New voices and familiar faces convened at the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics on Sept. 9 to usher in the Student Senate’s 40th Session with a meeting aiming to establish the new year’s roster and rules, plus bring to light important issues concerning student life and engagement at the University of New Hampshire.
Senior Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students John T. Kirkpatrick, one of two guest speakers at Sunday’s meeting, explained to the assembly the university’s policies on student engagement in upcoming elections in the name of making the process of voting as accessible as possible for students.
Kirkpatrick highlighted topics ranging from absentee ballots for New Hampshire students unable to make it to their hometown who want to vote in their district, to protocols surrounding the use of university grounds for political promotion. The dean stressed how the university, bounded by its status as a public “flagship” institution, is required to take a nonpartisan stance and thus cannot partner with organizations with political leanings to promote specific candidates or perspectives, especially when it comes to use of collegiate property by third-parties unaffiliated with UNH.
Kirkpatrick also made clear that UNH is working on new policies that would redirect organizations, including those invited by students, hoping to use UNH grounds to the Huddleston Hall Ballroom depending on intent, adding that facilities like the Memorial Union Building are already “packed with all kinds” of different events on a daily basis.
“We all need to be engaged, and what we want to promote on this campus is a civil environment where we actually talk,” Kirkpatrick told the Senate. “If we disagree, we talk and we listen. It’s a give-and-take situation.”
On top of election matters, Kirkpatrick introduced UNH’s newest administrators, including UNH President James W. Dean Jr. and Interim Provost Wayne Jones, to the body and highlighted upcoming events, including the university’s efforts to reach out to students and find ways to celebrate Constitution Day, set for Sept. 17, together with an hour-long naturalization ceremony on Sept. 19 to welcome new U.S. citizens.
Joining Kirkpatrick as a guest speaker was Interim Associate Vice President for Community, Equity and Diversity Monica Chiu, who discussed with the Senate how her office is working on ways to find a “baseline” reading of the university’s social climate and ways to address concerns of discrimination in light of controversies featuring attacks and insults against minorities following 2017’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
Chiu – who reports directly to President Dean and assumed the position on July 16 as part of a 20-year career at UNH, which has included roles such as a professor of English – explained that, as part of these efforts, the Office for Community, Equity and Diversity (CED) is working on a survey with Rankin & Associates – a consulting firm based in Pennsylvania – to be distributed next spring. The survey will obtain information regarding UNH’s racial and sexual makeup, as well as the frequency of racially and sexually-charged discriminatory behavior and actions against students. From those results, Chiu said the CED will be able to find out what “we need to do to strengthen areas in which we have weaknesses” in terms of pushing back against acts of discrimination.
Chiu also reminded the Senate of student demands made following 2017’s Cinco de Mayo, one of which urged the university to give all students some form of curriculum that covers diversity and inclusion, a topic Chiu said is already taking place in English 401 classes, which the majority of students are required to take.
Following the guest speakers, the Senate initiated its regular business, which, while lacking any resolutions given the time of year, primarily concerned reviewing existing Senate procedures and selecting new members for various committees.
One of the assembly’s most significant bills of the night was a bill introduced by Executive Officer Caelin McMahon to officially approve the Senate’s newest members; they included Scott Hall Sen. Ashim Gurung, Stoke Hall 1 Sen. Annah Santarosa, Stoke Hall 2 Sen. Jonathan Merheb, Congreve Hall Sen. Luke O’Connell, Handler Hall Sen. Georgia Bunnell, Peterson Co-Senators Logan Stevens and Yun Makar, and Lord Hall Sen. Stephan Toth. The bill passed the body unanimously.
Another bill, introduced by Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse, aimed to approve of the Senate’s 2018 Standing Orders; the orders were subject to a number of revisions, including successful motions, lead by Student Body Vice President Jake Adams, to remove provisions outlining the circumstances and causes that would allow the Senate to censure senators and “other entities or individuals,” per the bill. Adams, with the assistance of Senate Historian Tyler Anderson, argued the body’s last censure of a member occurred nearly a decade ago through a resolution, a method the vice president stressed would be a better option than to proceed with the Standing Orders’ proposed censure provisions.
“I’m also not really in favor of [the Senate] censuring its own members,” Adams added. “I think there is a better way earlier on, where, like, if someone is being disruptive, they could do that [through a resolution]… I think it’s kind of a slippery slope here.”
SAFC Chair Velez also argued against the provisions, calling the procedures “wholly inappropriate” for a body “that represents all viewpoints, diverse and otherwise…”
Following the removal of the provisions and other alterations to the Standing Orders, such as the addition of residents of the Town of Durham and members of the Campus Living Association, Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council – a move championed by Adams and others – as permitted invitees to Senate meetings, the bill passed unanimously. The meetings are still open to the public for viewing.
Other business of the night included, among others, a bill approving former Speaker José Calvo as the body’s permanent Parliamentarian (replacing Interim Parliamentarian Jesse Austin), which passed with two nays; a unanimously passed bill approving Allie MacPhee as the Senior Financial Advisor to the Student Trustee; a unanimously approved bill adding Senators Santarosa, Makar, Stevens, O’Connell and Toth, and Community Development Council Chair Nelson Idahosa to the Judiciary Committee; and a unanimously approved bill adding External Affairs Chair Liam Sullivan, SAFC Chair Velez, SAF Chief Financial Officer 1 Emily Cochran, Vice President Adams, Senators Stevens, Makar and Toth, and SAF Chief Financial Officer 2 Payton Taylor to the assembly’s Financial Affairs Committee.
“I thought the meeting went well,” Speaker LaCourse said following the Senate’s adjournment at 7:41 p.m. “It’s really great to see new senators get so involved…I think this group is a little more headstrong than what we’ve seen before;” the speaker added the body’s deliberations were “very democratic” and “surprising.”