Things got a little spicy in Senate last Tuesday, and there’s plenty of tea to share.
Student Government has several committees that each have a specialized focus, such as creating the budget or looking over legislation. A lot of the important stuff that actually affects students happens in our committees. This past meeting, we were to approve the chairs for these committees.
Fun fact: typically the people who are selected for committee chair positions (as well as Senate President and Pro Tempore) are the people who have donated noticeably more money to the majority party’s Spring election campaign. Now that’s straight up correlation without causation but it can’t help but make you wonder if these people know that they’ll be in leadership positions ahead of time.
Chair positions are normally uncontested, but this past week, one wasn’t. The minority party had an extremely qualified individual go for it.
The position at stake is the chair of the Information and Communications Committee, and this individual had already acquired her bachelor’s degree in public relations and was pursuing her master’s degree in mass communications. She also had experience with the Public Relations Student Society of America and The Agency and has completed at least three other public relations internships. Finally, she was a former senator who had served on the Information and Communications Committee. We had the perfect candidate.
The current chair, Meryl Jones, just hasn’t been doing a very good job sharing information about Senate to our constituents. We calculated she posted on the Facebook page less than once per week on average and noted there had been numerous errors in the information in her posts. I emailed her in January asking about progress on live-streaming Senate, and she never responded. This ain’t it, chief.
So of course when faced with a qualified candidate and a lackluster candidate, our Replacement and Agenda Committee, which is dominated by the majority party, picked the inferior of the two options. Thus, the minority party decided to object to the decision in the Senate with hopes the committee would reconsider.
This, however, didn’t happen and things went downhill from there. Deliberation works as follows: There’s a presentation, then Q&A and then pro-con debate. Jones ran out of time while giving her presentation and used the first question in Q&A to burn through almost all of the allotted questioning time by continuing her presentation. She plugged her laptop back in and continued with her slides.
The pro-con debate wasn’t anything to be proud of. The minority party brought up our concerns (some of which I mentioned above), but when it came to defending their own candidate, not many folks stood up to speak for Jones. The few they did offer were nonspecific defenses of their candidate such as seeing them working hard. Ain’t that rare?
My favorite line of the night came from Jones in response to a concern about why she never issued any press releases (which she was supposed to do, but didn’t): “I didn’t feel there were anything—anything that the Senate did, um, last Fall was noteworthy.”
Are you really going to diss your own party? Maybe she has a point, but never have I seen a senator from the majority party call out their own inefficiency like that. Worse, let’s not forget the Fall Senate president is now the Student Body president-elect; what does that say about the way he ran the Senate if people running for leadership now are trashing the Senate he led?
When she addressed my concern that she hadn’t responded to my email, Jones berated the senators from the minority party for not reaching out to her in person (emphasizing “in person” three times) as if that was some sort of excuse that makes up for not be able to respond to emails.
When it comes to our Senate leadership, we need our senators to stand up when they know something wrong is going on. We need them to stand up for the students they represent.
Zachariah Chou is a UF political science junior and Murphree Area senator. His column appears on Fridays.