As the student body will soon vote on whether to keep the five SGA commons senator seats, I would like to argue in favor of these representative positions.
I will begin by addressing the obvious: there is, of course, the fact that there will no longer be any commons for commons senators to represent come the fall of 2020. There have, however, been proposed alternatives to the position of common senator. One I quite like is the prospect of assigning representatives to each dean, an idea that was proposed at the last SGA senate meeting of J-Term. This would still eliminate one of the current positions — there will only be four deans come fall — but would maintain the spirit and character of the commons senator seats. (Because a new iteration of the commons senator may reflect the position currently in place, I will refer in this article to these future positions as they are currently known – as commons senators.)
My belief that these representative positions should remain is directly tied to my experience with my own commons senator. Wonnacott Senator Myles Maxie ‘22 is someone who cares deeply, both about the SGA and about communicating with his constituency. When I hear from my sophomore senators, they send emails that tell me they know I don’t like long emails. Instead of serving as a considerate introduction to their email, however, this statement usually takes up about a third of the email and makes me want to stop reading it, which I often do. Maxie, on the other hand, is the only SGA representative I hear from in a way that feels meaningful and important. Unlike the lists of bullet points I receive from other representatives, Maxie takes the time to tell me when his office hours are, to dissect the decisions made by SGA, and to explain the bills and legislation that are being discussed. I do not know how other commons senators interact with their constituents, but as a member of Wonnacott Commons, I find the information Maxie shares with me valuable and informative. I would be sad to see that dialogue disappear.
I fear that the elimination of commons senator positions will, furthermore, impact the transparency of the institution, an institution that is already obscure in its processes. Take, for instance, the absence of meeting minutes on SGA’s website. Near the end of last semester, Maxie sent out an email to the members of Wonnacott Commons with the minutes from fall meetings attached. Those are minutes that may not have been made accessible otherwise, and Maxie told me later that he received backlash for sharing those minutes — minutes that should be public information. While those minutes are now available on the SGA website, no minutes after November 17 are available to the public. If Maxie were not a member of SGA, a part of me wonders if even those minutes would be available to the public.
While I have heard the argument that the position of commons senator may be taken advantage of by people looking to soothe their egos (and so, by extension, the position is not worth much), I would like to point out that it would be a huge undertaking to run for a position for the sole purpose of adopting its modest title. “Commons senator” is a title that often requires thankless effort: it is a position that stipulates carving out time on Sunday afternoons to sit and listen to bureaucratic discussions, as well as finding time to write emails to people who may never read them. I therefore do not believe that people interested in running for the position of commons senator are people who are eager to have a fancy title. Besides, if I were not someone who attended Middlebury, I would likely furrow my brow if my friend told me they were a commons senator – “What would that even entail?” I would ask.
Because it is such a humble title, the position of commons senator does not attract people who are interested only in self-promotion. Instead, it allows people who are genuinely interested in SGA to become involved in student government without having to brave what often become popularity contests associated with positions like class senate seats or senior positions such as that of the president. This is because there is lower interest in the common senator positions, so they have in the past been won by default — this was Maxie’s case in the election last spring. The disinterest in serving in these positions, I believe, may be related to the obscurity of their titles, which are connected to a system that did not fulfill its goal in connecting students within each commons. Though the noncompetitive nature of these positions has been used to support their elimination, I believe that this allows people a starting point from which to gain SGA experience.
Lastly, as commons senator positions are often held by underclassmen (four of this year’s five commons senators are sophomores — the fifth is a junior), there is often increased incentive for commons senators to initiate change, as they will actually see the impact of their terms on SGA during their years as upperclassmen.
I recognize that these five positions reside within a much larger and intensely bureaucratic body. Even so, it strikes me as not only pointless, but potentially harmful to eliminate these positions, positions that encourage transparency, dialogue and change.
Ariadne Will ’22 is a Local editor for The Campus.