As a result of the recent resignation of a class of 2013 SA senator, the lack of clarity in a portion of the Student Association Senate Constitution has become evident. This year, a total of five senators have resigned, making the importance of clarifying the process for filling a vacant senate seat necessary.
On Monday, Feb. 11, a motion made by the Senate to overrule the bylaws, thereby allowing the seat to remain vacant, passed with a 15-2 majority.
According to the bylaws that govern the process of filling an empty senate seat, “vacancies shall be automatically filled by the eligible candidate who received the next highest number of votes for the vacant seat if more than 10 academic weeks remain before the end of spring elections.”
However, if the list of eligible alternate candidates is exhausted, “nominations to fill the seat shall be made by the Steering Committee and approved by a majority of the Senate.”
The Senate had three options in overruling the bylaws: leaving the seat vacant, filling the Senate seat with an individual who applied through the Steering Committee (a mostly non-elected body), or filling the seat through a Senate shuffle (in which a 2013 at-large senator would fill the spot and the next eligible candidatel would fill that at-large spot).
One concern is that the Steering Committee application process allows an un-elected body to select a senator, a position that is typically assigned by election. Other senators cited concerns about the usefulness of adding an inexperienced senator to the table.
Senator David Weinberg, who joined the Senate midway through the semester, acknowledged, “you can do all the research you want but not sitting here with people who are actually discussing it [means] there’s a huge chunk of information that’s just not there.”
Other senators echoed Weinberg’s opinion.
“I think it’s a detriment to the table to having someone who has an equal vote to each of us who would be making, in many cases, an uninformed decision,” senior Senator Shiv Rambarran said.
Because the vacant seat belonged to a senior, the person filling the spot would only serve the remainder of the year in the position.
“There’s no leadership development to gain from it,” freshman Senator David Stark concluded. “It seems like it would be cumbersome to the person we took on and it wouldn’t give much tangible reward to that person or the senate.”
Although most were in agreement, Take Five scholar and Senator Bradley Halpern disagreed with the decision, citing a decision from earlier this year to use the Senate shuffle. The other vacancies were filled with using the lists.
According to Halpern, choosing not to fill the seat when previous seats had been filled by the shuffle method was an arbitrary decision, and should have instead followed the same process used with the previous vacancies: once the list of alternate candidates was exhausted, the shuffle was used.
Despite the limited opposition, the Senate will operate for the remainder of the year with 17 senators and a vacancy in one of the seats allocated to the class of 2013.
As a result of this decision, the Senate plans to revise and clarify the bylaws so that future vacancies will have a clearly delineated process for filling seats.
Remus is a member of the class of 2016.