This past fall, the 12th ASSU Undergraduate Senate passed twelve bills, the majority of which focused on internal reform.
“On the whole, I think we focused on internal matters [this fall],” said Senate Chair Michael Cruz ’12.
Specifically, rules of order for the Senate were revised, and a standardized nomenclature for bills and a Senate archive were created. Other bills mandated full attendance at meetings and more flexible committee meetings.
The focus on internal matters was not seen as a positive attribute of the 12th Senate by many. One senator, Will Seaton ’13, commented, “There were a few bills that I thought were either a little too specific, a little unnecessary to put into law, or a little bit of a waste of time.”
One such bill Seaton mentioned was the Rules of Order bill, also referred to as “the Facebook bill,” which partly set down guidelines regarding what senators could and could not use laptops for during meetings.
“We spent a lot of time discussing that bill, which I felt could have been summarized in a public declaration of ‘hey guys, let’s try really hard to not go on Facebook and focus during meetings,’” explained Seaton.
Cruz, who co-authored the bill, defended the legislation, arguing that it “has been successful in kind of streamlining meetings.”
“I think compared to last year, across the board, senators are very engaged and excited to be at the meetings and doing this work,” added Cruz, the only incumbent senator.
Some in the student body were more skeptical of the legislation. Former Senator Zachary Warma ’11 commented, “One of the very few things they’re stipulated to do in the bylaws is to engage in their meetings, and they have to legislate people to pay attention? That’s pretty frightening.”
Additionally, the Senate focused on interpersonal relations, an effort exemplified by the creation of the Internal Development Chair of the ASSU Undergraduate Senate.
“In previous years, we’ve had Senates where people outright have stated they hated one another, so that’s kind of what [the internal development chair] is aimed at [correcting],” said Cruz.
Discussion and debate about the position spanned multiple meetings. One issue raised was that while senators had tried to plan events in the past, they “were not sure who was organizing” those events. As such, the position of internal development chair could help “to avoid senators feeling like they [were] overreaching.”
“From a parliamentarian standpoint, it was a new step,” explained Senator Rebecca Sachs ’13 of the position. “But the Senate thought it was a necessary step.”
“Apple juice pong” was suggested as a possible activity the chair could help organize among the senators.
“An [Internal Development Chair] is not a priority, per se, in any way of the Senate,” added Seaton. “But we institutionalized it, made it a position, and made a bill for it because we hope that every year, senators will move away from making personal attacks and instead be able to use this position to bring together the Senate.”
Regarding the new position, former Senator Warma remarked, “It speaks volumes of the 12th Undergraduate Senate to spend weeks on developing this position. This is one of those things that no one outside of the ASSU really cares about. Nor does it in any way improve the life of students at Stanford.”
Regarding the heavy emphasis on internal matters, many senators cited the delayed transition period they experienced before taking office. The 12th Undergraduate Senate did not convene until nine weeks into the 2010 spring quarter, multiple weeks later than senates of years past.
“I think this year, the ratio of time spent on projects that concern the student body versus our own legislative issues has shifted,” commented Sachs.
“Our committees weren’t formed until the last week of school, which meant that a lot of our projects and legislative goals were formed mid-quarter. Most of the big issues and big projects that we have are coming winter quarter.”
Seaton echoed this sentiment: “A lot of our exploration and development occurred this [fall] quarter instead of spring quarter, when it usually does. That’s why many of the bills are focused on internal reform or ways we can work better as a body.”
Still, others have raised concerns regarding a senate too focused on internal matters, instead of on improving student life.
“Where’s the Senate on SUES or on ROTC?” commented Warma. “These are issues that are affecting students now, and more so will be affecting students down the line.”
Harrison Pask ‘13 echoed Warma’s sentiments, questioning the Senate’s ability to get anything done: “I don’t think the general Stanford student body thinks of these senators as actually having any real pull to enact change.”
When asked whether he thought the internal matters were finally sorted out, Senator Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 summed it up in the following manner: “I’d say you’re never finished working on a system until it’s no longer in use. I mean the U.S. Constitution will continue to be amended…for decades to come.”
“We’re not saying that we’re perfect, but we’re saying that we’re doing a lot of good,” noted Macgregor-Dennis.