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Undergraduate Senate heard from Chancellor, debated length of meetings on Tuesday


Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz delivered his State of the University address to the Undergraduate Senate on Monday, Oct.14, 2019. The speech touched on his time as chancellor and a number of initiatives his administration is starting, mainly focusing on diversity and new academic programs. 

A UNC Undergraduate Senate that has been struggling to meet quorum had a full body meeting on Tuesday to listen to the State of the University address from interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and discuss a variety of bills and appointees. 

The Senate hovered two members away from failing to meet quorum for the majority of discussion and once again rejected the consent calendar, which, if passed, would have allowed the Senate to pass all the bills on it at once.

Additionally, the Senate failed to overturn Student Body President Ashton Martin's veto on a bill that would require senators to receive a minimum of 25 votes to hold a seat. 

State of the University

The meeting began with an address from Guskiewicz. He shared many of his hopes to continue to make UNC a public university for the people and emphasized the importance of diversity.

"I think we are at a critical moment for Carolina," Guskiewicz said. "We have a lot of opportunities in front of us. While we've had challenges over the past few years, I truly believe that with every challenge there are two or three opportunities on the other side." 

Following his address, Senate members asked questions about specific concerns. Questions ranged from public safety to the University's plans for revenue from the sale of alcohol at football games.

Senator Samuel Gee asked about the growing concerns among students and faculty surrounding the Program for Public Discourse regarding allegations of conservative origins. In response, Guskiewicz said he believes UNC faculty supporters of the program come from both sides of the aisle.

Student Fee Referendum 

The Student Fee Audit Committee, or SFAC, is recommending a student referendum surrounding a potential student fee. The $17 fee would go to support UNC's Makerspace and has been proposed because the original funding for the project under former Chancellor Carol Folt is expected to dry up.

"The bottom line is we would like to do a student referendum around one of the fees because we felt that in SFAC we weren't the best ones to make the decision," Treasurer Carter Vilim said. "So, we wanted to bring it to the student body."

Veto Vote

The senate also voted on whether to overturn Martin's veto of a bill requiring senators to receive a minimum number of votes in elections to hold their positions.

"While I do believe a five-person senate can get things done, I hardly believe that it is representative of Carolina," Martin said in a statement read by Vilim. "I believe in having as many diverse voices in the room as possible." 

Despite the bill having ardent supporters, the veto was not overturned.

Consent Calendar 

The consent calendar was voted down once again on Monday. Contention surrounded a bill to amend the standing rule by establishing the bar to vote down the consent calendar at five senators instead of the current threshold of one. The bill had a number of co-sponsors and had been popular in the Rules and Judiciary committee.

Senators went through the calendar bill by bill while performing some legislative finagling to lump similar, popular bills together — like the 40 finance bills on the calendar for Monday evening.

The bill ultimately failed after a period of contentious debate. Senator Corry Dauderman felt passionately that the bill intended to streamline the meeting process, which went against the core purpose of the Senate.

"Why we come here and stand together today is to deliberate. It is not to pass whatever your committee decides," Dauderman said. "...This is a travesty to 200 years of parliamentary procedure. It's an insult to Thomas Jefferson, to James Madison."

After the meeting, Senator Erik Beene expressed his frustration about the length of meetings and the unwillingness to streamline the process.

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"I understand we're a deliberative body, but we are students first. We all have busy lives," Beene said. "...If a senator wants to review every bill from a particular committee, join it. Senate should never be held hostage to the will of one individual when an entire committee has already given already given their unanimous approval." 

After a long, three-hour meeting with a large amount of lively debate and many bills failing to pass, Beene said he was frustrated with the whole process.

"I can say these petty fights, squabbles and personal attacks do nothing to inspire cooperation," Beene said. "It's frankly convinced me to never enter the public sector after college."