages of dipping sauce to customers – drawing a parallel to Wigginton’s recent bill to request free drink refills be given at the Marketplace.
Though I admit having a laugh at the expense of the crusade for another cup of Coke, I must also admit the validity of Kronman’s point. The Student Handbook lists the first purpose of the Student Assembly as being “to provide a voice for student opinion,” which is exactly what such resolutions do.
So why is nine tenths of the Senate’s time still being spent on issues that students may never benefit from? In part, it may be due to the new SA Constitution, in force for the first time this year. The SA may be going through some growing pains as new committees, a new judicial branch and twice the number senators per class become the norm.
Also at fault may be a feeling on the part of the Senate that they are overshadowed by an Executive branch that has the ability to work all day, every day, without formal processes and restrictions. This causes a rivalry between branches that only serves to make things slower and more complicated than they need to be.
If the SA is looking for the humble advice of an outsider, I would say don’t be afraid to slow down a little bit and discuss the issues carefully. The SA could do with more communication both between and, in some cases, within branches. In addition, the Senate should be proud to be the Senate and not try to be something else. Legislative and Executive should respect each other as having separate but equal powers in a system of mutual checks and balances. One could never function as well without the other.
If these things happen, we, the people, may really see what a cohesive student government can do for us, and I think the results could be quite different than what we’ve grown used to. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Back on the record. All three branches of government are now involved in the conflict over the Senate’s power to control who gets on the committee to distribute money to clubs and organizations. According to an e-mail from Bergman, Cannon will neither sign nor veto the bill, making it official one week after its Senate passage by simply ignoring it.
The Executive will then seek a stay from the Review Board (the judicial branch) to enjoin the Senate from holding confirmation hearings on committee members. This will only be temporary while the Review Board decides whether the Lowe Amendment, mentioned above, is constitutional.
The Senate has not had an opportunity to discuss the issue as a group yet. Individual Senators, however, have their opinions. Lowe, the greatest proponent of the amendment had this say:
“I can ask the Review Board for a pony for Christmas – it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.” Once again, we’ll just have to wait and see.