Hosting Senate at the Zü
Issue   |   Wed, 02/29/2012 - 00:00

This week, the Senate convened at Amherst’s shrouded paradise, the Humphries House, also known as the Zü. The Zü escapes the average student’s gaze, located beyond a wooded veil on Snell Street. It is often considered to have greater affinity with Hampshire than Amherst, but its residents captain our frisbee teams, direct our plays, burgeon our orchestra, and write our Pain in the AAS column.

The Zü is widely considered to be an alternative space on campus, a divergence from mainstream Amherst culture. But in many ways, we’re just a step ahead of the rest of you. Late night dining? We’ve got burgers ready to be grilled at any time of day. Dinner at 2 a.m. is no problem. Sweet spring concert? The Zü hosted Sammy Adams several years ago and continues to host great bands throughout the year. Here, TAP means Thoroughly Alternative Party. Better campus center? Our living room has a ping-pong table, a piano, games, karaoke, plus unlimited snacks. We’re not so far off the beaten path. Of course, we have plenty of oddities, eccentricities, organic foods and barely clothed people. Curiously, there is also a disembodied leg hanging from the light fixture above me.

Considering the Senate’s goal of transparency, it made great sense to hold a meeting in this seldom-visited place. Students often have no idea what goes on in either the Senate or the Zü. Just as the Senate invites students to learn about what we do, on this night, the Zü invited senators to see how the house works. For many senators, Monday was their first time in our venerable house. Vice president Geoff Ainslie, arranged the meeting to be on the fifth different location of a Senate meeting this year — we’ve also been at the Red Room, Charles Pratt common room, Stirn Auditorium and Coolidge basement. All these locations have got us thinking about the diversity of student life on campus.

The meeting itself showed how disconnected the Senate can be from important campus discussions. The bulk of our debate focused on a proposed bylaw to establish a committee to regulate Senate meetings. This bylaw would cap the length of Senate meetings, place limits debate on agenda items and generally create more rules to guide our discussions. These rules would need to be overturned by 2/3 vote. This issue provided controversy for the meeting and unfortunately dominated the agenda. It also showed the flaws in hardline rule following. Senators had 40-second time limits for their speeches, and while some rapid-fired their way through six points during the allotted time, others made two points and then got back on the speaker’s list to make more points. The result was a harried debate that left many senators unsatisfied by the arguments presented. We also had to vote to extend the debate by five minutes since the original time limit was insufficient. Senators were called to vote Yay or Nay, and a 2/3 majority did not arise from the cacophony to deny the motion. After all this, we decided to wait until next meeting to vote on the proposal, after changes to the wording had been made. The structure did not provide sufficient flexibility to deal with a complex issue.

This meeting, while wonderfully located, did not show the AAS at its best. This year, we’ve had great discussions about intellectual and social diversity, traditions, social life and electric cars, among others topics. Senators have raised intriguing proposals for Senate projects. Now, we don’t want to spend our entire Monday nights talking about these things. But this year, we’ve moved from a procedurally focused body to an agent for change. Our meetings have reflected this, as we’ve hosted forums on important issues and brought great new proposals forward. However, we have to keep this momentum going and make sure we’re not just approving funds and arguing about procedural minutiae. This is what we’ve discussed at the past two meetings and is yet unresolved. If this all we do, who would want to know about it? Who would want to be represented by such a body? If we don’t have agenda items of relevance and gravity to discuss and vote on, why meet?

I do digress on this issue, however, since it is a debate directed towards productive discussions in the future. However, a number of interesting ideas were raised that students should know about and come talk to us about. Noah Gordon ’14 is working on an Asian languages theme house, as well as improving language houses overall. Anyone interested in those issues should contact him. Alex Stein ’13 continues to develop a new Amherst Scrutiny and a Jeffpedia, which will contain all manner of Amherst-related information. The Program Board continues to work on Spring Concert, although their negotiations are still confidential. To hold us over, they’re putting on a casino night on the March 9. Dominos After Dark was a great event and Casino Night should be of similar quality. The Arts Committee is bringing student art to Schwemm’s and Frost Café, while also sponsoring public art projects in Eli Marsh Gallery and hopefully a wall of Pond Annex. Anyone interested in promoting arts on campus should contact Our committees will continue to develop new ideas for our campus, hopefully with lots of student input. May our future meetings reflect these developments and give students a forum to express their interests.