With furloughs creating problems at the national level as a result of the current government shutdown, America is currently witnessing how the country cannot run smoothly without all of the moving parts in place. John Carroll University’s Student Union is facing a similar issue.
At the SU meeting on Oct. 8, the topic of poor attendance was brought up in the midst of discussion about the constitutional review committee — a group that creates recommendations to update the bylaws of SU.
In the midst of the meeting, various senior senators proposed the idea of reverting back to a previous policy that was established for third semester senior senate members — stating that they were not required to attend meetings. The reasoning behind the policy was to allow seniors more time to complete internships and other obligations revolving around life after graduation.
The old constitution, which was previously amended in spring 2012, said that seniors were automatically excused for the third semester. The current constitutional rule, established by the constitutional reviews committee, now requires third semester seniors to attend the weekly meetings.
“We changed the rule to go in place for the class of 2014, so they knew going into the elections that that was going to be a rule for them,” said junior Brianna Lazarchik, vice president for communications. “I think it’s really important because we want the senior presence. We want their wisdom and their expertise. They are still senators, and that’s why the legislation came into play in the first place.”
“It’s weird that it even came up and was being discussed, because what was being discussed was only the changes for the constitution,” said Lisa Ramsey, main advisor to SU.
“What they were referring to wasn’t relevant to the constitutional updates that were being discussed,” Lazarchik agreed. “It was a side thought.”
However, the attendance discussion brought to light the recent attendance of SU members and also showed that the topic was at the forefront of some of the senators’ minds.
According to the SU attendance sheet, the senior class has had 25 total absences during the meetings that have been held since the beginning of the SU term in January 2013. Along with these cases, there have been 13 absences amongst the sophomore and junior senate. At the executive level, there have been 11 total absences.
The executive board members are paid a stipend of $500 per semester, and the president of SU receives $1,000 per semester.
“Our pay and attendance are in no way correlated,” said Lazarchik. “That’s not what the point of this legislation is. The executive board has never, since I have been here, had a problem with attendance. This policy is not in effect for the executive board, but for the senators.”
According Article 3. Sect. 1 Item b. of the SU Constitution, all members of the executive board must attend all general meetings.
Though there have been 49 absences among the 24 SU members since the beginning of the 2013 term, SU executive board members deny that there is a noticeable attendance problem.
“There are some senators that have had more excused absences than we’d prefer,” said junior Tim Ficke, executive vice president.
“They are very good at being present, being active and being involved,” Lazarchik said, referring to the senators. “There are some individuals that may not come to meetings as much as we’d like them to.”
However, 21 out of the 24 members within the SU senate and executive board have missed at least one meeting, including all of the senior senators.
SU allows three unexcused absences per term. After these are allotted, SU members are at the discretion of the hearing board.
According to the attendance records, 14 of the 49 total absences are unexcused and 35 are excused.
Senior Jack Walton, vice president of judicial affairs, is constitutionally in charge of the hearing board on SU attendance and is also responsible for deciding what an excused absence is in the event that a member cannot attend a weekly meeting.
“I can’t be aware of everything going on in everybody’s lives that are involved in the senate,” said Walton. “A personal thing may come up, something class-related … and the senators all have a responsibility to email me and let me know before the meeting.”
Walton explained his approach to handling hearings on attendance issues.
“It’s usually more of like a check-in with the student senator, making sure that everything’s okay with their situation, and is there something that the student senator isn’t aware of,” he said. “It isn’t usually a discipline type of thing.”
When asked whether anyone has ever been kicked out of the senate due to absences, Lazarchik attested that she had never seen anyone removed for attendance reasons during her time on SU.
“The way the policy stands currently is that you can have three unexcused absences before you go to the hearing board,” Lazarchik said. “Currently, as the constitution stands, there is no limit to the number of excused absences you can have. As long as you get your excuse to Jack [Walton] and he approves the excuse, then judicial affairs considers you excused.”
When a senator or an executive board member knows they cannot make a meeting, they can send a proxy or alternate in their place to represent them in the senate.
“It is a way that a student can still have a voice if someone has a class or someone has to miss a meeting,” said Walton. “I think it’s probably best to have something like that because then at least someone is filling a seat and giving an opinion, as opposed to just an empty chair being there.”
In the Oct. 8 SU meeting, the idea of having five absences allotted to each term, excused or unexcused, was brought up as a potential change to the constitutional review committee.
A vote was conducted at the Oct. 15 meeting after copies of the attendance record were given out to all SU members. At the meeting, attendance was discussed at length by SU, debating the five absence policy. SU approved the amendment to article 2 section 8 of the constitution.
The constitution now states that, “Any senator meeting with the vice president of judicial affairs because of five or more absences or an unexcused absence may face the following actions.” Previously, the constitution read, “Any senator meeting with the vice president for judicial affairs because of too many absences or an unexcused absence will face the following actions.”
The more specific wording of five or more absences appears to regulate the amount of absences. Conversely, the change of the word “will” to the word “may” instills leniency. The amendments will go into effect next semester.
“The point of the bill is not to make Student Union a stricter environment,” Ramsey said. “It’s to lay out expectations. When you are making this decision, you are making a year-long commitment to be at the senate meetings every Tuesday at five, and other requirements that you are supposed to do, you must understand this is a serious position. It’s the only group on campus where you can really make change. It’s the only group on campus where it’s the voice for all of the students, and for this bill, the senators know that this is a real commitment, this is something that really matters.”