Every other Wednesday at 7 a.m. a handful of students and other members of the public make their way to the third floor of the University Student Union to attend senate meetings for the Associated Students, Inc.
Of those handfuls of people, some address the senate during public comment. The breadth of topics during these open floor comments range from students promoting events to people expressing their concern for the manner in which the university handles certain situations.
This year, on top of a new early morning meeting time, ASI has imposed a five minute time limit for the public to address the senate.
For some, the new time limit is seen as a barrier between students and ASI, but for ASI, they see it as a necessity.
The Collegian sat down with ASI executives Jessica Sweeten, Lauren Johnson and Alex Andreotti as well as students who have addressed the ASI senate during public comment this semester.
Andreotti, ASI’s executive-vice president, said that this was the first time that the student-run government has ever set a time limit.
“After consulting with our advisor [Gary Nelson] and other members of the office we found it necessary to limit time to be fair to every member of the public,” Andreotti said. “Five minutes is actually a lengthy amount of time.”
She also added that all senate meetings must adjourn by 8:50 a.m. because some of the senate members have 9 a.m. classes.
Student Mauro Carrera feels the time limit is meant to silence student voices.
“They make it very clear and very obvious that you are limited in what you can say,” Mauro said. “I would assume that having meetings at 7 a.m., you would hardly get a student to come out and speak about their concerns. So, the limit speaks a lot about their willingness to outreach to students.”
Recent fee hikes, class cuts and furloughs have brought about a renewed interest in student government for students like Polo Ortiz, who says that he recently started attending senate meetings because ASI has not taken students’ concerns into consideration.
Sweeten, ASI’s president, said that senators listen to everyone who addresses the public and takes their suggestions into consideration.
“I appreciate anyone who will come before the senate and give their opinion,” Sweeten said. “It takes time out of students schedules to come to a student senate meeting and we’re going to take every request seriously.”
However, during the Oct. 21 senate meeting, student Tom Boroujeni was warned by ASI while he was addressing the senate to sit down or he would be removed from the meeting. The Collegian reported on Oct. 23 that the university police were contacted during the meeting in case Boroujeni needed to be escorted out.
“All I was going to ask was ‘do they want all of the bylaws to go through or just some of them?’” Boroujeni said.
Bourojeni said that he became upset when ASI members put his right to speak in front of senate up to vote.
“I have the right to ask questions and speak in front of the senate when they have a guest [speaker], but instead they put my right to speak up to vote.”
According to Boroujeni, his request to address the senate was shut down by the three executives and then later put up for a vote, with only five senate members voting in favor of him speaking.
“The tone from ASI is very defensive,” Boroujeni said. “They think we’re only [at the senate meetings] to get them out of office or to spite them. It’s not that at all.”
ASI senator Jamie San Andres says that she has noticed the type of response from senators this semester toward students who speak during public comment.
“When students approach me with these kinds of questions I feel that there is a certain amount of carelessness in addressing student concerns and adhering to the documents by which we are bound,” San Andres said.
The three ASI executives disagreed stating that their goal is to fulfill the ASI mission statement and represent the majority of students.
“If the senate does not vote in favor of what the public is saying it doesn’t meant that we aren’t listening to them or taking them seriously,” Andreotti said. “We are the elected student government, so we have a vested interest in everyone.”