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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Senate for the Students – Editorial 2/12/04

The beginning of this semester has been marked by crisis for the UMass Boston student leadership. First, the Student Senate president quit. Then, the Student Trustee quit. The chairman of Student Events & Organization Committee quit, and now the chairman of Campus & Community Affairs has quit.

Is this an indication that something wrong with the student leadership on this campus?

We need to open a discussion on campus and identify some concrete steps both students and the senate can take towards the development of a healthier and more involved leadership.

The Student Senate is the main undergraduate leadership body, with over $500,000 at its disposal. They disburse funds to student groups, fund activities and trips, in addition to a variety of causes on campus. The senate, in theory, is accountable to their constituency – the students. Anyone can vote and run for a seat on this body, and anyone can propose a funding request.

Every UMB student should feel that they have a voice in how that $500,000 gets distributed. Most of the money goes to student clubs and organizations but very few people know that to propose a funding request you don’t even have to be a member of a club.

The fact is that most students don’t have time to fully participate in student politics because of jobs or other obligations. This significantly reduces the pool from which leaders are drawn. It’s up to the Student Senate to rectify that.

On campus voting is pitiful; not surprising on a big commuter campus like UMass Boston, where everybody has outside responsibilities. Currently, the vote tally stands around 500 votes out of 12,000 students, not a respectable percentage by any means. The senate should consider a big campaign to help students learn how they can vote in the upcoming elections.

That said, many who do engage with the senate get completely demoralized by overly rigid procedures and complex rules. It is time to reform the bylaws and relax procedures. Also good training for new senators on how to communicate with and represent their constituency is essential.

Another option to consider is paying a stipend to student senators. This could enable students who would otherwise have to work to participate in student government.

The last two years have been trying times for UMass Boston as a whole. With all the problems the deep budget cuts have caused, we need a strong and healthy student leadership more than ever.