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The Griffin Editorial 12/09/22

By Patrick Healy

After 50 years, Canisius student legislature seeks change in nature, nomenclature

A few years from now, the USA could be no more. To doomsdayers’ chagrin, we’re not talking about the end of the United States federal government but instead a renaming—and restructuring—of Canisius’s student government.

Though it originally stood for “Undergraduate Student Assembly” rather than the contemporary “Undergraduate Student Association,” USA has for fifty years been the name of Canisius’s elected student body. Coincidentally, next year will be the 50th anniversary of USA.

Our editorial ancestors at The Griffin reported that the Undergraduate Student Assembly was first formed with the September 1973 merger of the Evening Students’ Association, Student Government Association, and Student Union Board. The merger created the Senate, a financial committee, and a campus programming board—all institutions that remain to this day. The reforms proposed this week would be the biggest changes since then.

The upshot for undergrads

USA President Jahare Hudson announced at this week’s Senate meeting that he is exploring the possibility of constitutional reform to seat Canisius graduate students in the student government body. The expansion would require affirmative votes by the Senate in two consecutive meetings and, because it is too late to include the attendant activities fee for incoming graduate students, would take place in fall 2024 at the earliest.

If graduates are added to USA, it is possible that a single student serves six years, possibly four or five of those in executive positions. Hudson says it would be up to voters to decide if they wanted to elect a student that much. Fair enough. But that’s USA. Clubs are even more complicated. Hudson said that under this proposal, graduate students would be eligible to join clubs. This would be a radical change—a first in Canisius history, in fact.

The staff of The Griffin, for example, is appointed by the outgoing editor-in-chief and managing editor. What if senior editors stuck around at Canisius for graduate school and selected themselves over and over? We suppose this could be written into our club constitution, but then we’d be excluding students who are paying student tax dollars from leadership positions. We imagine other clubs would be in similar spots.

Our overall point is that this change would be more than a change in representation on Senate. Senators debated the new name of the student government—for what it’s worth, we are partial to Senator Campbell’s “The Senate”—but the ramifications are a lot larger than nomenclature. If access to clubs is expanded, this change would mean a near-total merger of undergraduate and graduate student life.

Canisius’s enrollment fluctuates, but not normally by 1,000 students or more. Even acknowledging that many graduate students are online, adding graduates to student life would add many extra potential event-goers. A good problem to have in the grand scheme of things, but it could be a shock to the system initially. This could hinder the undergraduate experience.

The potential expansion is in the hands of the Senate—and next semester, to boot. Graduate students are an important part of Canisius. They already contribute to campus life, and undoubtedly they would make good senators. But would undergraduates be harmed by giving graduates access to clubs? This is a question to be answered by the people we elect to represent our interests. We hope they take it seriously. -PH

Stymying Senate’s progress

Hudson said this would be accompanied by fewer seats for undergraduate classes. He cited the fact that USA sat 5 senators per class when Canisius’s enrollment was at its peak in the mid-to-late-twentieth century as proof that there should be proportionally fewer senators in this low-enrollment era.

The Griffin appreciates data-driven reasoning, but in this case it seems too slavish to statistics. But it may be the case not that 2022’s Senate is too large but that the 1970s’ USA was too small. The size of the Senate should be evaluated based on current needs, not past proportions. Hudson says there are often open seats on the Senate, but this is not reason to shrink.

One problem has been electoral apathy, and that’s embarrassing, but another problem is apathy within the meetings, and that will only be addressed by having enough students there to ask guest speakers questions.

The Griffin acknowledges the many good events and initiatives USA has put on this semester. While the downsizing wouldn’t take place until fall 2023, it has the potential to undercut the progress the student government body has made over the past year.

We also recognize the value of competitive races in incentivizing students to compete for students’ votes. But, once they are elected, we doubt that senators are constantly thinking about next year’s election—many don’t stay on USA for their whole term, let alone run for re-election.

Under the current five-senator-per-class system, a few seats are usually empty, but many of the students who want to be involved in student government are able to, either by election to the senate or appointment to liaison positions or committees. Under the proposed change to three or four senators per class, there would be fewer empty seats but also fewer students to run USA’s events and advocate for students. The embarrassment of an empty seat does not outweigh having enough senators to staff the USA’s events.

Some Erie County municipal governments underwent downsizing in the past few decades. To be curt, it didn’t work. The USA is not a local government, but at least local governments would have been saving some money by downsizing. USA senators aren’t paid.

Five senators per class is probably fine. We don’t call for expansion. But we certainly don’t think fewer opportunities to get involved on campus is called for. In the spirit of the holiday season, The Griffin says (to an extent), “the more the merrier.” -PH

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