ASG Senate seat apportionment reform presented at forum


Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Henry Molnar speaks Tuesday at Annenberg Hall. Molnar presented on reforms to Associated Student Government Senate seat apportionment.

Gabby Birenbaum, Assistant Campus Editor

For as long as Associated Student Government Senate institutional memory stretches, residential senators have formed the least active senatorial caucus, Political Union senator Alex Smith said.

“They have a sad rate of chronic truancy,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “I believe that less than half show up on a consistent basis.”

To remedy the inactivity, Smith is sponsoring a reform that would replace ASG’s apportionment by housing; instead, seats would be allocated by undergraduate school.

Smith and ASG parliamentarian Henry Molnar presented the reform to an audience of five at a Tuesday forum at Annenberg Hall. Currently, ASG divides Northwestern’s campus into seven districts, in which 15 seats are apportioned based on population size, and five seats are reserved for those who live off-campus.

Under the proposed reform, the 20 seats will be divided up by school: nine to the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, three each to the McCormick School of Engineering and the School of Communication, two each to the Medill School of Journalism and the School of Education and Social Policy, and one to the Bienen School of Music.

“We feel as though people feel a stronger connection to their undergraduate school than they do to (their) housing district,” Molnar said.

Smith said residential senators’ lack of participation has contributed to several problems, including Senate’s consistent failure to get quorum, low engagement in Senate and an inability to gauge students’ level of representation for any residential district.

The reform would strengthen Senate participation by making elections more competitive and the nature of Senate seats “more prestigious,” Molnar said. The potential to represent one’s undergraduate school and the large pools of students eligible for each seat should incentivize students to run for Senate, Molnar said.

Smith said being able to tell others, “I am a senator representing Weinberg as opposed to … District 4,” would add to the cachet of the position, thereby incentivizing attendance.

Previously, students needed 20 signatures from peers in their residential district to run. Under the new rules, students would need 30 signatures, but they would not all need to be from peers in their undergraduate school. However, students can only run for a seat in their home schools.

“We want these elections to be super competitive,” ASG vice president for public relations Gabrielle Bienasz said. “So, we really need (there) to be a low barrier to entry.”

In terms of representation, the number of seats do not exactly parallel the number of students in each school. For example, though McCormick comprises 22.3 percent of the student body and SoC encompasses just 12.5 percent, they are both allocated three seats.

Molnar said the Senate Reform Committee, which worked on the proposed reform, spoke to representatives from each school and considered historical levels of involvement in ASG in apportioning the seats. As SoC has traditionally had a large presence in ASG and very few McCormick students have been involved, they were chosen to receive the same amount of representation. However, he said the apportionment numbers are subject to change in the coming years as undergraduate school populations fluctuate.

Smith said he expects the reform to pass. He said senators have been amenable and the lack of residential senator participation will work in his favor. The legislation will be introduced as new business Wednesday, and then voted on next Wednesday. It would go into effect during Fall Quarter if it passes.

Though Molnar said Senate’s influential role necessitates attentiveness and feedback.

“The Senate actually does hold a lot more power than people realize,” Molnar said.

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