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Senate rejects referendum to poll student body on funding, elects incoming executives

| Thursday, February 24, 2022

The 2021-2022 Notre Dame student senate convened Wednesday night in the Notre Dame Room on the second floor of the LaFortune Student Center. 

After opening with a prayer for peace in Ukraine, student body vice president Matthew Bisner moved on to executive announcements. 

Isa Sheikh | The Observer
The Notre Dame student senate gathered Wednesday evening to nominate a new judicial council president and executive director of the Student Union Board and discuss a new referendum.

Incoming student body vice president Sofie Stitt made an announcement regarding executive cabinet applications for the 2022-2023 school year. 

“We encourage everyone to apply, regardless of prior leadership in student government,” Stitt said. Applications to serve as a department director, department member or chief of staff are open to all students until Sunday, Feb. 25.

Keough Hall senator Benjamin Erhardt reported on his meeting with interim provost Christine Maziar and associate provost for undergraduate affairs Fr. Dan Groody about virtual options for students in quarantine, in light of a resolution the Senate discussed in January.

Judicial council president David Haungs announced that the council is accepting nominations for the Michael J. Palumbo Award, the Irish Clover Awards and the Frank O’Malley Undergraduate Teaching Award. Nominations for all are due March 1 at noon.

Following executive announcements, Haungs nominated Madison Nemeth as his successor as judicial council president. Nemeth, a junior and resident of Johnson Family Hall, is double majoring in Africana Studies and Political Science and pursuing a minor in Education, Schooling and Society.

“I have come to admire her drive for improving the Student Union, her adaptability to rapidly changing circumstances and the thoroughness, efficiency and conviction of her constitutional interpretation,” Haungs said. “Madison is far more qualified than I was when I assumed office.”

Following a singular question from student body president Allan Njomo — on where Nemeth was when Zayn Malik left One Direction — Nemeth was confirmed by a unanimous vote.

Kate McLaughlin, executive director of the Student Union Board, also nominated a successor, Rachel Dorfner. 

“Rachel has demonstrated that she has the experience, enthusiasm and understanding of our mission required to excel in her role as Executive Director,” McLaughlin said virtually over Zoom.

Njomo posed the same question about One Direction.

“I actually don’t have a clue, because I wasn’t a One Direction fan,” Dorfner said to audible gasps. 

Dorfner was elected by a unanimous vote.

Haungs then introduced an order to amend the jurisdiction of the election committee, essentially limiting their purview.

Haungs read out the resolution’s explanation, saying that with the current policy, “the Election Committee could therefore publicly sanction and punish a student who is not yet 21 for drinking alcohol in their room, or a student who is not Catholic for failing to follow the Catholic Church’s teachings on sexuality, just because those individuals happen to be candidates in an election,” and that this should be handled by the Office of Community Standards and not the election committee.

Following a postponement of the vote regarding confusion over correct word choice, the resolution was adopted by the senate.

Erhardt then introduced a resolution calling for a referendum on how student union funds should be allocated. The resolution proposed a ballot measure that would ask,

“Currently, 40% of the funds available for allocation to student groups are allocated to clubs, while 59% of such funds are distributed among Student Union Organizations [Senate, Executive Cabinet, Student Union Board, Hall Presidents Council, Club Coordination Council, Class Councils, Off-Campus Council, Financial Management Board, and Judicial Council]. Do you favor shifting up to 7% of funds available for allocation from Student Union Organizations to clubs?”

The ballot would allow students to answer yes, no or abstain.

Knott Hall senator Abraham Figueroa asked how many clubs are self-sufficient and what sorts of clubs request student union funds.

Maddie Tupy, club coordination council president, responded that 36% of clubs have been self-sufficient the past year. She added that no specific type of club was overrepresented in requesting funds.

“It’s really across the board,” Tupy said.

Timmy Gallagher, senior class president, said, “It seems kind of ridiculous to ask students this,” arguing that this might be an ineffective polling method.

He cited statistics that approximately 80% of the student body does not know what the student union is, making them “a very unqualified group to understand this very complicated matter.”

Figueroa agreed stating, “students would essentially be voting on a whim, not understanding what they’re voting on.”

Sophomore class president Paul Stoller said, “This is an incredibly nuanced topic that we’re talking about. I think there are three people on this campus that are prepared to answer this. This is not something that should be left to the student body.”

Stoller added, “It’s not because our student body is stupid, it’s not because they don’t follow student politics, it’s because they don’t know the minutia of this … analytical decision.” 

Siegfried Hall senator Zachary Cortez argued the student body should be able to have a say in funding decisions.

Faith Woods, senator for Breen-Phillips Hall, said that she did not mind posing the question to the student body, but argued that it should not be on the same ballot as class council elections, since several of the tickets are running unopposed. 

“Given that even the presidential election, which had the largest turnout in five years, only had a turnout of 56%, that’s a concern,” Woods said.

FUEL co-director Ian Baker said the issue was brought up two years ago, and thought the formation of a committee of students who know more about this funding is the answer.

“My fear for this issue is that a student body-wide referendum on an issue most students do not know much about will become a significant data point for no reason,” Baker said.

Haungs said that “there is a precedent for referendums,” and that previously, there was even less context included.

Gallagher argued once again, “This data point would be dangerous, and move us away from what the student body opinion actually is, because this vote would be skewed.”

Senator Erhardt then said, “Most of the people making the arguments [against the resolution] are representing student union organizations,” before motioning for the resolution.

Voting via an online closed ballot, the senate rejected the measure. The remaining agenda items were tabled to the next meeting, and a motion to adjourn was passed.

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About Isa Sheikh

Isa Sheikh is a first-year in Stanford Hall and serves as associate news editor. A history and political science major hailing from Sacramento, he enjoys reading The Observer on the 11th floor of Hes, sipping Cinderblock Coffee in the morning, and re-reading the same Didion essays. He can be reached at [email protected]

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