Student Senate poorly represents constituents

Undergraduate Student Senate elections come only once a year, but the repercussions of having an aloof and ineffective representative body plagues students all year long.

Two weeks ago, Senate approved a resolution supporting the proposed amendment of the Students’ Rights Policy by a vote of 9–7, with eight Senators abstaining. By Senate standards, the only reason a Senator should abstain from a vote is if there is a conflict of personal interest. The Senate chair customarily abstains, but there is no excuse for the other seven abstentions. It is extraordinarily unlikely that seven Senators had a direct conflict of interest in the matter, and it is obvious that these Senators either failed to research this controversial issue or they were too cowardly to take a stand on it. In Senate, it appears that lazy abstentions are common and accepted.

Worse still, five Senators didn’t bother to show up for the meeting. Another seven Senate seats remain vacant: CIT and H&SS both have two vacant seats, while CFA has three openings. These vacancies leave 20 percent of our campus unrepresented. Current Senators have made no attempt to fill these vacant positions, and their best recruitment idea is to poster the slogan “Rush Student Senate.” This is not a fraternity. This is government. Active recruitment — that means going out, talking to people, and drawing promising candidates into the organization — must be done to produce a diverse, proactive, and intelligent legislative body.

It’s clear that Senate never took the issue of students’ rights seriously. From the day Long Pham introduced his initiative, the rest of Senate failed to uncover what even a modest amount of research and inquiry would have revealed: that Pham’s proposal carried the dangerous baggage of David Horowitz, an ultra-conservative activist bent on purging the alleged “liberal bias” out of academia.
Some of the language of the proposal was taken verbatim from Horowitz’s writings, and claims have arisen that Horowitz was personally involved in bringing the proposal to our campus.

Horowitz is lobbying state legislatures to enact laws that would require professors to create syllabi that “reflect the uncertainty and unsettled character of all human knowledge.” In other words, professors could be taken to court for failing to include sources on their reading list that they feel have no academic value. His Bill of Rights would constrain professors’ freedom and fence in their intellectualism with the rhetoric of equality and justice.

That no Senator but Pham was aware of this background is undeniable evidence that they did no research and refused to acknowledge news stories and editorials published in The Tartan as early as August 29, 2005.

The Undergraduate Student Senate is an invisible and disconnected body; Student Body President Tom Sabram has written twice in his weekly column in The Tartan that he is disappointed in Senators’ unwillingness to elicit constituent opinion before casting votes.
What else has squirmed its way through Senate because of student under-representation and Senatorial feebleness?

Thankfully, Sabram exercised his executive power and vetoed the proposal in perhaps the only admirable instance of decisiveness in the entire ordeal. Only hours before Sabram’s veto, Academic Affairs Committee Chair Michael Bueti quickly terminated his efforts to move the proposed amendment towards University-wide sanction. The issue is closed, for now.

We elect our Senators because we believe they will earnestly take our best interests to heart when making decisions that affect our daily lives. How could they possibily fulfill that responsibility if they will not break through their self-important isolation?

Unfortunately, at Carnegie Mellon, our Senators have completely forgotten that part of their duty to represent students includes actively conversing with them. It involves diligent questioning, responsible research, and thoughtful discussion. Apparently, ease of apathy and ignorance trumped the earnest service of the students who put Senators into office.

To read the minutes report from the Senate meeting in question, visit The Tartan’s website at