In trying to achieve a greater good, people often overlook the bigger picture and neglect to address crucial issues. Governments often fall into this category, and, in the case of its minutes, SA is no exception. With this in mind, we would like to sincerely remind Senate of its obligation to be transparent to the student body.
Transparency is a key ingredient in any effective democracy. In order to have a government truly for the people and by the people, constituents need to know what goes on within the halls of their legislatures and behind the doors of their councils. Individuals have the right to know how their elected representatives feel about certain issues and, critically, how they vote on them. How else would one know if his or her interests were actually being represented?
The first answer that comes to mind is simple: individuals should attend meetings of their government. Luckily, Senate has lived up to this basic tenant of transparency; usually, the body meets on Monday nights in Wilson Commons’ Gowen Room. But, this is not the most convenient option for many students, yet alone the most practical. Senate makes its meeting minutes available online for public viewing. This policy is excellent in every way—except for the fact that the most recent minutes uploaded to the Senate website were from its Nov. 4, 2013 meeting. When you do the math, that adds up to a gap of over 15 months without publically available and accessible minutes—something that is unacceptable.
We acknowledge that the problem of Senate minutes not being systematically uploaded is a very specific one, and we don’t want to blame one particular individual. But, it is inexcusable for an organization in Senate’s position to disregard its duty to the people who give it power in the first place. In doing so, Senate is hurting not only the student body, but also itself. Minutes effectively represent all members of Senate, and therefore all Senate members have a stake in wanting to see their publication.
It’s worth noting that Senate’s Communications & Public Relations Committee is working on mitigating the problem—their plans to revamp the website would include the archiving and uploading of minutes. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the month. Though this is certainly a step forward in making the process of accessing this important information more streamlined, it should not excuse the fact that minutes will not be accessible for students and the UR community for another few weeks on top of the past 15 months. All members of Senate are accountable to their constituents—the student body. It goes without saying that students should know what happens at Senate meetings. Minutes are the easiest way for students to get this information; accordingly, they should be easy to find, not shrouded behind cloaks of bureaucracy or hidden within mazes of links. We appreciate that Senate’s Communications & Public Relations Committee is working to make it easier to view the archive. But, in our opinion, the real issue here is even more basic than the issue of organization itself—the minutes are simply unavailable.
It’s also important to recognize the responsibility of the student body in this situation. Students need to take an active role in their government and should be diligent about both reading minutes and keeping their representatives in check. If that was the case, perhaps this issue would have been picked up immediately, rather than months later.