Editorial Board: What the Hell Is Student Senate? (Do We Know?)

The Editorial Board

This Sunday, Oberlin’s Student Senate is holding a panel titled “What the Hell Is Senate?” We are curious to hear how the senators will choose to answer that question.

The chief problem with Senate, as it has been observed by student senators in the past, is the same problem that plagues many representative governmental bodies: Members are elected on platforms reflective of their pet projects and are, for whatever reason, unable to work with those who hold actual power to create change. And at Oberlin, power lies with the individuals who, rightly or wrongly, are often demonized: the trustees, President Krislov, Ron Watts and other College administrators.

For at least a year, Senate’s operations have been marred by repeated resignations. Whether the senator is a Future Business Leader of America or a member of Earth First!, there are commonalities in these resignations: Each time, senators criticize those who resigned and then, during the following semester, resign themselves. It has become almost comical to see how quickly idealistic, newly elected senators succumb to the cynical frustration that seems to come with the position.

When College senior Patrick Doherty, a senator who rewrote the organization’s bylaws in the hope of increasing efficiency, resigned last semester, he wrote:

“While I have always believed in Senate’s potential for creating effective change on this campus, we have become so bogged down by the personal agendas of many senators that Senate has, once again, proven that it is incapable of being a strong motivating force for change on Oberlin’s campus.”

His letter, though harshly worded, was astute.

Hopefully, the senators on the panel this week will be able to answer the question, “What the hell is Senate?” with a cohesive description. If Senate hopes to become an effective body on Oberlin’s campus, they need to function as an organization that works with one another and with others who hold power, not as a collection of individuals who place pet projects before the College’s advancement.