Latest Senate Meeting Undescribable

Gin Dumcius

On Wednesday, September 25, the Student Senate met for the second time this semester in the Wheatley Building Student Lounge on the fourth floor at 2:30. What could have been an hour-long meeting nearly doubled in length, slowed down by a power struggle, quibbles over semantics, as well as speechifying from all corners of the room by senators and audience members alike.

The struggle for power erupted early on while the Senate was voting to approve of the agenda. Student Trustee Heather Dawood moved for a seven minute time limit to be added to the discussion of each agenda item. Dawood repeatedly clashed with Senate President Joseph Panciotti over the wording of the motion, as well as speaking directly to other senators instead of through the chair. At one point, when the trustee asked for a point of order, Panciotti called the trustee “out of order” and asked her to come to order.

Things got very confusing very quickly as the Senate got bogged down in minute details and Robert’s Rules of Order, so much that several times Panciotti had to turn to the audience and explain what was going on in front of them. The motion for the seven-minute restriction was eventually passed, but everyone was left with the irony that the discussion for the seven minute time limit on discussions had already passed seven minutes.

Dawood later said, “I was mortified that it took us 40 minutes to put a seven minute time limit on discussion.”

Mass Media columnist and former senator Christopher Garner was also present at the meeting, and managed to set off tensions when he made a point of clarification, pointing out that the only person on the Senate who hadn’t been elected by default was

Senator Dawood. Dawood asked for a point of order, and was told that she was out of order by the Chair. “The Chair would like to have the opportunity to recognize those who are… hoping to be recognized, regardless of whether the Chair is speaking or not,” Panciotti said, recognizing Director Morgan, who was seated in the room. Director Morgan corrected Panciotti, stating that a “point of order” entitled the person to interrupt.

“That is understood. However, the Chair is in the process of pointing out that we will have order, period. Otherwise, we will become a government of anarchy, and this Chair will not tolerate that. Is that understood? I don’t care–” Panciotti responded, only to be interrupted again by a point of order by Dawood.

“At the moment I am making a ruling. We will have order,” he said, before finally recognizing Senator Dawood.

The tension has been around long before Panciotti became President and Dawood became Student Trustee, something which Senator Jesse Solomon attributes to differing personalities and viewpoints.

“[Panciotti]’s a stickler for procedure. I mean, he knows Robert’s Rules of Order and parliamentary procedure like the back of his hand. It’s very infrequently where he gets something like an amendment reading or a senate procedure wrong, which he did do today,” he said. “Heather [Dawood]’s also very experienced with parliamentary procedure and our by-laws, and both of them I think have just very different ideas.” The personality conflicts, says Solomon, reflect poorly on the whole body when they’re done in public meetings. “What’s good about the Senate, the three semesters I’ve been on, is that the conflicts have always been resolved… In the end, in my mind, that’s all that’s important. The policy gets passed on behalf of the students during our session.”

Once the meeting moved into an Open Forum, Christopher Garner spoke up again. “Never in all my life have I seen a group of senators who don’t know the difference between a point of information and a point of clarification. They don’t know parliamentary procedure, they’re not aware of the by-laws. We have pieces of legislation that are being passed without proper committee approval, we have pieces of legislation that are being passed without proper dissemination of information. We have rules that are made to limit discussion, and what that says to me about the value of discussion inside this Senate is that it’s not important because decisions are already made previous to entering the room.”

“I feel that there is a severe lack of leadership, organization, and accountability inside this student government. This is something for those of you who are also aware, this is something that I have been working on as student ombudsperson. For the open forum, I’d like to say this: I will no longer be pursuing, nor assisting, nor advocating on behalf of bettering this system in any means necessary,” Garner said. “I watched a power struggle go down in front of the Senate. At some point, almost everybody in this room laughed at the behavior of our legislation.” When he sat back down, the crowd applauded.

Dawood later told The Mass Media that “Parliamentary procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order are important to use as guidelines, but, whenever they inhibit the forward movement of a meeting, the use of them should be suspended.”

President Panciotti also jumped in, passing the gavel to Senator Paul Delaria. “I have been in this body for four years. I have missed two meetings in four years. This is my fifth year. And I am appalled when I hear people moan and bitch and groan that we are not doing our jobs. This is the beginning of a new year. We have a 75% rate of turnover. We expect that it’s stated in our student handbook for the new Senate, that this is a learning experience. Certainly, we have expectations that people who would run for student government would be at least aware of certain procedures as they are stated in our own handbook. But unfortunately, the way the world is at this point in time, there’s a hell of a lot of animosity toward government. We are the government of this student body, this campus. That is reality. Unfortunately, we haven’t had enough people who want to become involved. That is their problem, not ours.”

“I have absolutely no reason to apologize, nor will I, for the behavior of the Senate. If you don’t like it, don’t come. If you really don’t like it, join it and straighten it out. If you don’t participate, you don’t vote, you don’t have a thing to say that I’m willing to listen to. That’s that. Don’t like it, lump it. You don’t like the way I chair meetings, you chair the meetings. I’ll be very happy to stand down. I don’t need the presidency,” he said.

“The Senate is definitely in a learning mode,” said Morgan, when asked to comment on the meeting. Some senators, however, took a darker view, and many came away feeling ashamed and disappointed.

“It was an abomination,” Senator Babbitt later said, “I had to leave. I was embarrassed for myself and for the student body.”

Also covered during the meeting:

During the committee report section of the meeting, Senator H. Todd Babbitt, chair of the Campus and Community Affairs Committee (CCA), put out a two-page statement on the issue of an ombudsperson for UMass Boston, stating that the committee was exploring the position and researching it with the “Urban-13”, a “confederation of big-city universities begun by a group of provosts and academic vice presidents in the early 1970s to address common issues and opportunities.” UMass Boston is one of those member institutions listed. The CCA plans for a campus survey directed at the undergraduate students “to see if we need an ombudsperson position.” The CCA hopes to present a report by October 30th to Joyce Morgan, director of Student Life and advisor to the Student Senate.

-Senators Tonya Adams-Samuels, Kristina Lopez, Tuan Pham, and Jesse Solomon were all confirmed as appointments to the Budget & Finance Committee.

-The Senate authorized the editorship of The Watermark, the university’s literary magazine, as a paid position.

-Requests for funding were approved for the CCA ($8,000), and advertising in the Mass Media ($6,000).

-The Senate elected Lexi Nolan to the College of Arts and Sciences, and Andrew Barnes to the College of Management.