Welcome, Senate Class of 2015; Goodbye, Tenure Immunity
Issue   |   Wed, 10/05/2011 - 01:32

The full 2011-2012 Senate has finally been seated.

Indeed, the fourth meeting of the AAS on Monday night began with a classic Senate tradition — the swearing-in ceremony. Those elected to the Senate by the student body last Thursday were not officially senators until they recited an “oath of office.” These 10 senators-elect — eight from the class of 2015 and two from the class of 2013 — had to assure the rest of the Senate that, among other things, they had no “mental reservations” or “purpose of evasion” before being sworn in.

It dawned on me during this swearing-in that we could improve this “oath of office,” or perhaps eliminate it entirely. Who joins the Senate with a “purpose of evasion?” Evade what? The Senate? And don’t we all have some “mental reservations” about the choices we make?

On the one hand, this is kind of a pointless discussion. But there is a larger issue here, which is that there are a lot of us on the Senate who think that the AAS Constitution — which specifies this “oath of office” — is a bloated monstrosity of a document. Anyone can read all 400 pages of it (not including the bylaws, of course), and judge for themselves.

Judiciary Council Chair George Tepe ’14 announced at Monday’s meeting that there are going to be a series of 20-plus amendments that will go to a referendum in the coming weeks to fix some of the contradictions in the Constitution, but I’m still under the impression that we may need to scrap the entire thing and start over.

In news that people might care about, the Social Policy “task force” reached an agreement with the administration to throw a pilot party of sorts in a social space not generally accustomed to parties: O’Connor Commons. The party will be 90s-themed, complete with Dunkaroos, Nickelodeon fruit snacks and other delicious 90s treats. The administration wants to know which spaces might be good for campus parties, so this will be a test trial for the infrequently used O’Connor Commons.

Also of note is that, with AAS funding, Justin Baker Rhett ’12 is trying to assemble an Amherst pep band that would play at major sporting events. There was a small movement to do this last year, but this year there is a general consensus on the Senate that we need to do more to encourage school spirit at sporting events. Look out for information on that group in the coming days.

There is also one issue that the Senate is championing that may get some more attention in the coming weeks. As many students know, Amherst does not have any sort of evaluations for tenured professors. While junior-level professors are constantly evaluated, both by colleagues and students, tenured professors are not required to seek any input about their teaching.

What students might not realize is how unorthodox this policy is. Virtually all peer institutions have some sort of evaluations for tenured professors, and we believe that Amherst should have these evaluations as well. We don’t think tenured professors are bad or need more oversight, we just think Amherst should fall in line with peer institutions and allow students to give input to all professors. It is worth noting, also, that these evaluations would not be seen by anyone other than the professors themselves.

This might seem like a harmless proposal, and I would argue that it is, but we have gotten serious pushback thus far.

Tenured professors have an enormous amount of power at Amherst, so any policies that challenge some of their privileges are understandably controversial. In any event, Matt DeButts ’14, who serves on the Committee on Educational Policy, is serving as our liaison on this issue.

Finally, congratulations again to the 10 new AAS members. And, dear God, I hope none of you have any “mental reservations” or “purpose of evasion.”