The Georgetown University Student Association senate addressed concerns with the plan to abolish the senate and establish a new assembly, during a public senate meeting Sunday in which two senators argued that the plan will make policy making less democratic and is being approached too quickly.
The senate is hoping to vote on holding a referendum on a constitutional amendment to enable the restructuring Sunday.
GUSA Senate Speaker Richie Mullaney (COL ’18) presented the most recent iteration of the restructuring plan to senators during the Sunday meeting. The plan has undergone significant changes since it was first reported by The Hoya on Oct. 21 in response to input from senators and stakeholders. According to Mullaney, the proposal will likely not be finalized until Friday.
If passed in a studentwide referendum, the plan would abolish the senate in its current form and replace it with an assembly consisting of elected representatives and appointees from club boards, which would consist of four elected students from each class year and delegates appointed by advisory boards. The assembly would be solely responsible for appropriating funds to Georgetown clubs, a role currently administered by the Finance and Appropriations Committee, known as Fin/App, within the senate.
In order to pass, a two-thirds supermajority of the senate must agree to put the plan forward to a studentwide referendum. The plan must then pass or fail with support by a majority vote of students in a studentwide referendum.
The plan would also shift the role of policy advocacy from the senate to policy teams in the executive, according to Mullaney. Policy teams consisting of leaders and members appointed by the GUSA executive were established to replace senate subcommittees and executive chiefs-of-staff at the beginning of the current administration under GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17).
Mullaney, who has been involved in developing the plan, said policy teams are a much more inclusive system for creating policy and have largely overtaken the role of the senate.
“It’s a good system, and it’s much more inclusive than the old system,” Mullaney said. “Now that basically anyone can get involved if they really care and are passionate about something, the senate as a whole doesn’t serve the same purpose it necessarily used to.”
However, GUSA Senator Isaac Liu (COL ’20), who opposes the current plan, said removing elected representatives from policy advocacy is undemocratic.
“I’m more concerned with replacing the senate, and with taking the senate out of policy,” Liu said. “Although people have said that anyone can join policy teams, policy teams are still mostly run by the executive. I think people’s elected representatives should have a say in those policy teams and on policy in general.”
GUSA Senator Jasmin Ouseph (SFS ’19), who also opposes the current plan, said she is concerned that there will no longer be elected representatives working on policy decisions.
“Besides the president and the vice president, there aren’t really any elected representatives from the undergraduate body that are working on policy issues, which I think is a problem because that’s a huge part of what student government is,” Ouseph said.
Ouseph also said she is concerned that including delegates from advisory boards in budgetary negotiations to the clubs they represent could lead to conflicts of interest.
“The biggest issue to me is we’re adding members of advisory boards,” Ouseph said. “GUSA is supposed to be impartial in the budgetary process, and I don’t see how having members of advisory boards voting on the budget in any way makes that impartial.”
Fin/App Chair Owen Hayes (COL ’18) said advisory board members can contribute more knowledge than students to the appropriations process.
“There’s also a really high value in expertise, and the institutional knowledge necessary to make recommendations and changes,” Hayes said. “That’s something that’s very important, and that needs to be in the room and involved in making decisions that affect those advisory boards.”
Council of Advisory Boards Vice Chair Taylor Oster (SFS ’17) said advisory boards should have a central role in the funding process.
“Obviously, I think advisory boards should have a full vote when it comes to the budget process — we’re the most knowledgeable about what clubs and students by extension — need. I think that a vote provides accountability, agency, and makes advisory boards feel equally invested in the funding process,” Oster wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Mullaney said concerns about politicking and collusion by advisory board delegates have already been addressed in the most recent version of the plan.
“Those are all very legitimate concerns if we’re looking at the plan last week, before the revisions that we made, because we heard all of those concerns and we addressed them and fixed it,” Mullaney said.
Some senators also expressed concerns about the timeline of the reform, which is expected to be implemented in fall 2017 if students to vote to support the constitutional change.
“It’s way too fast, it’s way too early,” Liu said in an interview with The Hoya. “There’s a lot of freshmen in the senate, and we haven’t even been fully exposed to the process yet. Now really isn’t the time to think about restructuring, before everyone’s even settled in.”
Ouseph said the fast pace may not be fair for freshman senators who are still learning how GUSA operates.
“I think it’s easy to manipulate the fact that a lot of people here are new to this,” Ouseph said. “I feel like if I were a freshman senator, I don’t think I would be confident enough voting on something like this.”
Mullaney said the accelerated pace was necessary to avoid overlapping with the GUSA executive election this spring.
“We also just didn’t want this to be politicized,” Mullaney said. “People would take stances on it and it would be just muddled. It would be a second-rate conversation.”
Khan said even though some senators oppose the plan, the senate is largely united behind the proposal.
“I think within the senate there isn’t much of a dissenting opinion,” Khan said. “I think they are very much on board with the plan.”
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