In the short nine months that I have spent at UR, the operations of the Students’ Association (SA) government have always seemed vaguely mysterious. This isn’t a surprise, since I was a freshman wrapped up in navigating my new, shiny environment for most of that time, and I didn’t make an effort to follow SA’s actions. But, after becoming a news editor for the Campus Times, I learned that it’s not as easy as it could be to keep up with SA, even when you’re trying.
If the Senate meeting minutes on the SA website are accurate, the last Senate meeting of the spring semester was on April 6, about one month before classes ended. The minutes for that meeting are coming soon—as are the minutes for March 16, 23, 30 and Feb. 16. This semester, Senate had an agenda on Sept. 7. Nothing else.
This clearly isn’t the case. Our opinions editor attended a Senate meeting on Sept. 21, hoping to see the minutes from the prior week so that he could consult them for a news story. To his dismay, the minutes were neither finished nor approved and were thus not uploaded online, so he had to write the article without them. So, while SA is, presumably, an organized group, the records of the Senate meetings are updated in a patchy and tardy fashion. The Senate is not as transparent as it could be.
Students who do not attend the meetings will find it difficult to keep abreast of the Senate’s movements and cannot applaud or protest its actions in a timely manner. If the general student body isn’t aware of what our senate is doing, it can’t truly participate in, contribute to or communicate with the student government.
Similarly, it’s hard to track in-progress Impact petitions. The Impact website is a great idea—it allows students to air any grievances to a large and potentially supportive student body while alerting the relevant departments to these complaints. Petitions are marked as in-progress once they gain 250 signatures. And, then, as far as you would know from just looking at the site, they stay in-progress. Senate passed resolutions corresponding with some of the petitions, but that’s not immediately apparent when you’re viewing the petition.
It doesn’t help that all Impact petitions created more than two months ago are temporarily hidden from view due to changes to the front-end of the site. Though SA is working on fixing this, the student responses to the hidden petitions highlight the value of transparency. In fact, a student created a petition to show approved petitions which, at press time, had 136 signatures.
SA President Grant Dever said in an email that SA is currently working on adding functionality to the Impact site so that administrators can easily post updates on projects. This will hopefully add much needed visibility to SA’s work on in-progress petitions because the in-progress stamp on a petition tells us frustratingly little. Students should be able to track the changes caused by their petitions so that they can offer input as those changes are implemented. Additionally, others may be encouraged to create petitions when they see SA acting on existing ones.
At the very least, the current lack of transparency makes it harder for us to stay up-to-date with SA’s actions. I would say that it even impedes our ability to enact change as a student body. Dever said in his email that SA is working to be “as transparent and communicative as possible.” I’m looking forward to seeing how he and SA Vice President Melissa Holloway implement their plans.
Lai is a member of the class of 2018.