Senate Reform?

Analyzing Problems and Proposing Solutions for our Student Leaders

Redeemer’s election season is underway. At the time of the release of this paper, applications for Student Senate have been sent in, campaigns have begun, and voting is taking place. We will shortly see a new lineup of students who will represent us as the 2022-23 Student Senate. 


It is indeed exhilarating to see our friends embracing the opportunity to represent the student body. However, Senate reported that they had seen fewer applications this year than in previous years. Because of this, the deadline for applications has been pushed, not once but twice. Furthermore, Senate released an email displaying the campaign videos by the executive candidates, which only had one candidate per position and, thus, no competition. Has enthusiasm for student administration deteriorated? 


There are several concerns students may have in regards to Student Senate. We may be wondering why they constantly have new faces or why students feel distant from their leaders, or why we even have a student government in the first place. After much contemplation and discussion about the topic, there are three perceivable problems surrounding Student Senate: a lack of connection and communication with the student body, a high degree of turnover rates, and an inevitable difficulty for short-term-style leaders to embrace continuity. In summary, there is detachment in three different uses of the word. 


One should note that this article does not attempt to bash Senate as a barrier to student flourishing. Quite the opposite is true. Senate continues to execute their duties, prioritizing connection with their fellow students. Yet, since they are our representatives, we should never avoid the question of how Student Senate can improve. This article will address the three problems above, aim to dispel some common uncertainty toward Senate, and include solutions that may be necessary to ameliorate the institution. 


After observing a few statistics on student participation in elections and surveys, it can be suggested that there is a disconnection between Redeemer students and their senators. During last year’s election, only 21% of the student body voted in the presidential election, while 19% voted in the executive election, and 32% voted in the general election. Moreover, Senate recently released a survey via the Redeemer email that asked students how much they know about Senate, in which only 19% participated. Out of all survey partakers, only 3% claimed they were “very informed” on what the Senate does, while 44% were “somewhat informed.” Of the rest of the partakers, 53% were either “neutral”, “somewhat”, or “very uninformed” on the role of Senate. 


Further evidence of this unfamiliarity is connected to their use of their fees. Senate distributes money to clubs, activities, and the recreation centre, but 82% of the survey’s participants are not aware of this. In addition to unfamiliarity, Students may be in opposition to the financial policy of Senate, where Senate extracts $15 for every course enrolled by each student to add to their budget. This can be especially frustrating given that COVID-19 has hindered the continued run of clubs and events. At an initial glance, students may feel like they are not getting paid their due. 


In a general sense, there is a certain degree of distance between students and their senators. In a conversation with Senate’s Vice President of Communications, Nathan Visser, he said that students may regard Senate as unapproachable because they do not know the Senator’s roles or why they are in the office. To answer these questions, their work mainly includes addressing student concerns, managing student events, providing them with necessary resources, and serving as a liaison between the student body and the student administration. Senators remain in the office, not primarily for school work or even Senate work; they are there first to answer questions any student may have. 


Therefore, Nathan’s first suggestion for us is to “be curious and ask questions.” Senate is also excited to announce that a bulletin board will be posted by Senate’s office soon, which includes events in particular clubs–another great outlet for understanding Senate’s role around campus. Furthermore, students can be conscious of Senate’s activity through reading their posts on the Redeemer app, messages on “Timeouts” via email, Nathan’s Senate article from an earlier Crown edition, and/or “meeting minutes,” which are summaries of Senate’s meetings posted on their website. 


As for potentially altering the financial policy, the objective of the $15-per-course fee is to keep the existing policy and employ the funds in the future when COVID-19 mandates are lifted, and the joy of university clubs and events can be experienced as before. Senators should be encouraged to be more involved in places where students can connect with them, whether intramurals, sports games, community outreach, talent shows, the upcoming banquet, etc. Senate can also connect with the community through another “dorm desserts” event for first-year students, where Senators would go door to door, dropping off dessert treats and chatting about the role of Senate.


An innovative suggestion would be to reach out to other universities to see how they can connect with the student body and further build the community. For example, some universities have hosted “town hall meetings,” where the student government would invite students to meet with them and listen to their concerns directly. Instead of merely establishing a Q&A online, this inspires civil and effective dialogue, as well as clear communication.


