By Reubin Turner
Assistant City Editor
There was something different about the 62nd legislative session of student government, but Rockwall senior Forrest Davis couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.
However, as members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity began to vacate Student Senate seats, it became clear to Davis that student government leadership was on the move to outwit, outplay and outlast members of the ATO fraternity.
The fraternity makes up approximately 35 percent of the Senate’s population, the largest Greek demographic within the chamber.
The fraternity also carries a strong presence on campus, known for all-university events and consistency as the top-performing fraternity in academics, posting an average GPA of 3.4 last semester.
Davis, who is not a member of ATO, said he feels as though student government leadership is strategically working to eliminate ATOs from the Senate in retaliation for ousting friends whom he did not name this past election.
“The leadership, still reeling from the fact most of their buddies who were incumbents got forced out by the new ATOs, were looking for a way to get them back,” Davis wrote in an email to the Lariat.
Davis said this is seen by policy changes made by the Student Senate bylaws and the drop in ATOs in the Senate by approximately 25 percent.
According to the Senate bylaws, senators must fulfill one office hour per full academic week and are allowed up to four unexcused absences per semester. Davis said these requirements became more stringent in an effort to force ATO senators’ resignations for failing to uphold them.
Davis said he became a casualty of this new policy when the Senate Executive Council demanded his resignation for failing to uphold attendance requirements. Although Davis fought the charge and was not voted out by the Senate, he said he resigned out of frustration.
Katy junior Lawren Kinghorn, internal vice president, said although the methods of obtaining this office-hour requirement were altered, the purpose was not directed at any group.
Kinghorn said in the past, writing a bill was worth three office hours. Under the new policy, however, writing it is worth two hours, while attending a meeting when researching a bill is worth one. Kinghorn said there was essentially no change.
“We didn’t change the one office-hour requirement, and we actually extended the opportunities that senators have to obtain this requirement,” she said. The purpose of the policy changes Kinghorn said, was to increase student government recognition throughout campus and on social media.
Two of the new methods, for instance, grant office hours to senators who use social media for student government’s cause.
Kinghorn also said attendance has been a significant problem among several of the new members of the chamber, despite a workshop at the beginning of the semester to highlight attendance requirements in the constitution.
“The executive council even granted a grace period to those who hadn’t been meeting requirements, just because we wanted to make sure the requirements were clearly outlined,” Kinghorn said. In accordance with the constitution, she and the SEC have called into question senators who consistently failed to uphold this attendance requirement. “This procedure is not new,” Kinghorn said. She also said members during the last legislative session were also brought into question for failing to uphold attendance requirements.
Woodinville, Wash., senior Gannon McCahill, a member and former president of ATO, said although he doesn’t feel ATO is being targeted, he does believe ATO’s voice has been unfairly limited within the body of the Senate.
Throughout his time within the Senate, McCahill said he’s seen many qualified members of the fraternity passed up for important positions that would have increased their clout within the chamber. “There have been times when important positions in Student Senate have been vacant and not every Senator was given an equal chance at filling the spot.” he said, saying it was strange considering they make up such a huge portion of the Senate.
Furthermore, McCahill said ATOs have consistently been left out of committees that deal directly with the business of the Senate.
“I was surprised when I found out I had been placed on the campus improvements and affairs committee,” McCahill said. McCahill listed the finance committee as his top choice, and as a finance major he thought he’d get it.
According to the Senate bylaws, the president of the Student Senate is responsible for appointing committees.
Kinghorn said McCahill was not appointed to either of his committees purely by circumstance.
“Approximately two-thirds of the elected student senators indicated the finance committee as their first or second choice, making it difficult to even-out the committees. However, every Student Senator was placed in one of their top three choices,” Kinghorn said.
McCahill said he believes some of the leadership’s attitudes toward the fraternity stem from fears that ATO would vote and side together on many issues.
As a result, two factions have developed within the Senate, McCahill said, working against each other.
As the internal vice president, Kinghorn said she intends to make sure the Senate is running as efficiently and smoothly as possible, and if this means calling senators into question that don’t fulfill duties as required by the Senate’s bylaws, then so be it.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to serve in any capacity of student government. Everyone, from leadership to senators should treat it as such.”