Posted on Behalf of Michael J. Bove, former Student Senator
The other day I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post from the Student Senate. It advertised 8 open positions from the recent election, including 2 elected positions. Over my past few years at Siena, I have seen a gradual decline in the level of participation in the Senate.With the amount of open positions, there seems to be an all-time low in interest in our school’s governing body. Maybe it is because the school’s “governing body” is actually not at all a governing body. It is a dysfunctional organization, plagued with the worst traits of a bureaucracy, with little actual authority at all.
Let’s be clear, these are not the rantings of someone who lost their election. Since my freshman year, I have served in a variety of positions. They have been both elected and un-elected. I spent most of my time serving as an elected Senator-At-Large but my highest-ranking position that I served in was when I was elected as Vice President of the Senate. Over my 4 year serving on that body, I have fought every meeting for more authority and accountability in the Senate.
Presently, our Senate has very little authority. In fact, the only authority I can think of is allowing new clubs to form and then allocating money to those clubs through the Budget Allocation Committee (BAC), which I also served on. But there is no actual governance. I’m writing this piece on December 1st, there is currently a petition going around with hundreds of signatures asking that classes be cancelled because of the current snowstorm bombarding the Capital Region. Ideally, our Student Senate would advocate on our behalf. But the organization has absolutely no seat at the table when and if a decision to cancel classes is made.
Other Student Senates at colleges across the nation have the ability to make hiring and pay decisions for faculty. Ours does not. Other Student Senates have the ability to allow or restrict student events. Ours does not. Other Student Senates pass laws that affect the governance of the student body.Again, ours does not. Since the only thing we do is allow for clubs to be created, perhaps this organization should be renamed the “Siena College Club Committee”, since that is the only authority that they have.
Or perhaps it should be renamed the “Siena College Social Club” as too many members only use the Senate to pad their resumes and order Senate-branded jackets and other apparel. If you think this criticism is too harsh, why don’t you check out the meeting minutes that are supposed to be posted weekly after meetings are conducted. For this semester, you cannot! Not a
single meeting minute from this semester has been posted. There is NO evidence to suggest that the Student Senate has done ANYTHING this semester except hold a town hall meeting a few weeks ago. You cannot find that fact on Saints Connect (where meeting minutes are supposed to be posted), instead it was reported on in this paper.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard working people on the Senate. I have had the absolute privilege of working with so many dedicated servant leaders who exemplified what it meant to serve on a Student Senate, over my years on the Senate. However, those numbers are dwindling as dedicated students realize that there is no incentive to join the Senate. There is no actually authority vested in the “governing body.”
To solve this problem, the Student Senate needs two key changes. First, the organization needs actual authority. Leadership must demand the ability to make important, high-level decisions. Other schools allow Student Senates to make important decisions, why won’t Siena afford us the same responsibilities? Secondly, Senate officials must be compensated. This could take the form of partial tuition reimbursement, payment of a meal plan, priority housing selection, or any combination thereof. The details for both of these initiatives would need to be
worked out by the individuals pursuing those changes but we need BOTH of those changes to encourage people to participate in Student Government so that it can be effective.
I graduate in just a few days. I am truly saddened that I cannot continue to advocate for these changes. My purpose for writing this is to hopefully inspire some underclassmen to take up this challenge and restore the Senate to its former glory. I believe in the idea of a Student Senate, but in its current form, the organization that I worked so hard for has become a disgrace. Good luck to everyone who runs for a Student Government position. Making these changes will be challenging but so very rewarding.