Senate Notes: Senate To Overhaul Bylaws

Gintautas Dumcius

The student senate at UMass Boston is planning an overhaul of their constitution and bylaws, fielding several proposals from its members that will eventually go before the student body and the UMass Board of Trustees.

A small group of student senators met informally last week to discuss proposals to “reduce bureaucracy” and re-arrange the balance of powers.

Three proposals by Senators Erica Mena, Susan Smith, and several others are currently on the table.

Requests by The Mass Media to see the proposals were denied. Student senate members say they have not yet fully hammered out the details.

“I hate this kind of secrecy, but sometimes it’s necessary,” Mena said.

It’s “still very early in the process,” Smith noted. The goal is to make student government more equitable, democratic, and empowering.

But a preview of what will come from the proposals was offered.

One idea in circulation, that of a “rotating chair,” allows different senators to chair meetings, in order for them to get experience. “The voices are somewhat limited because the president chairs the meeting,” Smith said.

Another is tipping the balance of power towards the general members. At the informal meeting, Mena said she was uncomfortable with one person having veto power. Mena suggested moving veto power to the steering committee, which is made up of the president, vice president, and the chairs of the various committees, and sets the agenda for the full senate meetings.

Interim Senate President Fritz Hyppolite has also suggested spinning off the position of president to make it independent of the student senate. Students would vote on the position separately. Currently, the senate president is elected from within the senate.

A new role of speaker would be created to preside over the senate during meetings.

Giving part-time students the ability to run for office is also on the table. Right now, only full-time students can serve.

There is even talk of setting up a judicial branch down the road.

A final proposal will be put together at upcoming meetings of an ad hoc bylaws committee. Student senate members want to put together a “united front” for one proposal before they take it to Dr. J. Keith Motley, vice chancellor of student affairs.

The final proposal will go through two sessions of the full student senate before getting voted on by the student body and making its way to the UMass Board of Trustees.

The student senate, with the help of Student Life and Student Affairs, has been moving to make itself more viable and visible over the past year, with meetings being held McCormack Hall’s Ryan Lounge, a more open venue than its old meeting place in Wheatley’s fourth floor student lounge.

But it has not been without some setbacks. The senate has suffered several resignations of its top members in the last few months. President Tuan Pham resigned in December to spend a semester at Oxford University after a protracted battle with the local chapter of the Massachusetts Public Research Interest Group (MassPIRG) over fees and funding.

Vice President Fritz Hyppolite has stepped in on the interim.

Student Events and Organizations Committee (SEOC) Chairman Bryan Smith recently resigned due to work-related activities. SEOC is the primary committee that approves funding requests from student organizations.

More than a week before a February 3 UMass Board of Trustees meeting in New Bedford, UMass Boston Trustee Omar Bukhari resigned because “he felt his schedule precluded him from giving all of his time,” according to Joyce Morgan, director of Student Life.

Over the course of four days, the student senate quickly put together a committee of student government offices and undergraduate and graduate students to appoint a new student trustee. Jamal Brathwaite, a grad student, was chosen out of seven candidates after a round of interviews with the committee.

The rapid appointment left some feeling sore. In his resignation letter, sent out February 8, Campus and Community Affairs Chairman William Roach blasted the student senate for the appointment, calling it “illegitimate.” Roach, who had come in third in the trustee election behind Bukhari and Hyppolite, advocated going back to the original election’s results that would place him as new student trustee.

“I am tired of the constant embarrassment when dealing with senators who don’t know procedures, who act in their own self interest, who act as a clique, and who are totally sophomoric, childish, and especially unprofessional by their own admission,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate that this University cannot pull together a more professional, intelligent, mature, and competent group of student.”

When asked to comment, Hyppolite responded via e-mail: “I agree with former senator Roach onthe basic premise of his argument, but find fault with his conclusion. Instead of quitting I would challenge him and anyone else to do something constructive about it. I know I am. That’s why I am spearheading the restructuring and reVISIONing of the Student Government. I reconvened our Constitution and Bylaw committee, to revise and streamline our policies and procedures, to make a more efficient and effective, and certainly more professional student government.”