A two-thirds senate majority voted to eliminate the five “commons senator” position beginning in the 2020–2021 school year at the last Student Government Association (SGA) meeting of J-Term. The impending dissolution of the Commons System next fall prompted the proposal.
The vote for the removal of the commons senator positions comes with a vote in favor of changing the names of the members from “senators” to “representatives.” Although two-thirds of the senate voted in favor of this measure, the two proposals require a referendum before they can be implemented because they necessitate amending the SGA Constitution. This means that the student body will have the opportunity to vote for or against the amendments in the spring election cycle.
The elimination of the commons senator position was not the only option proposed to address the future termination of the Commons System. Myles Maxie ’22, the current Wonnacott Senator, suggested an alternative that would maintain the size of the senate by adding an additional senator per class year. The body discussed several other options, including adding the president of the International Students Organization (ISO) to the senate or adding a senator position for each dean.
The potential inclusion of the ISO President was meant to address the concern that a smaller senate might reduce diversity of voice, but the SGA eventually decided the change would be unfair to other student organizations, according to Maxie. Senators eventually voted to either reduce the size of the senate body through the removal of the commons senator positions, or to maintain its size by adding another senator per class year.
Maxie said he has been communicating with members of his commons about the restructuring of SGA for months.
“In speaking to my constituents, the vast majority supported having three class representatives instead of two per class year,” Maxie said.
Other senators, however, favored the possible opportunities afforded by a smaller senate.
“By having a smaller senate, we would hopefully merge cabinet and senate into one longer meeting where senators and cabinet can hear about the projects and work that is going on,” said Community Council Co-Chair Roni Lezama ’22. “Hopefully it could be a space where increased communication between the two are fostered and collaboration will naturally occur.”
SGA’s cabinet and senate currently have separate weekly meetings. SGA President Varsha Vijayakumar ’20 also voted to reduce the size of the senate.
“Over the nearly four years that I have been involved in SGA, I’ve been able to observe and identify what works and what doesn’t,” Vijayakumar said. “One thing we can all agree on — regardless of experience level, class year, or position — is that our body can always be more effective and efficient than it currently is.”
Vijayakumar explained how the senate has faced uncontested elections due to a dearth of candidates in the past. She hopes that a decrease in size will aid in increasing competition and encourage candidates to establish clearer visions and ideas on which to build their campaigns.
“The most successful senators are those who commit to developing a strong platform, receive the student mandate in their favor and then set out to enact that platform over the course of their tenure,” she said.
Before students vote on the matter, the Elections Council will send out information about the referendum, as well as yes-or-no-questions that will allow students to indicate if they support removing the commons senator position and changing the “senator” title to “representative.” The amendments will pass if they receive a majority vote from the student body. If they fail to meet this level of support, they will go back to the senate so that members can edit them.
The last referendum took place in spring of 2018 and addressed the college’s divestment from fossil fuels. The vote was concurrent with the general elections, and SGA saw an uptick in voter turnout, according to Vijayakumar: 68.3% of the student body voted in the spring 2018 election, compared with about 41% in spring 2017 and under 37% in spring 2019.