ASUO senators prepare for unique relationship with University Senate this term

ASUO senators Max Burns, Hannah Thompson, Tess Mor, Evan Roth and Keegan Williams-Thomas will be serving as the five student members in the University of Oregon Senate this term, a rare opportunity at any school. Although the senators said they are excited to represent students at the meetings, some have acknowledged a lack of engagement between the student body and the UO’s legislative body.

According to the University Senate web page, the composition of the governing body is unique because it is one of the few senates to include students, who became part of the body when it ratified its constitution 2011. ASUO senators are responsible for advocating on behalf of students during discussions.

Being in a room filled with professors “can be a little intimidating at first,” Roth said. However, he added that it is very easy to talk to them during discussions.

“University senate […] is one of the only entities where students and faculty can have [a] legitimate dialogue over pieces of legislation that will actually affect the university,” Roth said.

Although Roth is excited to have the opportunity to represent students and their opinions to faculty, he said there is a lack of student knowledge about university senate, other legislative bodies and how it affects them.

Williams-Thomas said students should take an interest in the senate because “it is a major part of how things are run, how things change or stay the same.”

Recently, the senate has made several changes to the university’s sexual misconduct policy and proposed new academic programs.

“[Students] need to shape and talk about what our school should look like. As a student body, we have a great deal of power and a voice that is under utilized,” Williams-Thomas said.

However, Burns said there are issues and policies presented at senate meetings that have very little impact on students. In recent meetings, the senate discussed information technology security policy and Service Employees International Union policies.

“It’s really hard for students to contribute to conversations about [issues like those] because there are a lot of things that we have no control over,” Burns said.

Along with the lack of student knowledge of the senate, other problems plague the senate, which makes it difficult to progress.

Burns said the senate is backlogged with out-of-date policies spanning several decades as a result of the Oregon University System, which was disbanded last July. As a result, the senate must review each policy and decide which ones the senate is going to repeal or revise.

Another issue is that discussion is limited to academic-related issues. While most topics naturally center on academics, other issues — such as campus safety and law enforcement on campus — often do not receive the same attention. 

“[Restricting discussion to academic issues] limits the scope of the conversation,” Burns said.

Despite this, the senate has been more focused on creating policies to better the university this term, as opposed to past terms when it moved slower, Roth said.

“University Senate’s dialogue has been more driven and has been a priority to ensure that things are actually getting done,” Roth said.

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Miles Trinidad

Miles Trinidad

Miles Trinidad is an Opinion Columnist for the Emerald focusing on politics, social policy and economics. Prior to joining the Opinion Desk, Trinidad was a reporter and covered student groups and ASUO for the Emerald from 2015-2016 and contributed to Flux Magazine in 2017.

Trinidad has worked in political campaigns, non-profit political advocacy, and a legislative and communication role for a U.S. senator.

Trinidad is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in political science, economics, and journalism.