What does Campus Senate do?
That is the question administrators and students are asking as the body considers whether it will serve “a legislative or advisory purpose on campus,” Colin Cowperthwaite ’18, Senate co-chair, said.
The Senate’s last few resolutions have had little impact on the parts of the Kenyon community they tried to address. It is a consistent pattern: Senate spends months putting together a resolution, President Sean Decatur approves it and then it is largely ignored, according to Sarah Heidt, associate professor of English and Senate co-chair.
“Right now, we’re not convinced that we have the ability to affect anything,” Heidt said. “If we’re working on something, we hope that it’s something that we actually have some ability to affect.”
To illuminate this point, Heidt pointed to Senate’s recent resolution about gender-neutral bathrooms.
On Oct. 28, 2014, Campus Senate passed a resolution recommending all single-stall bathrooms on campus be converted to gender-neutral or gender-inclusive. In reviewing the proposed policy, however, the administration discovered that doing so would go against existing Ohio building codes.
The 2013 smoking policy was another case of a Senate resolution that went unenforced.
Driven by such occurrences, Heidt, Cowperthwaite and Student Council president Phoebe Roe ’16 met with President Sean Decatur on Nov. 16 to discuss what a revamped Senate would look like.
Decatur said during the meeting that he did not think of Senate as a resource with a lot of power on campus, according to Heidt.
“I don’t think that dissolving Senate would be a good thing for the campus, though it may be the right time to ask whether the structure of Senate is the right structure for us now,” Decatur told the Collegian.
Cowperthwaite said he thinks much of Senate’s inefficiency is driven by a lack of communication between Senate and the people who would be in charge of implementing proposals.
As a solution, he suggested inviting the administrators who would be in charge of enacting any Senate resolution to Senate meetings from the beginning. Senate could then create an after-action review, meaning a few members would follow through with the implementation of all policies.
Meredith Harper Bonham ’92, vice president for student affairs, said she thinks Senate needs to define its mission and place on campus more clearly.
“I think there’s a general lack of clarity about the functions of Senate, not only on Senate itself but also within the Kenyon community as a whole,” Bonham said. “It’s worth looking at whether Campus Senate continues to fulfill a need.”
Heidt also said Senate may change its composition to accommodate a larger range of voices on campus. Right now, there is no representation of people paid hourly wages, such as maintenance or AVI workers, Cowperthwaite said.
“Those are people who make up a part of the Kenyon community,” Cowperthwaite said. “I believe that those people should be a part of governance at Kenyon.”
Heidt, Cowperthwaite and Bonham said they see Senate as an important outlet for student voices and that they do not want to dissolve it altogether.
“We’re definitely going to be listening very carefully to our student members and their sense of what Senate is for,” Heidt said.
“If it’s looking like we need to talk to students more broadly, then we’ll do that, too.”