By MARIAH YOUNG
A motion to begin the process of establishing a nationally recognized Greek life system passed in the University of Mary Washington Student Senate and the Student Government Association’s Executive Cabinet this past week. In a 15-10 vote, the Senate approved the process, while the Executive Cabinet, headed by SGA President Samantha Worman, passed with a vote of 3-0-4.
On Sunday, Nov. 5, Legislative Action Committee Chair Joe Dolan, Inter-Club Association President Matt MacAloon and Academic Affairs Council Chairperson Sarah Clay voted in favor of the motion, while Judicial Review Board President Kristy Ju, SGA Vice President Nate Levine, Honor Council President Catherine Purtell and Association of Residence Halls President Mia Boleis abstained from the vote. The other two members of the Executive Cabinet, Diversity and Unity Coordinating Committee Chair Kopper Carter and Commuter Student Association President Evan Smallwood were not present for the vote. Procedural order only calls for a vote by the SGA president in the event of a tie.
“That doesn’t mean we have Greek life at the university,” said Senate President Levine at the group’s weekly meeting on Nov. 12. “What it means is that the motion passed Executive Cabinet, that it’s been forwarded on to the administration for them to consider and review.”
The original motion, proposed by student senator Raymond Santivasci on Oct. 22, was tabled for two weeks before actually being voted on.
During the first two weeks, there was heavy debate within the Senate.
“Personally, I felt the debates were fairly useless. The purpose of debate in Student Senate is to discuss the ideas and open our minds to different perspectives,” said student senator and political science major Benjamin Hermerding. “Senators were so entrenched in their opinion that they couldn’t see other opinions.”
In addition to passing the motion, the Senate also passed a motion for the University to conduct a scientific poll to study the university’s perception on Greek life. That motion passed the Senate and then unanimously passed in the Executive Cabinet.
“The SGA will work with the administration to create a neutral poll on the topic of Greek life,” said Worman. “At this time we do not have any details on the poll.”
Levine, a voting member on the Executive Cabinet, was one of the abstaining members on the Greek life motion. He stated that he chose to abstain because he is a member of one of the off-campus, but nationally recognized fraternities.
“I felt that there was a conflict of interest,” said Levine. “I have a obligation to my brothers, but I also have an obligation to represent the student body.”
Two of the yes-voting members of the Executive Cabinet, Joe Dolan and Matt MacAloon, are also members of the Kappa Sigma Rho-Chi chapter at UMW.
“I would have encouraged them to abstain,” Levine said.
Worman stated that she believes the Executive Cabinet always votes in the best interest of the student body.
“They understand that they are representatives of their constituents, and I trust them to make the judgement call on if they believe that they have a personal conflict of interest in the matter,” Worman said.
Structure of Student Senate
The UMW Student Senate works to represent the student body when passing motions. According to the current SGA Constitution on the Student Senate, “The Senate shall have the responsibility to legislate with regard to all issues of student concern. It shall require a vote of fifty percent plus one of quorum of the Senate to approve any legislation before the Senate.”
Facing two weeks of tabling and debate, the motion regarding Greek life looked unlikely to pass because of stacking votes on each side within the Senate. According to Levine, the tabling continued because the debates occurring within the Senate were not reaching a resolution. In addition, the meetings were often spent on visitors, special speakers and other weekly Senate matters.
During the debate on Greek life, the Senate saw a steady increase in new senators being voted in every week, according to Levine.
“I know for a fact that those trying to pass the motion were trying to get other members to join, but so did the other side,” Levine said.
While single issue voters are usually not that productive in Senate, most of the members returned to Senate even after the initial vote on Greek life passed, said Senate Vice President Alex Obolensky.
“Every person who I talked to about joining Senate was interested before the Greek life motion came up,” Hermerding said.
Unlike the Executive Cabinet, in most circumstances the Senate does not participate in a roll call vote, meaning there is no way to see what senator voted in favor of or against motions.
According to Robert’s Rules of Order, which the Senate functions under, this is not required. While it is an option for the Senate, it is usually not necessary according to Obolensky.
“We tend to pass things unanimously whether it is in favor or against the motion,” Obolensky said. “In the past, there has not been a valid reason for using a roll call vote.”
Adhering to the Constitution
According to Obolensky, one reason senators were able to join last minute is the “constitutional backwardness” that exists with the current SGA constitution.
Both Obolensky and Levine are working with committees within the Senate to make changes to the constitution that would update and clarify current aspects that are not being met.
“The current administration is not operating under the constitution, in fact they violated the constitution in many ways,” said Hermerding. “I think the biggest shame of all is that we have not run elections. If we had elections then the Student Senate would be more representative than it is right now. Under the current system, special interests can push their agenda.”
On the other hand, Levine and Obolensky think the Senate is currently following the proper rules listed in the constitution, yet it needs to be updated to meet the current environment.
“We are legitimate under the constitution,” Levine said.
In order for any constitutional changes to take place, three-fourths of the Senate must approve the changes, followed by 50 percent of the student body plus one vote.
Unfortunately, according to Obolensky and Levine, the student voter turnout in most elections is too low to expect over half the student body to actively participate in a vote on constitutional changes.
“We are trying to get the constitution to work for the students,” Obolensky said.
Hermerding emphasized that the representation in Senate continues to be the most pressing issue regarding constitutional violations. According to the Senate constitution “Each residence hall shall have at least one senator notwithstanding the number of residents in said residence hall.” Currently, the Senate does not have a representative from each residence hall according to the latest roster given to the Blue & Gray Press.
“I think more important than the constitutional changes that may or may not be taking place is the fact that the constitution that we have in place right now is not being followed,” said Hermerding.
Worman agrees that the Senate could be more representative in terms of gender and class, but student participation in Senate does not allow for that representation.
“For the past few years it has been difficult achieving representation from each residence hall as called for in the constitution, therefore Senate has been running on the basis of 50 signatures from each senator by their constituents to be voted into Senate,” Worman said.
Administration and Greek Life
“I’ve been asking this question [about Greek life] for years at my lottery dinners. It’s a student life issue,” said UMW President Rick Hurley. “The dominant opinion of students at dinner is that they came here because we didn’t have Greek life and I want to listen to what the students say.”
Hurley said he continues to reach out to students in order to hear perspectives about Greek life. This includes views for students and alumni.
“I have to respect what [alumni] say and listen to their expressions because I want to maintain their loyalty with the institution,” Hurley said. “But it is really about today’s students and those who are yet to come.”
While he is focused on student concerns, he also noted that more often than not alumni are not in favor of instituting a Greek life at UMW because, according to Hurley, they believe “it is not part of Mary Washington tradition.”
“I also get the same about starting a football team,” Hurley said. As of now, Hurley thinks that “our sports teams have substituted for Greek life.”
Hurley also noted that he has paid close attention to the effects of Greek life at colleges, noting his professional experiences at Longwood, a university that is 30 percent Greek, before working for UMW.
“I’ve seen the good and the bad and the ugly. I don’t worry about the ugly side,” Hurley said.
The Senate motions now wait for further action by members of the administration.