Senate Referendum Issues Stir Debate on Campus
The recent controversy over the payment of student senators has brought new focus to the upcoming student referendum. Two weeks ago, Oberlin’s Student Senate realized that for the past two years they have been receiving unconstitutional wages for their work. They have since voted to suspend all pay.
The senators’ pay was unconstitutional because the 2005 referendum that reauthorized their wage pay never reached a quorum. In order to pass the referendum, half the student body needed to vote and a majority of those voting needed to say yes.
“Student senators have unknowingly taken unauthorized compensation,” said Senate Organizational Liaison and College junior Ben Klebanoff. “We’re trying to fix that.”
The new referendum, which will be distributed by e-mail on Monday, Dec. 3, includes a proposal to legitimize the compensation they have been receiving for two years, compensate them for the past two weeks and continue their pay at minimum wage.
Along with the question of compensation, the referendum contains proposals to start a green fund at Oberlin (for more on the green fund see page 2), reinstate Latin Honors at graduation, conduct elections by a single transferable vote system and require Senate oversight of the Student Finance Committee budget.
“Senators will resign if this doesn’t meet quorum,” said Senate Student Affairs Liaison and College senior Ian Hilburger.
“There are people who can’t be a senator if they don’t get paid and they will have to take another job that does pay,” said Senate Publicity Coordinator and College sophomore Daniel Abramson.
There is a consensus among senators about the need for compensation until two weeks ago, senators took the pay for their hours of work for granted. All the new referendum is doing, according to Hilburger, is asking students to “accept that the Student Senate two years ago, which is not representative of the current Student Senate, made a mistake and that they [the students] are accepting that mistake.”
How Student Senate should receive compensation will also be asked on the new referendum. Until two years ago, senators received stipends for ten hours per week at minimum wage. The 2005 referendum if the question had reached quorum, would have changed their pay to an hourly wage system. Many prefer this system, as it means that senators do not get paid for work they do not do. Students will soon be able to choose if Senate compensation should be based on wages, capped wages or a return to stipends.
The referendum also suggests that money be raised for various projects through an increase in the student activity fee. Students already pay $218 per semester to fund student organizations, clubs and club sports. The student body would vote on the increase in the referendum and, if passed, students would have the choice to waive the fee.
Another question on the referendum is over Latin Honors at graduation. The major-based honors “helps to encourage people to try things outside of their field which is part of the main staples of a liberal arts education,” said Abramson.
When Student Senate last voted on Latin Honors they unanimously turned it down. Among the fears of those opposed is that it will make Oberlin more competitive and reward students for taking easier classes. Hilburger also expressed concerns that the system would “unequally represent different departments on campus.”
When there are no more surpluses, the candidate with the least votes is dropped. Votes for that candidate are then redistributed to the voter’s second choices. If a voter’s top choice doesn’t receive the quota, then their votes are distributed to the second choice and so on. For example, if STV had been used in the 2000 election, Gore most likely would have won because many of Ralph Nader’s votes would have been redistributed.
“STV is a fairer voting system that minimizes wasted votes and maximizes voter’s opportunity to express their preferences,” said Ikebe.
For students, voting in an STV election is no more work than the standard elections. There is, however, a logistical problem for those who count the votes.
“We have student-designed software, so it’s low cost freeware right now,” explained student senator and College senior Colin Jones, the Student Finance Committee Chair.
The current system is not designed to redistribute votes, so new software is needed. Ikebe and Senate are taking this into account.
“It’s not like it’s going to change it immediately. It’s going to be implemented over time if it’s agreed to,” said Jones.
“We [SFC] can sort of just give [money] to ourselves right now. This just makes us more accountable,” said Jones. By having someone approve their budget “it will mean there will probably be more give and take in that process,” said Jones, which is beneficial to both sides. “I see it as sort of a no brainer,” he concluded.
These are uncertain times for Student Senate. Given the issues, senators are hoping for a better participation in this referendum.
Hilburger expressed Senate’s concerns: “If [the referendum] doesn’t reach quorum, I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”