Senate Closes the Door?

Currently, SGA Senate meetings are open for all members of the Colgate community to attend. At this Tuesday’s meeting, however, a constitutional amendment was presented that would change the openness of the meetings.

This proposed amendment would give a Senate Chair the right to suggest a closed meeting. In order for a closed meeting to be held, two thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of the proposal.

A closed meeting would consist of only SGA members. According to the amendment, the measure must be proposed and voted on at a prior meeting.

All Colgate students are considered part of the SGA. Therefore, at a closed meeting administrators and community members would not be permitted to attend, but students would be welcome.

Because closed meeting would exclude certain members of the Colgate community, Senators questioned whether the proposal contradicts the Senate’s ability to be open and communicate with the Colgate community.

“I absolutely think that the closed meeting tool is in line with the Senate’s goals of communication and openness,” junior Senator Preston Burnes said. “The only people that should matter are the students – members of SGA – and they are the ones who should never be stifled by administrative involvement. No one is trying to keep administrators or staff members from reading minutes or knowing what happened, that would still remain completely open. Simply, it allows [Senators] the opportunity to have our own discussion in Senate going in directions that we take it.”

“The amendment is bad politics,” first-year Senator Chris Nickels said. “The relationship between the students and administration is pretty contentious. We shouldn’t add to the tension by further separating our means of communication. What kind of message are we sending by advocating hush-hush, secretive meetings, especially when both the administration and SGA are trying to create new venues of communication?”

The purpose of the amendment is to allow a more open and comfortable atmosphere for Senators and other members of the student body to discuss topics without the opposition and interference of administrators.

It was also brought to the Senate’s attention that not all Senators are outspoken and feel comfortable discussing certain issues at an open meeting. The closed meeting amendment is meant to make senators feel more comfortable speaking about an issue. In a closed meeting, there is thought to be a lower possibility of someone misinterpreting his or her message and beginning rumors about the content of Senate meetings.

“There is no true protection offered to a Senator who would like to speak out during these closed meetings,” junior Senator Jareau Hall said. “Senators are not sworn to any sort of secrecy, neither are any other members of the SGA. The minutes are still open to the public, so will these closed meetings stop anything from reaching the administration?”

At the meeting it was stressed that the amendment is not intended for immediate implementation. The amendment gives the Senate the option, if necessary, in future meetings to allow only students to be present.

“[The amendment] is simply a precautionary measure,” Nickels said. “However, it isn’t pragmatic to start passing legislation based on some random hypothetical situation that merely could happen in the future.”

“I can personally see reasons to use this tool coming up in the future,” Burnes said. “I do not believe it to be a slight of the administration or a ‘secrecy’ tool. I have simply seen administrators guide and direct conversation on some very important issues that may have gone differently if their participation had not been allowed. [The amendment] is simply another way for SGA to increase the openness and honesty of students in Senate, without their opinions being guided by those who might be the subject of discussion.”

“My personal opinion is that it’s not necessary,” Hall said. “In the past, we have never had to deal with it. If it is necessary in the future, let the future Senate deal with it. I believe that this session of Senate is overstepping its responsibility, and possibly creating more tension with a willing administration than is necessary.”

There were many differing opinions and questions that arose over the proposed amendment. As a result, the amendment was tabled and will be discussed and voted on at a later Senate meeting.