Student Senate makes strides to become recognized by Dept. of Student Life

Student Senate is making efforts to become a recognized campus organization by the Department of Student Life, and concurrently is considering a faculty advisor. 

Established in the spring of 2016 by the Student Association Executive Board, Student Senate serves as a judicial branch of SA, representative of the student body at Student-Faculty meetings, also known as the College Senate. 

According to SA, the College Senate meets once a month to discuss and debate issues regarding the college curriculum and other academic or major college initiatives. 

“Student Senate is basically the legislative body for students,” Student Senate chair and SA vice president Kaitlyn Bertleff said, “All of our big proposals are discussed at College Senate.” 

An example she provided of this was the proposal to drop one of the humanities requirements that passed, as well as the proposal to bring back intersession courses that also passed.

Student Senate is responsible for enforcing policy, hearing cases and resolving election disputes, according to SA. 

“It is part of the Student Association bylaws that each recognized campus club and organization has an advisor,” SA president Adam Hansen said. “Sean Palmer, the SA advisor, has been temporarily serving as the Student Senate advisor and he attends meetings occasionally, filling that gap.” 

Hansen said that, since its development, Student Senate has evolved into a large organization with a “solidified position on campus.” With this growth, long term planning has been brought to the table. 

Bertleff said that the conversation about becoming an official campus organization was started last year. This would allow Student Senate to become its own standing committee, but they would need an advisor. 

“[Student Senate] is not its own standing committee. In order to become a recognized campus organization, there is an entire process handled by Student Life and the Student Association. There are many benefits to becoming a recognized organization,” Bertleff said. 

Included in each undergraduate student’s tuition statement is a mandatory student activity fee, currently set at $107 per semester. Joint with programming funds, this money is allocated to support student organizations, services and programs, according to SA. 

“The main benefit when it comes to official recognition is essentially the budget,” Bertleff said. “Right now, we have a budget that falls directly under my position. So, I have a budget for Student Senate under my name, but it isn’t its own entity.” 

Bertleff said that among budgeting, other benefits include formal publicity. Becoming a recognized organization would allow them to table at events and attract more student interest.

Formal recognition also would allow Student Senate to appear among all other clubs and organizations on the Student Life website, according to the Department of Student Life. 

“This would allow prospective students to find information about us online instead of just hearing about us by word of mouth when they actually get here,” Student Senate chair of the Student Rights Committee Jack Royer said. 

Along with the benefits of formal recognition, a faculty advisor could provide Student Senate with resources and credibility to assist in guiding the eight-person Executive Board and the 32 general senators that create Student Senate. 

According to the Department of Student Life, there are nine steps to starting a new student organization. Step two is finding a faculty advisor.  

“Having an advisor is one of the first steps to communicate interest in becoming recognized by the Department of Student Life,” Bertleff said. “We did throw out some names and talk to a few people when the idea came about last year, but we never ended up following through.”

Bertleff said that she invited Amy Sheldon, Chair of the College Senate, to speak at a Student Senate meeting earlier this semester. 

“At this particular meeting during our open forum, a student voiced concerns about bus services over intersession for transfer and international students. Dr. Sheldon was hanging around and heard this concern. Lo and behold, I got an email from her a few days later that she brought the issue up at a meeting and it’s a very easy fix,” Bertleff said.

According to Bertleff, this interaction can be used to illuminate the insight a faculty advisor could bring to Student Senate. 

“The primary things that we are looking for is somebody who can serve as a resource with the availability to attend meetings if need be,” Royer said. 

Royer said in his year and a half as a senator, a faculty advisor could have aided in providing insight and information otherwise unavailable to students. 

“We worked on a proposal relevant to students appealing their final grades in incidents of bias. We still don’t have much information on how often this process has to be invoked when a student wants to appeal their grades. A faculty member probably could have given us a good idea of how often that happens,” Royer said. 

The Department of Student Life describes the functionality of an advisor as dynamic, depending on the needs, challenges and expectations of the group. 

“An advisor will provide us with someone who has institutional knowledge and who is a good resource to advocate for us among faculty,” Student Senate Chair of the Academic Affairs Committee Laura Benjamin said in an email statement to The Lamron. “Student Senate is growing in our influence for the past few years. Having this outlet and resource will help us continue to grow and address more student concerns.”

Royer said he believes a faculty advisor can help Student Senate establish credibility. 

“Instead of being viewed as an organization that might just be pushing things through in the interest of students, we can rather be perceived as more legitimate to have a staff advisor on our board,” Royer said.