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Student Senate votes to allow amended resolution

Mary Kate Malone | Thursday, March 23, 2006

Members of the Student Senate passed a revised version of a hotly-contested resolution expressing strong support for controversial campus programming at their meeting Monday night.

The passage comes after fiery debate at the Senate’s last meeting over the wording and intention of the Resolution Supporting Diversity in Programming and Academic and Intellectual Freedom at Notre Dame. That resolution was sent back to the University Affairs Committee for revision after senators expressed dissatisfaction with it.

University Affairs Committee chair Matt Walsh admitted to senators his committee “did not change much” from the original resolution. But members still approved the new version, which will now be sent to University President Father John Jenkins.

“What this resolution does is encourage the University to facilitate a diverse, slash, wide range of programming … if they don’t they’re compromising their mission statement,” Walsh said.

The resolution calls for the University to “never compromise itself by disallowing certain student programming, even programming which may disagree or be perceived to disagree, with certain elements of Catholicism.”

Before voting on the resolution, some senators expressed concern with the use of a footnote from an American Association of University Professors document that clarifies the types of events that should not be restricted on college campuses.

Some senators said they did not think the inclusion of the AAUP’s guidelines in the resolution was appropriate, since the University is not technically a member of the association.

O’Neill senator Steve Tortorello said the resolution should not contain “any message of the AAUP”.

“I see this as a huge stretch of logic … trying to associate us with the footnote that enumerates what we want to say is a fuzzy set of logic,” Tortorello said.

But Zahm senator Pat Knapp defended the Committee’s resolution – and said the University subscribes to AAUP guidelines when setting policy.

“[The AAUP] is an oversight organization that largely oversees many policies relating to issues pertinent to academic freedom and what professors can and can’t do,” Knapp said. “The policy bearings they publish … have significant bearing and weight that Notre Dame and other institutions adopt. To not mention this would leave out a significant influencing factor on Notre Dame policy.”

Siegfried senator Ben Gunty said the incorporation of AAUP policy in the resolution was justified.

“If we are a member of the organization that upholds the policy then the logic is clear … we follow AAUP policy too,” Gunty said. “We subscribe to a subordinate group that the AAUP oversees. I think the logic is clear.”

Farley senator Carol Hendrickson said the use of the word “disallow” in the resolution could open a “loophole” since it fails to mention events that would be restricted every other year, for example.

“We can sit here and talk about language all day … not everyone is going to be happy with the exact language … we’re not trying to be very specific,” Walsh said. “We’re trying to be broad and proactive instead of reactive. We’re not trying to be reactive to certain events that already happened.”

Echoing concerns voiced by senators at last week’s meeting, Carroll senator Jim Grace reminded senators that the resolution is not guaranteed to influence Jenkins’ final policy.

“What do we do if it gets ignored by the administration? … This body doesn’t set policy for University and hopefully they’ll heed or input … in the end I think it’s important that it doesn’t look like Student Senate is powerless if they don’t listen to us,” Grace said.

The resolution was passed with three senators opposed and one senator abstaining.

Members also passed a resolution to add a permanent committee to the Senate charged with focusing on community relations.

The resolution includes changing the constitution to include the responsibilities of the now-permanent Committee on Community Relations, which will “address the relations between the student body and the residents of the South Bend area as it works to build a lasting relationship between the two groups.”

Members approved a resolution put forth by judicial council president James Leito that makes changes to the election section of the Student Union Constitution.

“Basically the main thing is if you did approve this, there would be no changes in the way elections are run,” Leito said before senators voted on his resolution. “It’s not any procedural changes, it’s mostly cosmetic.”

Leito’s resolution clarifies procedures that are already in practice regarding student government elections, he said.

Among other additions, the resolution gives the Judicial Council the right to specify dates for hall elections “pending the approval of the Hall President’s Council.”

Members defeated a resolution calling for an amendment to the Senate Section of the Constitution. Dillon senator Dan Bowen presented the resolution, which called for senators representing higher population dorms to have more voting power than those from smaller dorms.

Bowen said his resolution helped to eliminate the “tyranny of the minority.”

“My resolution brings a more democratic balance to the fold,” Bowen said. “There is a hypothetical situation when it’s possible for two-thirds of the Senate to vote or vote against something and it barely represents half of the student population.”

Knapp sharply shot down Bowen’s resolution.

“Did you read the discussion when this constitution was being drafted? … Our first and foremost purpose was to be a union, not a representative democracy … we are a union.”

In other Senate news

Travis Arnold from the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State spoke to senators about the effect in Indiana of 2002’s Help America Vote Act, which he said has helped usher in “a new era in the technology of voting.”

He encouraged members to tell their constituents who are from the state of Indiana about some of the new regulations associated with the new legislation. For example, Arnold said, a student identification card from a private university like Notre Dame is not a valid form of identification for voting. However, ID cards from public universities are accepted.