ASUR’S LEGISLATIVE BRANCH: DISCONNECTED FROM ITS CONSTITUENTS

The Associated Students of the University of Redlands (ASUR) Senate is intended to function as a legislative branch of government, handling matters similar to that of the United States Senate. Unlike Congress, ASUR’s Senate meetings are closed to the rest of the university community, with the exception of those who email the Senate asking for (and are granted) permission to attend; an option that is not commonly understood by the majority of the student body.

 

“Senate serves as a student voice in between cabinet, administration and the student body,” Senate Vice Chair, sophomore Dawit Aklilu said. “They come to us… No matter what we want to make sure that the student voice is there. Their interests are being represented in all decisions that are being made.”

 

Executive Director of the American Student Government Association (ASGA), W.H. “Butch” Oxendine, Jr., notes that transparency plays an important part in representing student voices. Although the University of Redlands is not a member of ASGA, the association still acts as a resource for individuals or institutions that have questions about student government. According to U of R Director of Student Engagement, Alex Ries, a cost/benefit analysis is currently underway to determine if ASUR should pay for an ASGA membership next year.

 

“ASGA recommends to our members that they open their meetings,” Oxedine Jr. said in an email. “It’s often the law for meetings of student governments at public institutions. But we like the idea of ‘transparency’ in the operations of student governments at all types of institutions, including private schools.”

 

According to spring semester Senate Chair, senior Kevin Mathews, clubs and organizations typically reach out to the Senate to request funding or support for events on campus.

“Individuals, organizations and groups are asked to email asur_senate@redlands.edu no later than 48 hours before a regularly scheduled meeting … and ask to be placed on the agenda,” Mathews explained in an email.

 

Aklilu said that having Senate meetings open for the student body to attend, without having to request permission, would make their ability to make decisions more challenging.

 

“There are so many things that we have to do, that if we were to have an audience sitting there looking at us, it would … affect how we make our decisions,” Aklilu said. “Not that we are up for reelection over the course of the year, but sometimes we have to make decisions that are generally unpopular.”

 

Aklilu brought up the Senate’s involvement in the future of the Counseling Center as an example. The Senate discussed the lack of resources that the Counseling Center has, how that should potentially be addressed and where funding would come from.

 

“The student body trusts us to make that decision, but we don’t want to have an angry mob where someone all [of a] sudden says ‘what the hell is going on,’” Aklilu said.

 

In the United States government, representatives are encouraged to vote in a way that reflects the preferences of their constituents. Although Congressmen vote electronically, each vote cast is eventually made public. As such, constituents have the resources to track their representatives to see if they are being represented how they’d like to be and can vote accordingly. At the University of Redlands, voting is done in private and the voting records of each Senator are not archived for students to view on URconnect.

 

Previous Senate Chair, senior Ariana Fariab–who transferred after the Fall semester–explained that students can attend the meetings if they ask before hand. Similar to a sentiment that Mathews expressed, Fariab added that most of the time when people ask to attend Senate meetings it’s because they have something specific they’d like Senate to review, rather than because of a general interest in the Senate and its function.

 

“I would definitely be open to [students attending meetings],” Fariab said. “If people had things to come to Senate about, like ideas that would be great, so we can get feedback about what people would like to see in ASUR, so we’re always open to that.”

 

However, Aklilu said that he doesn’t think the student body knows that there is a way to attend Senate meetings if they’d like to.

 

“We could always do more to advertise it,” Aklilu said. “We as Senators could do a lot more to communicate that hey ‘If you have something that you want to do, we are a resource.’ I just think we have to do more outreach to let people know that this is an open forum for them not for us.”

 

Members of the ASUR Senate often table at the Irvine Commons during meal times to advertise to the student body what the Senate has been working on. In an email, Mathews said that during one week, he hopes “to have the Senators advertise that students are welcome to speak at or present during all regular Senate meetings,” if permission to attend has been requested.

 

Article III, Section 1 of ASUR’s constitution states that the Senate should consist of 17 members, one from each residence hall, with the exception of Bekins and Holt that share one Senator and the off-campus constituency that is represented by three Senators. Each Senator is responsible for representing their constituents in the policies that they enact, however, not every Senate position was filled in the fall election like the ASUR Constitution requires. The constitution does not outline what should be done in the case of open seats in the Senate.  At the end of the fall semester, a Senator for East Hall and the Grove Apartments were missing, as well as one out of the three required Senators for the off campus constituency. Additionally, two of the residence halls elected a Senator later in the first semester, and as such, their constituents lacked a representative for the vast majority of the fall semester.

 

This has recently been acknowledged by ASUR, and will be addressed in the upcoming ASUR elections. Rather than the 17 Senators that the constitution calls for in Article III, Section 1, which includes one Senator for each dorm and three for off-campus constituents, Senate will now consist of eight Senators, two for each class. This is done in order to expedite the voting process and ensure all students are represented for the entirety of the Senate’s term.

 

From the ASUR Semester Report, emailed to students on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

 

The constitution requires each Senator to have a minimum of two office hours per week where students can ask questions about legislative matters. Fariab explained that the Senate Chair requires one office hour for each Senator’s residence hall, and another office hour of tabling in the Irvine Commons during meal times, where Senators can have conversations with passers-by and advertise any projects they may be working on. Fariab said that she kept track of each Senator’s number of Town Hall meetings and office hours through a personal system of organization, and also requires each Senator to submit a Town Hall report form on URconnect at the end of the semester.

 

Because the names of ASUR’s Senators are not listed on URconnect, the Redlands Bulldog reached out to the Residence Director or Community Director of each residence hall to inquire who their Senator is. However, when asked about community senators, some Resident Directors did not know who was the Senator of their residence hall. The Redlands Bulldog reached out to every Senator and the five who responded reported varying information. Article III, Section 2, n. of the ASUR constitution requires that “the first office hour shall be completed in a common space of the senator’s residence hall.” When asked when and how often a Senator holds office hours, some said they held one office hour per week and some said they held two office hours per week. Some mentioned tabling in place of an office hour and some did not. Some said that they held office hours in the Student Life and Involvement Center (SLIC) and some said they held office hours in the lobby of their resident hall, despite the fact that Article III, Section 2, n. of the ASUR constitution requires that “the first office hour shall be completed in a common space of the senator’s residence hall.”

 

Reporter Jonathan Ruhlman contributed writing to this article. Photo contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Kristyn Paez. 


University of Redlands junior, Public Policy and English double major and previous Editor-in-Chief of the Redlands Bulldog. Higgins retired from her leadership position to study journalism abroad, and will return as a full-time reporter.


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