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June 15th, 2006

Reading Raymond Franz's critique on the organizational structure of Jehovah's Witnesses, Crisis of Conscience, reminds me of my frustration while sitting on university committees, and I believe it prudent to similarly critique the organization of Appalachian State University.

I won a seat on the student senate in 2003 after the student body President-elect encouraged me to run.  Only later did I discover my election was essentially assured because of the representational vacuum for off-campus students.  I befriended an on-campus senator -- whose re-election actually depended upon his dormatory campaign -- and my experienced, professional friend encouraged me to request a seat on the most influential body of the student senate, the Rules Committee.  I am, to this day, proud of my service on the rules committee and believe our debates and final recommendations influenced, if not determined, the vote of the full Senate.

Here, I would like to devuldge the internal apparatus of the Rules Committee beyond the powers codified by the SGA Constitution (impeachment: Article 6, Section 4-5, petition initiatives: Article 9, Section 1, constitutional amendments: Article 10, Section 1) so student constituents, I hope, see the ernest and serious nature demanded by our seemingly secretive sessions.  A candid analogy of the Rules Committee could be the US Supreme Court, some student Senators even joked about which justice the nine members embodied, and we did operate much like a panel deciding for or against the case presented to us.  The authors of any legislation presented a description of the bill and their arguments for its necessity, or viability, to the Rules Committee.  All Rules members would, according to the committee's by-laws, have copies of the legislation since the previous week, and I would have already made notes about questions I felt needed to be asked.  Any member could ask the authors questions, questions like the methods used to collect the student body's opinion, the effect of changing student fees, -- anything on the merit of the legislation.  Many authors that came before us felt intimitated by this style of "oral argumentation" and only during my second term, when I came before the Committee, did I sympathize with this feeling of being scrutenized; of being repeteadly questioned.  After this open session of questions and answers, the Committee's doors closed for deliberation: members either presented their arguments for and against a recommendation or, on obvious cases like bills honoring retired University administrators, simply made a motion for a recommendation.  Now, after reflecting, I realize that most of our recommendations were the later type, but a few bills advocated changes to univesity policy that would actually influence students' lives, and I felt it vital that the Committee ensure the University community heard the students' most valid and strongest arguments.  Thus, I questioned legislation vicerally, looking through the eye's of an administration that remained skeptical of any change.  I now see my arrogance in this approach because, as a representative elected by students, I should have seen things throught the eyes of constituents.  Each of the nine members approached lesgislation differently and I believe we reached a fair opinion of the positive and negative aspects of the important bills.  Our chairperson was the most senior senator in the body and, although she set the Committee's agenda, she interviened only when debates spiraled towards tangents, so we spent hours -- four or five hours on the important bills -- trying to convince fellow members of a recommendation for the Senate.  I remember leaving these sessions thoroughly exhausted.  I believe we used argumentation during closed sessions because the Committee wanted a concensus, although a simple majority was only needed, because a divisive recommendation by the Rules Committee, such as 5-4, meaning 5 favorable, 4 unfavorable, would usually spark a divisive debate among Senators in chamber, few of whom had copies of the legislation but would assert an opinion, usually emotional, on the chamber floor.  Our votes remained anonymous to the outside world, but the Committee secretary would record the vote count as for, against and abstentions, along with reasons for each, in the minutes to be handed the Senate.  Later, the chairperson commented that the President nominated us because of this diversity and deliverative approach that I mention here.  

But several astute members of the Committee, including my newly found friend and the chairperson, realized that our recommendations influenced an ineffective body, or rather, a Senate wholly effective in passifying student complaints.  The student government was an association, an advisory board to the Univeristy, and as such, the legislation the Rules Committee favored, as approved by the Senate, ultimately wideled down to a mere recommendation that a University administrator could waft aside.  This adviosry position is obvious when the Student Government Association (SGA) is seen within the hiearchy of Appalachian State University (ASU).  Legislation approved by the Senate and signed by the student body President is sent as a memorandum to the university's Vice-Chancellor of Student Development.  But SGA, the student Present and student Senate, is itself governed by a department of Student Development, namely, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, a department whose members include: all the other clubs and student organizations affliated with ASU.  The astute members of Rules saw the impetence of our debates and recommendations concerning allocation of student fees, the civil voting locations near University property, or privacy of library records because Student Inolvement treated SGA like a child needing supervision; student government simply offered an "out-of-class learning [opportunity]". (CSIL)

To address our realization, the Rules chair accepted motions to form a subcommittee on Constitutional Revision in 2004 with the obvious goal of reorganizing SGA, especially its representation of the student body, but my intention was to empower the student body.  Sifting through SGA's archives I discovered that a similar subcommittee from the 1980's dealt an impotent blow to student governance.  The change severed the judical branch from SGA and handed all student jurisdiction to a new, university department of Judical Affairs, another department under the Division of Student Life.  Preoccupation with jurisdiction in the current SGA constitution are echoes of this change: "nothing in this Constitution shall preclude the right of the University, or other University groups or organizations, to oganize representative bodies, establish committees, develop rules and or procedures, or make policies" (Constitution, Article 2, Section 2).  This clause was, I speculate, was inserted to ensure the Board of Governors that SGA's representation of  "every undergraduate student registered at Appalachian State University" never challenge the power vested in the Administration's daily operation of the University. (SGA, Article 1, Section 2)  In comparison, the Faculty Senate's influence on university policy is explicit and not limited by jurisdictional prose: "the purpose of the Faculty Senate is to to serve as the instrument through which the faculty of Appalachian State University considers and acts on university matters.  To this end, the Faculty Senate participates in the formation, implementation, and review of university policy." (Faculty)

Comment on

reflections on Info Tech, FinAid, and Library; the effectiveness of each, correspondence with members and SGA, etc.
effectiveness of Senators, such as Hunter and I on religious freedom v state  employee rights

Works Cited

Appalachian State University. Center for Student Involvement and Leadership. Student Government Association. The Constitution of the Student Government Association. 16 June 2006 <http://www.sga.appstate.edu/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=7&MMN_position=36:33>

CSIL. <http://www.csil.appstate.edu/index.php?module=pagemaster&PAGE_user_op=view_page&PAGE_id=57&MMN_position=128:128>

Faculty <http://www.facsen.appstate.edu/SenateGuidebook/senateguidebook.html#orgstructure>