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Senate works to fill gaps in vacant seats

With 17 of 38 seats vacant and student body executives who have missed the first three meetings, Student Senate began the year with more than a few holes to fill.

As of last Thursday the Senate still had six vacant positions: one for the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, one in the Carnegie Institute of Technology, one in the School of Computer Science, and three in the College of Fine Arts. A remaining Tepper School of Business vacancy already has a number of petitions, and the seat will be voted on within the week.

In light of the vacancies, not all Senators are optimistic.

“There is general disarray in Student Senate,” said Senator Kelly Duncan, a junior in physics and mathematics. “The general lack of communication is a problem that needs to be fixed in order for Senate and student government to move forward.
It is the beginning of the year and there are more vacancies now that I have ever remembered.”

Emily Leathers, a senior in computer science and civil and environmental engineering, also feels that communication is an issue of concern.

“There are lots of channels on campus where communication doesn’t flow as well as it might, and one of those is certainly between students and Senate,” said Leathers, who serves as the Senate chair. “While individual Senators talk to their friends and notice their own pet peeves and issues around campus, we need to make sure that all students are coming forward with their concerns.”

Leathers said another issue is that Senate focuses on current problems to fix, rather than introducing new ideas. Initiating new ideas, she said, will “make things better without there needing to be a problem in the first place.”

Duncan and fellow Senator Alan Eaton blamed vacancies on a variety of reasons, including Senate failures in setting
up last year’s elections, low voter turnout, and a general feeling that Senate has a negative public image. Eaton is a junior in ethics, history, and public policy, and public policy and management.

The Senators also noted a disconnect between the legislative and executive branches of student government.

Much of the confusion stems from the lack of attendance of Student Senate meetings by executive leaders, Student Body President Karl Sjogren and Vice-President Andrea Hamilton. Sjogren and Hamilton have missed the first three Student Senate meetings.

“Their lack of attendance is disrespectful to us and their constituents,” said one Senator, who wished to remain anonymous.
Yet, not all Senators point the finger of blame in the same direction.

“Communication is a two-way street,” Eaton said. He noted that even without Sjogren and Hamilton’s regular attendance at Senate meetings, he feels “informed on their focus.”

Sjogren and Hamilton justified their absence.

“We’re very happy with how things are going so far,” Hamilton said.

She also cited several projects the executive branch has in the works. They are planning to tackle long-standing issues such as campus space scarcity, dining, and housing.

In addition, the Sjogren-Hamilton administration also has new agenda items, including reforming the University Disciplinary Committee and web-based development projects.

One such initiative, the CarnegieWiki, would provide students with an informational resource, serve as a replacement for misc.market, and deliver an area for student organizations to put information out in a central setting.

“People tell you that you cannot get things done,” Hamilton said, referring to the perception that student government is ineffective, “[but] we are doing well at accomplishing things.”

While some in Student Senate complain that the lack of attendance by the executive branch is a negative thing, Hamilton offers a different perspective on governmental priorities.

“[The executive branch] should attend [Student Senate meetings] when there is something pressing on the agenda and not just to be a warm body,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said the executive branch prioritizes pressing issues and those which actively call for their attention over standing meetings.

Meanwhile, Senate is looking to new blood to lead the charge. Currently, more than half of the members-at-large on Senate are first-year students. There is also an increasing Greek presence on Senate, with Phi Kappa Theta and Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers holding numerous seats.

“It is great to see [Greek members] filling their duties to the community,” said Eaton, a Phi Kappa Theta brother. “I’d like to see more Greek women involved.”