In low-turnout election, students vote to reduce size of senate, re-brand senators ‘representatives’

Referendum eliminates five common senator positions

By SOPHIA MCDERMOTT-HUGHES

Students voted last week in favor of eliminating the position of commons senator, reducing the Student Government Association senate from 17 to 12 members. The Feb. 26 vote also confirmed a title change for SGA members, from “senators” to “representatives.” Both items were part of a referendum that was proposed in response to the dissolution of the commons system. Only 264 students voted, about 10% of the student body.

The referendum passed with 57.6% of the student vote. The changes will be implemented at the start of the 2020–21 academic year, according to the SGA constitution. These changes will affect elections this spring.

“Lack of participation in this referendum is indicative of a larger issue of communication between the student body and the student government,” said SGA Director of Membership Thomas Khodad ’22. “We are addressing this issue not only by reducing the number of representatives but also by increasing student outreach and transparency.”

Cook Commons Senator Karina Sharma ’22, whose current position will be terminated next year by the elimination of the commons system and the referendum, said that she thinks the dissolution of the commons system has given the SGA a chance to re-evaluate the structure of the senate and to reframe it for efficiency. “With a smaller senate, each representative will be able to contribute more, which will foster deeper conversation and more accountability,” she said.

Wonnacott Commons Senator Senator Myles Maxie ’22, whose current position will also be eliminated, claims that the wording of the referendum questions misrepresented the issue at stake. The first question in particular asked whether students “support the elimination of the Commons Senator positions.” Maxie noted that the commons senator positions will be eliminated with the commons system regardless next year, and said that the real question was whether the senate should shrink or create new positions to replace those senators. 

Maxie believes that this change will only exacerbate current problems because students, by his assessment, already view the SGA as an elitist, ineffective, and overly bureaucratic body. 

“I don’t think the answer to solving an issue of representation is to make fewer representatives,” Maxie said. 

Maxie is not contesting the referendum results, but he believes that this incident highlights the need for a constitutional update. The senate is already planning to examine and possibly change the constitution at the end of this year in relation to unclear impeachment rules.