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Friday, July 3, 2020

AS creates Student Senate

By Simon Thomas

The Associated Students Board has reworked the organization of Western’s student government to add a new legislative branch, the Student Senate. This restructure was first considered three years ago but will take effect this year, quadrupling the number of elected student positions from seven to 28- giving students a stronger voice in the AS decision making process.

Levi Eckman, AS vice president of Academic Affairs, has been overseeing the transition this year after making the restructure a priority.

“Students indicated that they did, in fact, want a student senate, so the AS wrote a structural proposal and for about three years it was on the docket. However, it never actually happened,” Eckman said.

Eckman said the board has pushed for adding the senate in an effort to increase and diversify student engagement with the AS.

“Right now we have [board members] with all different walks of life but we are only seven people,” he said. “I think bringing more perspectives to the table is always really important. I think what needs to be done is look at who is sitting at the table and ask ‘Who’s not there?’”

To do that, the senate is structured to hold two spots for every college in the university, including the graduate school, as well as four spots for undeclared students.

Eric Alexander, associate dean of Student Engagement and Viking Union facilities director works with the AS as an adviser serving as counsel for the students.

“The original feeling was that there was a lot of power that came to only seven people without a lot of checks and balances,” Alexander said.

Alexander said it will be positive to have this checks and balances system regarding legislative or large budgetary issues regarding the AS.

“There is not that much accountability for the seven of us as board of directors in what we do and having the Student Senate be equal to us lets them hold us accountable,” AS President Millka Solomon said.

Solomon was a part of the task force created to establish a senate along with AS Eckman and Alexander. There was previously a student senate on campus, but it was radically different to the structure of the newly emerging branch of government, according to Solomon and Alexander.

“The AS had a senate, it was put on moratorium for a number of years because it wasn’t a very functional senate,” Alexander said. “It was called a senate, but was more of a sub-committee of the board so it didn’t have any sort of authority other than that [which was] delegated to them from the board.”

Eckman said Western plans to have more than 20,000 students on campus in the future, so this restructuring is also to accommodate for that growth.

“As we move toward having more students on campus, I think we need to look at current models of government we have aligned,” Eckman said. “I don’t know if all power should be centralized at the top, especially at a university our size. Maybe when our university was around 7,000 students it made more sense.”

The paid senate positions require 19 hours of work per month, which will be easier than the other student positions which require a 19-hour-per-week regimen, according to Eckman.  Solomon said the Student Senate will have its own meetings and set their own agenda, and that a task force consisting of board and senate members will exist for collaboration. 

“Having one student representative, myself, on all the AS academic committees isn’t a great model,” Eckman said. “The AS president being the only student at the Board of Trustees meetings might not be a great model. Having the senate diffuses that power into not only the colleges but also many different groups of students.”

Solomon said as senate members get acclimated to their new positions they will join different boards and committees, diversifying the representation of students in these groups will have. The hope is that this will give more power to the students in decisions regarding the school’s future policies.

“We are all here for a degree at the end of the day, but making sure that everyone’s emotional well-being, psychological well-being and social well-being is fully met is also equally important. I think that by having the senate we will find more diffused power and more enriched voices,” Eckman said.

Those interested in running for a senate position can find out more information in the AS Board Office located in Viking Union 504 as well as on the AS’ website. Filing for candidacy ends Nov. 16.

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