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Opinion: The public deserves a public Senate

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It’s been a long couple of weeks, interrupted by travel, family and food, but please bear with me as we return, briefly, to Nov. 22. On that day, The Post reported that according to OU’s Office of Legal Affairs, our Student Senate is not a public body. A catastrophic blow to what little legitimacy remains vested in student government at Ohio University, met with resounding silence.

The question of whether or not Student Senate qualifies as a public body arose when Senate went into executive session on Nov. 20 to vote on whether or not Senate executives ought to remain in their elected positions. If Senate is a public body, such a vote would be required by Ohio law to be taken in an open meeting rather than in an executive session. Ohio University’s Board of Trustees recently ran into some trouble for a similar secret vote. If, however, Student Senate is not a public body, such votes, and theoretically any vote, can be held in secret.

But we can theorize more ramifications of this decision than simple secret votes. If Student Senate is not a public body, what, then, are the use of elections? Can one simply declare one’s self a member of this non-public body? Matt Farmer will be thrilled. Assuming that a non-public body cannot make decisions for the public, will previous Senate votes and resolutions be called into question? What, indeed, will become of Lombeardi? And how will Student Senate justify $460,000 in student General Fee money entrusted to a group of people that has, apparently, no legal responsibilities and no public legitimacy?

These are, perhaps, silly questions, but they are questions spawned by silliness. How about a more serious question: why is it that when the Office of Legal Affairs announced that the three Senate executives, who had just barely managed to keep their jobs, no longer have any public authority and in theory never have, none of those three responded in any way? After all the work that Nick Southall put in last spring to make himself president of OU’s Student Senate, why is it that his infamously unfiltered Twitter page was conspicuously silent on being made a non-public, and therefore largely make-believe, president?

If OU students wanted any sort of response from a student leader, the only solace came from Columbus. Taylor Stepp, the president of Ohio State University’s Undergraduate Student Government, told The Post, “We are not liable under sunshine policy, but we are in conjunction with sunshine policy in every way shape and form.” Yes, at OSU they have a student leader willing to commit to leadership, even without the legal requirement of transparency. At OU, we have this.

 

 

At the very least, OU has a Graduate Student Senate willing and eager to declare themselves a public body. Perhaps the undergraduate Senate can discover similar courage or brains at Wednesday night’s meeting. Even so, this news demanded an immediate response from our student government. Now, two weeks later, it demands a forceful one, a promise to the student body that even if Senate is not technically a public body, it will still behave as one, with votes taking place only in open meetings. If the leadership of this body cannot do such a simple, core task of leadership, then they do not deserve to call themselves leaders. Nick Southall is nothing more than a random student who happens to have a full-tuition scholarship and a free parking pass. Jordan Ballinger, the young man who apparently wants to succeed Southall, can forget his ambitions, for why should the public vote for a non-public official to lead a non-public body?

There is no Student Senate if not a public senate, and no student leaders if not responsible leaders. Until we have both, let Walter Hall be locked on Wednesday nights and ring as silent as the leadership of Ohio University’s student government.

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