ASPSU Senate Update: PSU Senate abandons constitution changes, elects new chair

The Associated Students of PSU Senate meeting on March 20 went quite differently than previously anticipated. Initially, the meeting agenda was scheduled to entertain a vote to change the ASPSU constitution. However, due to organizational conflicts of interest the original agenda was dropped. In addition to briefly discussing the constitution’s absence from the agenda, the meeting included such turns as the election of a new Senate chair, committee updates, and a brief report from the ASPSU’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee.

The constitution will not be changed
The ASPSU constitution has been looked at for revision fairly consistently throughout previous student administrations. In January 2017 Senate Chair Brent Finkbeiner, Chief Justice Kate Lindstrom and Senator Josephine Claus met to begin looking into making changes to the constitution.

Senate members wanted to address the amount of student participation necessary to alter the constitution. Claus felt that requiring 3 percent of the vote was detrimental to changing the constitution if necessary.

The current student participation rate in school-wide ASPSU elections tends to hover between 3 and 5 percent.

As relayed via public announcement, two possible changes included giving the ASPSU president veto power and the reduction of Student Finance Committee votes in the Senate from seven to one.

One hour before the meeting began, Brent Finkbeiner, ASPSU chief of staff, informed students via email that “due to an unforeseen conflict with procedural bylaws, ASPSU will not be presenting or voting on any constitutional revisions to Senate tonight. We will discuss next steps but there will be no formal vote to send any substantive amendments to the ballot this year.”

Student Body President Liela Forbes addressed the reasons behind the last minute agenda change by citing errors of communication.

“There was a lack of clear communication about certain time frames and expectations,” Forbes said. “People who had access to certain knowledge [were] not communicating that and that kind of created a situation where we weren’t able to do our job in a way that we were responsible for.”

Forbes went on to say the Senate would not pursue further changes to the constitution and that they regarded this situation as a lost opportunity.

During the meeting, Senator Kaitlin Hoback confirmed with ASPSU Advisor Candace Avalos that non-substantive changes can still be explored. However, the Senate did not define what “non-substantive” means nor did they discuss what non-substantive changes they were interested in making.

Election of a new Senate chair
In other news, former Senate Chair Brent Finkbeiner has transitioned into the chief of staff position due to Amber Hastings’ resignation from the post. As such, a new Senate chair was needed and the Senate provided the opportunity for candidates to be nominated, discussed, and elected.

President Forbes emphasized that anyone who was interested in the position would receive adequate training. They encouraged the nomination of those who were interested and passionate about ASPSU to pursue the position regardless of experience level.

Luis Balderas Villagrana was nominated by SFC member Andy Mayer, and Josephine Claus was self-nominated. Each was then given an opportunity to explain why they are qualified for the position.

Villagrana emphasized wanting to be a Senate chair that would value and strive to expand communication. In addition to his brief time in ASPSU so far, Villagrana cited his time at PSU lobby days in Salem and talking to representatives as ways to prepare him for an expanded role in the Senate.

“I have been with those constitutional changes since the beginning,” Claus said. “I’m really sad to see what’s happened with the deadline because that’s obviously a miscommunication, and that’s definitely part of my motivation for wanting to be Senate chair is making sure the communication is there, because that’s a lot of work that just went to waste.”

After the nominees were heard by Senate, voting members discussed the candidates in preparation for a vote.

SFC member Mahamadou Sissoko interjected that, as had occurred in the past, candidates should leave the room to allow for a more thorough discussion about their qualifications and for a more objective environment in which to cast votes.

However, Sissoko ultimately abstained from voting on the new Senate chair. “I don’t know them on a personal level,” Sissoko explained. “And I feel like this is a very short amount of time to get enough information to do this.”

Senate voting regulations were subsequently called into question and researched by participating members. After further review and two rounds of votes, the voting numbers were tallied. In the end, Luis Balderas Villagrana received broad support and was elected as the new Senate chair.

Finkbeiner was satisfied with his replacement in the role of Senate chair and about his appointment to chief of staff.

“I enjoy leadership roles and I find that my leadership style is to encourage the team to work together,” Finkbeiner said. “I try to put as much power into the team as I can. It’s something that I was happy to be appointed for.” Finkbeiner added that he feels there is a lot of potential to finish the spring term in a very productive and positive way despite the various role changes.

Updates from the Presidential Search Advisory Committee
The PSU Board of Trustees is responsible for evaluating and hiring the next university president to replace Wim Wiewel after his upcoming resignation, effective this summer. The board accepted public comments about this process until two weeks ago. As ASPSU represents the student body, the Board’s report holds slightly more weight than that of your average student.

At this time, ASPSU President Forbes solicited feedback to include in the report which would be submitted to the BOT the following day on March 21.

One member of the meeting noted that Dr. Rahmat A. Shoureshi exhibited positive interactions with students at The Native American Student and Community Center. “[Shoureshi] seemed to really understand the dynamics that are in place here [at PSU],” noted an ASPSU member regarding Shoureshi’s recent presentation at PSU. “And they want to work with the students to create a shared vision.”

No comments were made about other candidates Jack H. Knott or Jonathan GS Koppell. Forbes noted no more planned opportunities to meet presidential candidates and that the BOT would move forward with the next steps of its presidential search at either a special meeting in May or at an upcoming BOT meeting in April.

“Knowing that their April meeting is also a tuition increase meeting,” Forbes speculated, “I somehow don’t know that they’re gonna get to that business item.” With the controversial nature of a tuition increase, Forbes feels that the deliberation about and selection of the next university president will most likely occur at a BOT meeting in May.

The BOT is scheduled to meet with students on April 7 in addition to a budget meeting on April 11 that will include discussing tuition increases.

According to Chris Broderick, associate vice president for University Communications, the BOT will give advanced notice to the public about when they plan to move further with the presidential search and when that meeting occurs it will be open to the public.

Tuition increase?
Legislative Affairs Director Phoenix Singer announced two upcoming lobby days in Salem. The Legislative Affairs Committee has organized an event on April 3 to lobby for criminal justice reform and on April 12 for Stable Homes for Oregon. Legislative Affairs also discussed the $1.7 billion budget deficit that could lead to tuition increases if there aren’t a significant amount of voices raised in opposition.

A petition has been circulating for students opposed to tuition increases. This petition is reported to have gathered around 136 signatures so far.

Tony Duadsuntia, director of the International Affairs Committee, reported that the committee is working to create training programs for international students to develop professional skills including public speaking.