In a conversation with Melissa Goosen, the Interim Senate President and former Vice President of Student Affairs, she rightfully identified the problem of communication as a two-way street. Indeed, Senate can fix the problem but not on their own. 


The second problem is high turnover rates, which refers to the three members that resigned in the 2022-23 school year. At the moment, there are currently two Senators that were in last year’s Senate. Some of us are curious as to why this is the case. Could it be that the positions are overly demanding? Is there another underlying institutional flaw? After chatting with Nathan, he established that there were unique personal circumstances that led to resignation in each case, meaning that it had little to do with Senate itself. 


Melissa also attested to this reasoning, saying that the problem of Senators turning over is not attributed to the workload. She says, “the workload matches the payment, it is quite manageable” and “[the Senators] often meet often committees to ensure that they are fulfilling their role,” meaning that they are held accountable and strongly supported in case of falling short of their tasks. 


However, this is not the case for every Senator. Former Vice President of Finance, Abigail Hoogstra, stated: “While I am thankful for my two years as a Student Senator, I made the decision to leave because I reached a point of burn out. Taking on the role as VP of Finance during a year with continual changes was exciting yet difficult, with an increasing amount of involvement. At the end of the year I knew I didn’t have the energy to devote to Senate as I wanted and for that reason made the decision not to campaign again.” 


While it may be challenging to provide specific solutions to this problem, one can reasonably suggest a higher honorarium as an incentive for returning students. This is fair because executive senators face increasingly difficult tasks and incentivize aspiring applicants. High turnover rates may depend on individual circumstances, but it can be confirmed that they were not a problem of internal tension or lack of senator support. 


Hypothetically (and ideally), communication and resignations are problems that can be settled, whereas discontinuity is an inevitable problem for Senate, as it is an institution that has leaders with limited years of service. Put differently, since students only have four or five years as their maximum amount of time, Senators are inherently bound by the task to preserve the institution the same each and every year. So, we often see new faces partially because the old faces have graduated.


Also, seeing a new lineup of student representatives is common. According to Article 3, Section 1, Senate’s constitution also requires them to hire three first-year students for each year, which further raises concerns of discontinuity. Melissa highlights that disconnection from year to year is a problem since “there is usually not an inclination to keep your position” and “Senators often move up to a higher position.” 


To address the lack of continuity, one can take the case of the recreation centre, which is the only student-led facility at Redeemer. The rec centre is the subject of fairly regular renovations. Improving a building is undoubtedly a good thing, but there is still a question at hand: Are these renovations always focused on the long term, or do they simply reflect the mood of current student governors? It is difficult to understand if there is a long-term plan for this building, or if every four years Senate decides on a new vision for the student-operated center and renovates accordingly. This is an example of discontinuity that comes with the nature of student governments, which is that they are almost always short-term-oriented.


How do we address discontinuity in the Student Senate? Traditionally, the most effective way to resolve this problem is the “continuity project,” which consists of concrete documents, put together by every Senator, that includes all of their duties, responsibilities, committees they oversee, essential contact sheets, and much more. A simple resolution may involve communication from former senators to new senators. As Melissa notes, “We try to encourage the first-year senators to stay on for as long as they can.” Lastly, Redeemer’s administration can still make an effort to be consistent from year to year by establishing a formal alumni committee, where Senators from previous years can check in with current Senators to keep them accountable. The purpose of this would be to bring expertise to where it is needed and ensure that projects, such as the rec centre, are carried out as they were before. 

On revising Student Senate, there is a balance which is essential to meet: On the one hand, we must empower their leadership while recognizing their limitations on the other hand. We should continue to perceive and uphold student leaders less as a group that rules over us but more as a helping hand as we carry out what we love at Redeemer. Here is a good reminder of the Student Senate’s mission: “The Redeemer University Student Senate strives to glorify God through all of its actions, seeking to advance his kingdom and promote this spirit of service within the Student Body.”


As you head into the Senate office this week to vote for your fellow Redeemer students, remember that Senate’s role is more than just overseeing the student body. Senate is here to bolster your university experience. Moving forward, it is my hope that you will consider the previous suggestions and use them to uplift our student leaders.