Students criticize ASG reform proposal at community forum

Safiya Merchant

About 40 Associated Student Government members, student group leaders and students gathered Thursday evening to raise concerns about a proposal to drastically restructure ASG Senate.

Citing issues of fairness, representation and implementation, the forum attendees engaged in a lively and occasionally heated back and forth with ASG President Claire Lew, the main proponent of the proposal, and other members of a committee that has been evaluating the issue.

The committee’s proposal, developed over six weeks of meetings, is to decrease the number of Senate seats from 49 to 20 and replace small elections within dorms and student groups with campus-wide elections. Supporters believe that will increase competition to gain seats, which will increase the quality of the elected senator and give students a louder voice in their representation.

But forum attendees weren’t so sure. Among the critics were many members of ASG’s executive board, some of whom described the proposal as contradictory to the group’s purpose of representing the student body as a whole.

Lew insisted she will push forward with the proposal and hopes to pass it next month.

The president and other proposal supporters attributed the negative attitude of the attendees to the fact that most of them were ASG insiders tied to the traditional structure. They said their plan will motivate average students to be more invested in campus affairs.

ASG has been evaluating the structure of Senate to figure out the best way to represent students, ASG leaders said. Some issues Lew and the Senate Representation Evaluation Ad Hoc Committee, found within the Senate are constituencies represented more than once, frequent Senate seat vacancies and some students’ feeling ASG is irrelevant.

The forum, which was held in the Lake Room of the Norris University Center, consisted of a PowerPoint presentation followed by a discussion about the proposal.

But the event soon turned into a debate as students, ASG senators and executive board members argued the impact of reducing the size of Senate.

Many attendees said the solution will stifle the voices of students and student organizations because it will erase the seats of individual organizations.

“If this tells us anything, it’s that submitting anything close to this proposal would mean sacrificing the community that not only ASG but also NU has built,” said Wilson Funkhouser, the ASG parliamentarian and a Weinberg junior.

Some attendees voiced support for the plan.

Although ASG Senator David Harris said he disagrees with the campus-wide elections, he agrees with decreasing the number of Senate seats.

“Increasing the barrier to entry to Senate should lead to senators who take their role more seriously,” the SESP freshman said. “More dedicated members will develop more effective solutions to campus’s problems.”

Communication junior Joe McManus, a self-described ASG outsider, also said he thinks ASG needs to be “fundamentally” restructured.

“It’s pseudo-democratic because they are guaranteeing representation to groups rather than letting the community decide,” he said. “It leads to a fractured atmosphere where people feel like they have to represent their own group. It’s not a good recipe for good leadership.”

The committee is planning to hold more meetings with student groups and bring a set of recommendations to Senate on Wednesday, said Lew, adding the changes might be up for a campus referendum.

Maria LaMagna and Brian Rosenthal contributed reporting.

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