The Direct Democracy Committee presented a proposal to convert Student Senate into a body based on participatory democracy rather than representative democracy in last night’s Student Senate meeting.
The resolution, which will be debated and voted on next week, would ask Ohio University students to vote on unionizing. If the majority of students in six colleges approve unionizing their individual college, Undergraduate Student Senate would adopt the proposed structure.
“It’s important for Student Senate to pass this resolution and allow the student body to decide for themselves whether or not they want a meaningful say and a meaningful way to participate in how we make decisions at the university,” said Ryan Powers, one of the four main students who developed the proposal this summer. “It’s important because university policies affect all students, and so students should have as much say and as much power as possible in making those policies.”
If implemented, senators of colleges that voted to unionize would become delegates responsible for relaying the interests of their union to the Senate General Body. All students would be able to participate and vote in their college unions, although there would be membership requirements.
Proponents of the proposed resolution believe the changes would give more students a greater say in the decisions made at Ohio University. However, concerns were raised during the Senate meeting regarding a decrease in the number of votes commissions would have.
“It’s clear they spent a great deal of time carefully thinking this out…and they are coming from a great place,” said Minority Affairs Commissioner Sasha Estrella-Jones, whose commission would go from having three votes to one under the proposed changes. “I don’t feel it’s the best decision for the people I’m representing because it’s taking away our voting numbers.”
According to the proposed charter, each commission would receive one vote while voting by colleges would be scaled depending on the size of the student body, giving the smallest college one vote, the largest two votes, and the others between one and two votes. Some current senator positions, such as residential green senators, would lose their votes in the General Body.
Estrella-Jones was also critical of the position she felt she would be placed in by having the responsibility of determining who should participate in her commission and who shouldn’t.
“It puts me in an a tough spot,” she said. “If somebody comes into a discussion, who am I to judge if they are a minority… It could be used by people who have alternate agendas.”
Because the total number of voting members in the General Senate Body would decrease, Powers said the voices of these commissions would still hold the same weight as they currently do.
“Proportionally, the voice of minorities and those who experience intense forms of oppression, those voices would still be elevated, with the addition that those voices would have a meaningful and direct impact on university policy,” Powers said. “If there are any concerns, hopefully they come out in the week leading up to the next meeting. As long as they fit with the overall structure of the proposal we would be open to it.”
In order to address the concerns of some commissioners, Estrella-Jones said she would consider asking for certain commissions, such as Minority Affairs, Black Affairs and LGBTQA, to retain their current model and three votes.
“Unionizing colleges might help students, but much needs to be considered before making a final vote,” Estrella-Jones said.
Questions were also raised as to whether the changes necessitate a constitutional amendment that would need to be ratified by the Ohio University Board of Trustees. However, the four students presenting the proposal, which included Powers, Treasurer Hannah Clouser, Honors Tutorial College Senator Daniel Kington and Academic Affairs Commissioner Praelo Zandonadi, said they structured the proposal to change the rules and procedures rather than the constitution.
“From a purely process-oriented perspective I don’t actually think the Board of Trustees are going to have to approve this, but regardless… it would be a problem for us to allow the Board of Trustees dictate to us how we run the university,” Powers said. “If the Board of Trustees really do have our best interests at heart then they will see they should comply with what the students genuinely want.”