Failure to lead
John Claybrook: Student Senate's false representation doesn't serve students
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 02:02
Among the optimistic, I lead the pack. I dreamed of a productive, working relationship with Student Senate after being elected last February. I recognized the great opportunity we were given to proactively address issues that impact students every day. Surely, I thought, we could all work together as our student body’s elected representatives.
I thought wrong.
What I found is a systemically unrealistic, distrusting and surprisingly prideful organization of students characterized by an unwillingness to listen or effectively represent their constituencies.
Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve interacted with student senators — those with whom I’ve agreed and disagreed — who defy the norm, seek student opinion, and display openness to differing perspectives. Unfortunately, these student senators are few and far between.
The dominating principle guiding the decisions made by our Student Senate is an unrealistic philosophy of idealism that is often devoid of practicality. I completely agree that a hint of idealism is necessary and needed in any form of leadership. However, when Senate’s unwillingness to accurately consider current circumstances is dwarfed by an obsession with the unrealistic, effectiveness in leadership is nonexistent.
Additionally, our Student Senate is marred by a recent history of distrust toward the executive branch, including the student body president and committees, as well as the A&M administration. I don’t believe these parties are flawless, and I remain a strong advocate of asking questions and seeking truth on behalf of the student body. However, a fundamental distrust of those you work with daily and rely on to enforce your policies is ineffective at best and destructive at worst.
For instance, when the Texas A&M CFO, B.J. Crain, attended the Feb. 6 Senate meeting, she told senators that using existing UAF funds or reserves was not a plausible funding option for the planned Kyle Field student section renovation. The Senate let her leave before accusing her of providing incorrect or misleading information, then voted 28-2 in favor of a referendum that will mislead the student body into believing that these funds are available. That is misleading. That is poor leadership.
Lastly, I believe the most harmful characteristic in our Student Senate is an inconceivable pride in believing that they were elected because they were the most knowledgeable and capable of making decisions on your behalf. It is an argument I’ve heard multiple times. Take the concealed carry on campus issue, for instance. Personal preference aside, two referenda from 2009 and 2011 proved that students, with a 54 and 57 percent majority, respectively, are against concealed carry on campus. This year, student senators took this issue into their own hands and passed a bill overruling student opinion by an overwhelming 38-19 majority — a 25 percent swing from a year and a half ago.
Call me crazy, but voting contrary to the student body is not representing students.
Constitutionally, our duty in the Student Government Association is to “serve and represent the student body.” Student Senate’s alleged service of the student body is broken at the foundation: a fundamental misunderstanding of its duty and an unwillingness to engage our student body.
It’s time for a complete overhaul of our Student Senate. It’s a big deal to be elected to represent students. I wish that being elected to represent students was an aspiration of many and treated as an extreme honor to serve in that capacity. But the reputation of Student Senate has deterred many of our most outstanding students from ever setting foot in the Senate chamber.
It’s time for student senators to start reaching out to the students they represent and to actually take into consideration student opinion. Set office hours, correspond with college or residence constituencies, offer polls to gauge student opinion, facilitate places on campus for students to discuss issues they want changed, or speak directly with classes or student organizations. Maybe even post the names of student senators on the website, let alone offer any contact information. Senate can’t settle for a Facebook group and a Twitter feed and expect students to respond. Be proactive.
It’s time for some serious leadership from our Student Senate, because what we’ve been getting is far from serious and far from leadership.
John Claybrook is a senior finance major and student body president.