Student Council fails to represent
Body struggles to meet quorum, numerous representatives in violation of Council's attendance requirements
Students can visit uvavote.com today through Friday to cast their vote for the position of Student Council representative as well as other elected positions. Students may have various criteria for their ideal candidates, but regardless "each Representative of Student Council shall represent to the best of his or her ability the specific interests of the Student Body of his or her particular school and the general interests of the entire Student Body," according to the Council constitution. Yet representatives' attendance rates at the body's meetings raise questions about how well they are fulfilling that responsibility. Council has struggled to meet quorum throughout this academic year, which has slowed the legislative process and has seen numerous representatives violate the body's bylaws regarding attendance.
Failing to meet quorum
Two-thirds of the representative body must be present at both the General Body and the Representative Body portions of each meeting to establish quorum, according to the Council bylaws.
"In the absence of quorum, the Representative Body may not debate or vote on any item of business; the only motions in order shall be to call the roll, recess, adjourn or take actions to establish quorum," the bylaws state.
Council bylaws also describe an impeachment process for representative members who consistently miss meetings.
"A representative who accumulates more than one unexcused absence in a single semester shall be asked to resign; a refusal to do so shall be considered grounds for impeachment," according to the Council bylaws.
Fifteen Council representatives accumulated more than one unexcused absence during the fall semester. (Click here to view each representative's attendance record for the past term: Student Council Attendance Sheet)
"The Student Council is uniquely placed in its meeting time," said Representative Body Chair Sid Pailla. "Tuesdays at 6 p.m. are written in the bylaws and those are pretty difficult to change, so every once in a while we end up having to cancel a meeting."
If a representative cannot attend a meeting, he may find a proxy, who is "an individual appointed by an absent representative to speak on his or her behalf at a meeting of the Representative Body," according to the Council bylaws. A proxy must be a member of the same school as the representative. The proxy can contribute to debate on legislation but may not make any motions or vote on legislation.
"It's hard to get people to be proxies so last minute," Council Director of University Relations Kaity Houk said. "Students are still learning and if they fail to find a proxy then we can't meet quorum."
Although failing to meet quorum is unusual, Houk said Council recognizes the significant time commitment it asks of representatives and occasionally bends the rules to accommodate outlying circumstances. Council expects representatives to attend two- to three-hour meetings, hold weekly office hours and maintain a blog.
"We do still operate by the bylaws," Houk said. "We're trying to re-imagine them in a way that makes more sense, because right now we're operating by what's practical. If someone's sick and they've been a stellar representative in other aspects, this is impractical."
Houk also said representatives who are regularly absent could be asked to step down from their position.
"It's an action that a [representative] could take," she said.
Failing to pass legislation
The legislative process within Council takes about two to three weeks. Legislation is introduced during one meeting and is voted on at the following week's meeting. When Council fails to meet quorum, the legislative process is pushed back a week until the next meeting.
"The most dire impact is that we were delayed by a week in passing the budget," said Alex Reber, co-chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee and Engineering Representative. "If we had not been able to pass it for another week, none of the [Student] Council's functions would have been able to continue. As the Chairman of Legislative Affairs, I would not have had the resources available to me to start any of our functions that help the student body."
Approving new CIOs is a part of general body meetings each week and is also affected when quorum is not met, Council Academic Affairs co-chair Klaus Dollhopf said.
"The largest effect would be that new CIOs would not be able to be approved for another week," Dollhopf said. "This doesn't affect the entirety of the student body at large because there's a larger-than-none chance that the entirety of the student body isn't a part of the CIO or will be."
Failing to abide by Council bylaws
Currently, Council does not abide strictly by its bylaws and operates on a practical basis.
"The bylaws regarding attendance need to be updated, and we talk about it on a nearly weekly basis, but we haven't been able to compromise [on] anything yet," Pailla said.
There are Council members who have taken it upon themselves to work to resolve this issue. Legislation was initiated to modify the bylaws regarding attendance policies, Houk said, but "we've had to table it because actual business got in the way and we had to do bill approvals."
Reber started a Constitutional Reform Committee to initiate legislation regarding modifications to the bylaws to make them easier to abide by and uphold.
"I was in favor of enforcing the rules that are already in existence," he said. "However, since we did not enforce this on people from the beginning and it was promised early on that this issue would be resolved, I decided to hold off on asking for enforcement."
Reber added the culture of non-attendance is an issue, which must be resolved early before it becomes an even larger problem with the next elected body.
"I feel that part of the issue is that not enforcing these policies early on caused people to be lax, and now that we have made a habit of not enforcing them, people do not feel a responsibility to attend," he said.
Houk said a potential reform could be the addition of a permanent proxy for each school so quorum can be met when representatives are absent.
"We're exploring the idea of permanent proxy in which case we would always have an alternate for each school in case someone from a school can't come," Houk said.
Pailla suggested finding a solution to this issue by dealing with the student body.
"It's hard when [representatives have] already been elected," Pailla said. "It's the electorate's fault; we need to be proactive in making sure that the electorate is more informed."
While it is important to draw attention to attendance problems, Pailla also said good attendance records need to be recognized to encourage representatives to participate.
"It's hard for people to change their behavior when their good behavior is not being noticed," Pailla said. "This is something that has definitely affected the morale of Student Council and the electorate as well."
Moving forward, Dollhopf said Council plans to develop within its newly elected body an attitude of respect for and adherence to the bylaws.
"Student Council, to remedy this issue, first and foremost will be enforcing the attendance policy more strictly in the coming year," Dollhopf said. "Furthermore, there will soon be a new body of representatives - without degrading from this representative body at all - to freshly mold."
Making your vote count
Ellen Duthoy, University Democrats University Relations Coordinator, said students need to make their votes count by choosing representatives with good records.
"A vote for a candidate who won't show up to meetings is a wasted vote," Duthoy said. "Students vote for candidates based on what they promise to do; they need to know that a candidate at least stands a chance of following through on these promises. Making the attendance record of Student Council members public and easily accessible could be beneficial in this regard."
Representatives who do not attend meetings are failing in their duties to the student body, Reber said.
"[Attending meetings] is also a matter of responsibility," he said. "We have a duty to represent the members of our constituency and [the fact] that some of our representatives could not be bothered to show up means that they are not truly trying to stand up for the members they represent."
Second-year College student Katie Wymer said absentee representatives may make students question the worth of Council.
"The Council's failure to meet quorum may not directly affect the student body, but it certainly furthers the view of the worthlessness of Student Council," Wymer said. "When no one cares enough to show up for meetings, suspicions that those on Council are simply [trying] to get a resume-builder or highlight for their Lawn Room application are seemingly confirmed."
The failure of Council representatives this semester substantiates the cynicism about student politics at the University, Duthoy said.
"Overall, this problem lies in [the] culture," Duthoy said. "It seems that some people want to be in Student Council for prestige, for their resumes, for name recognition - but not to actually work for the students and represent their concerns. Student Council needs to enforce its bylaws and take serious measures to make sure its members remain committed."
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously indicated voting for student government positions begins Friday, Feb. 24. In fact, it begins Monday, Feb. 20.