Executive Privilege

As this week’s article reports, the Undergraduate Student Senate adopted a resolution supporting the current version of the proposed Student Rights Policy — a policy with some significant problems — with a marginal vote. Nine senators voted in favor of the resolution, seven voted against, eight abstained, and five were missing in action. Anyone who believes that Senate has acted with the will of the student body is deluding himself.

Eight Senators ­— one third of those present — abstained on what was arguably the single most significant and controversial vote of the year. In remaining neutral, the abstaining Senators revealed something about themselves: Either they haven’t made the effort to make a decision or they’re not courageous enough to take a stand on a controversial issue. Either way, they do their constituencies a great disservice.

Having the choice to abstain is critical; when responsible representatives have a conflict of interest, they abstain from voting in order to maintain their integrity. For many in Senate, on the other hand, abstention is the best way to avoid making a decision — it’s the easy way out.

As if abusing abstention weren’t enough, only 24 out of 29 Senators bothered to show up at the meeting. Meanwhile, eight Senate seats remain vacant — that is, about one out of five undergraduates is underrepresented in the Undergraduate Student Senate.

In short, the representatives of one quarter of the student body have spoken for all of us. Frankly, my confidence in the Undergraduate Student Senate, cracked already, has been shattered.

Now, the resolution is in the hands of our student body president, Tom Sabram, who has the power to veto. A veto would mean that Senate would need a two-thirds majority to adopt the resolution supporting the proposed policy. Sabram has told me that he’s frustrated by the way this resolution was adopted. Now, he can be confident in using his authority. By vetoing, Sabram can show what it means to be decisive and dedicated to accurately representing students.

I hope he will send the resolution back to the Undergraduate Student Senate and ask that they secure a two-thirds vote before passing the resolution.

I am proud to say that both of my representatives — the Senators for the interdisciplinary programs, Justin Berka and Andrea Hamilton — voted meaningfully and in the negative.

The Student Rights Policy has no value; it adds nothing to existing policy. There is robust language already protecting the rights of students to be graded appropriately. University Policy states, “The power that teachers wield in the classroom must be exercised with the greatest possible care for maintaining fairness, which means examining classroom practice for any hidden assumptions which might produce confusion or partiality.”

Furthermore, University Policy gives a very clear “Procedure for the Appeal of Grades and Academic Action,” so students have a clear and potent remedy if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
According to Mike Bueti, chair of the Academic Affairs committee and sponsor of the resolution, the policy is intended to clarify and make more accessible policies already stated in The Word. But adding more policy in the same place as the other policy just makes no sense.

At best, the proposal would do nothing. At worst — and this is a likely scenario — it would encourage malicious conservative activists who are trying to scare legislators into believing that there is a “liberal bias” in universities across the country.

With any luck, our misguided representatives will get their act together and address the issues, rather than closing their eyes and hoping nobody notices them.