JC Removes Three AAS Senators for Low Attendance
Issue   |   Tue, 04/26/2016 - 23:53

Three senators were removed from the Association of Amherst Students due to unexcused absences after a judiciary council hearing on April 17. One other student, who was elected to senate but had never attended a meeting, resigned prior to the hearing.

These incidents represent an uptick in senator absences this semester. The AAS constitution states, “Any senator or member of the Executive Branch entirely absent from (3) meetings per semester shall forfeit his or her seat on the Executive Branch or the Senate and its associated committees.”

Jacob Silverman ’19 filed a complaint to the judiciary council on April 13 concerning the attendance of the three senators. This is the only attendance-related complaint the council received this semester. The senator who had never attended a meeting was never sworn in as a senator and resigned after being encouraged to do so by members of the senate.

The JC has authority to remove senators based on violations of attendance policies. According to Emmanuel Osunlana ’18, an at-large member of the council, hearings about attendance tend to be a routine process.

“There isn’t much that exposed by way of query,” he said. “We’re asking questions of them, like ‘Do you agree that you missed this many meetings?’ and the answer is yes or no. If they say no, then we’re in charge of investigating.”
None of the senators at the last hearing denied their absences.

Chico Kosber ’17, the vice president of the AAS, is in charge of attendance policy. Every senator must inform the vice president about a planned absence before the meeting takes place. The vice president also has the authority to decide what counts as excused and unexcused absences.

Silvia Sotolongo ’19, the recently-elected secretary of the AAS, is in charge of keeping attendance records. She said that the senate has new efforts dedicated to improving attendance.

“People feel like coming to a senate meeting won’t get anything done, or that they don’t have anything to say, which is a real problem and something we’re trying to fix,” she said. “We have things like committee reports, where committee members talk about what they worked on over the week and sometimes there isn’t anything to report. Or if they don’t feel like they know what they’re voting for, such as discretionary funds, they’ll feel like the meeting isn’t worth it for them.”

Sotolongo said that the senate is also working on better communication about what counts as excused and unexcused absences, restructuring meetings to make them more efficient and ensuring that candidates only run for senate seats if they are willing to commit to weekly meetings.

Kosber said that senators on committees with faculty, staff and administrators have a particular obligation to attend their meetings because their attendance reflects on the reliability of senators.

In the past semester, the senate temporarily failed to reach quorum, or two thirds of members in attendance, on three occasions. Kosber said that this has not happened once since an isolated incident during his first year.

Jeremy Paula ’17, a senator elected this past February, said that he was motivated to run partially by the reputation of the senate.

“I really want to work with other students to see what we really care about and what we want to change here,” he said. “I guess I’m trying to add some feeling to the apathy in the senate. But I think it’s the way it functions, or its reputation, that makes it hard for students to get involved. Often, you’ll hear the criticism that the senate is jargon-y, or that it pushes off responsibilities.”

Paula said that these problems could account for the low number of candidates for senate seats in the April 26 election. He also said that the number of vacated seats has encouraged senators to think of better ways to retain members.

Kosber said that he is working on initiatives to improve community among senators, including holding more senate retreats in order to pass on institutional knowledge to new members. He also plans inviting administrators to more meetings and discouraging senate discussions from being centered on budgets and funding.