On Wednesday, the Associated Student Government (ASG) of Colorado Mesa University had their first dry run of a real crisis and it wasn’t pretty. The meeting, which was going to address a breach of ASG’s constitution, revealed that the majority of the student senators did not seem to understand their own guiding document.
The three-and-a-half-hour-long meeting was spent primarily clarifying and educating senators on conference committees, the Fee Allocation Committee (FAC) and the role and responsibility of their body.
While many of the senators are new to ASG this year, Senator Shelby Cerise reminded senators to review Robert’s Rules of Order, the procedure that guides the US Congress during their meetings, and the one that guides the CMU student government as well. Cerise reminded senators they received relevant information over the summer to study and learn before the school year even began.
Perhaps the three senators appointed within the last month have a somewhat substantial excuse for not fully understanding the rules of order or some of the finer points of ASG’s constitution. However, the widespread confusion revealed that only a few veteran senators seemed to understand the direction of the meeting.
The lack of knowledge during the meeting regarding the rules of order led to so much confusion that Vice President Gabby Gile had to ask: “Do you guys know what we’re voting on right now?”
While a better understanding of Robert’s Rules would have made the meeting shorter and less frustrating for those involved, the larger issue with the meeting was that many senators did not even know what unconstitutional act the proposed resolution was referring to.
And, even when the unconstitutionality of the conference committee led by Senate Leader Sam Gaasch was explained, senators displayed confusion over what exactly a conference committee is, what the role of FAC is and what their role is in response.
None of these ideas constitute the “finer points” of ASG’s guiding document. Rather, many of the ideas discussed—such as the relationship between ASG and FAC—are fundamental to being a senator.
ASG wants to be taken seriously this year. President Ben Linzey has assured senators at meetings, and told The Criterion after the first quarter report card, that he believes the group has great potential. But, in nearly mid-November, how long can we keep talking about “potential?” With the school year nearly half-way up, when will that potential be realized?
There is a myriad of problems beyond the success of ASG that arise from the lack of knowledge surrounding the constitution, one of those being the potential for more unconstitutional acts committed not out of malice, but due to negligence or ignorance. If some senators had a difficult time initially understanding the breach Gaasch and other senators made out of “convenience,” will they recognize other unconstitutional actions in the future?
The failure to truly understand the constitution can also create a lack of trust between senators and their constituents. If senators do not demonstrate even adequate knowledge of their own guiding document, they cannot expect constituents to come to them with problems or issues.
What is perhaps even more concerning is the thought of constituents approaching senators with an issue and finding their senator does not understand the proper channels through to travel to make lasting and effective progress.
However, if we view Wednesday’s events as a “trial run” for a more serious situation that could arise later on in the year, the implications are concerning.
If the Senate is given a crisis tantamount to former President Josh Dillinger’s near impeachment last winter, which tore last year’s group apart, as Linzey said, the consequences may be even more dire.
During the debate regarding the resolution, senators were eager to make comments and propose amendments, but by the end of the meeting, the actions were mere posturing.
When it finally passed, the proposed resolution was so watered-down from the original that it contained clauses so ambiguous and all-encompassing that the prior debate about the role of a Senate leader during conference committee seemed like nothing more than an educational opportunity for those senators who didn’t fully understand the issue in question.
Certainly, ASG does provide a learning opportunity for students. But, senators should be willing to take some of that learning into their own hands and learn Robert’s Rules, read the constitution and understand their own roles as senators.
These senators represent 10,000 other students, the least they can do is read and understand the text that gives them that power.