Senate Notes: Resolution Sent Back, Pham Set Back

Gin Dumcius

In what is seen by some as a stunning setback for Senate President Tuan Pham, the senate voted to send a resolution in support of House 2400 back to committee. The issue over whether or not to vote in support of House Bill 2400, which switches waivable fees to optional fees on students’ tuition bills, took center stage midway through the senate’s second meeting of the fall semester.

The resolution, vigorously supported by Pham, was pulled from the agenda at the senate’s first meeting several weeks ago when Pham realized he did not have the votes for it to pass. Pham and supporters of the House bill and the student senate’s resolution say that the issue is one of fairness, since many students do not know that they can waive some of the fees on their bills, and many others forget to. Pham believes that changing the fee from opt-out to opt-in would be more even-handed.

In equally vigorous opposition stands the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), whose funding would be drastically damaged if the bill, currently sitting in a House education committee, were to pass. MassPIRG has a $6 optional fee and The Mass Media has a $10 optional fee. MassPIRG is arguing that students’ rights are at issue.

“Students have voted ‘yes’ time and again” for the fee, testified Rebecca Smalls, chairwoman of the UMass Boston chapter of MassPIRG. The fee is “fair” and “democratic” she said, since students vote every two years on whether or not to keep the fee on the bill.

MassPIRG has been lobbying senators to vote against the resolution for several weeks, meeting with senators up to the morning of the senate meeting. A campaign kick-off was held in the early afternoon to highlight MassPIRG’s plans for this semester against hunger, homelessness, water pollution, and global warming. “A lot of groups on campus talk about what could be done, but we do it,” said Smalls at the meeting.

“It’s not just about opting-in and opting-out,” said Senator William Roach. “This is about student rights.”

“It’s being framed as a students’ rights issue, and it’s really not,” said Senator Jesse Solomon. “The only thing it’s changing is the way it appears on their tuition bill. The reality hasn’t been presented today by anyone.”

The resolution was sent to the Campus and Community Affairs Committee (CCA) for a closer look, as well as giving the newly-elected senators a chance to decide on the issue.

Senators were praised for their overall performance in its second meeting of the year.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. Keith Motley, who attended the meeting, called the student senators “very professional” and “on top of the issues I’m concerned about.”

“It was all business,” he said.

Queer Liberation Front Questioned

The Student Senate voted to activate the Queer Liberation Front (QLF) despite initial reservations of “cross-membership” and its mirroring of the Queer Student Union (QSU).

Senators William Roach and Robert Nappier were originally apprehensive towards the club. Senator Bryan Smith, chairman of the Student Events and Organizations Committee (SEOC) stated that the club’s mission looked similar to the QSU’s, and since there was no representative at an SEOC meeting the previous week, it was suggested that it be brought to the senate for approval.

Roach stated that the QSU and the QLF seemed to mirror each other, and Nappier complained of a 20% crossover in student clubs and their activation forms, calling it “double-dipping.”

Senator and QSU coordinator Colleen O’Malley took pains to distinguish the QSU from the QLF, saying that the QSU’s purpose was to provide resources and education, while demands by students for a more politically involved – but separate – organization led to the formation of the QLF.

Former Senate President Joseph Panciotti who observed the meeting said, “Centers are different from clubs.”

All except O’Malley, who abstained due to conflict of interest, and Senator Smith, who was opposed, voted in favor of approving the club.

At the meeting, 57 other clubs were activated as well, and each were given $225 from the Student Activities Trust Fund. The number is down from $300 due to the current budget crisis.

Casa Latina’s Trip Approved

Casa Latina asked for $3,590 for twenty students to attend an October Dominican-American National Roundtable Conference in New Jersey. Because of a traveling ban placed on trips outside of New England in March by then-Interim Dean of Student Affairs Angeline Ellison, some senators expressed concerns on whether it could be funded.

“It’s ultimately a temporary restriction. It’s not a policy,” Ellison said at a senate meeting in April.

Vice Chancellor Motley, having joined the administration in August, said he hadn’t been previously aware of the traveling ban. Motley said he would make a decision with the Student Senate on how to proceed, since he wants to “look at this policy.” Until then, trips are being approved on a case-by-case basis. The Casa Latina trip is “important enough” and New Jersey is close enough for it to proceed, said Motley. The senate voted unanimously to approve the money.

The Students Arts and Events Council (SAEC) requested and received $7,500 to pay for free student IDs and discounts at special events at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The Veteran’s Center received $500 for audio rental equipment, supplies, and advertising for their open house on October 8.

Dena Capano contributed to this report.