For the past several months, the world has been rocked by the spread of COVID-19, a deadly virus that has resulted in more than 120,000 deaths globally. While initial responses to the virus were timid, recent weeks have seen a drastic increase in preventative measures from government and private institutions around the world. UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) has followed suit, closing down the college and continuing classes via remote instruction.
Despite campus gatherings and activities having been canceled, the Associated Students (AS) of UCSB have continued numerous functions, providing updates and tools for students to utilize during the pandemic. In this same vein, the AS Senate has continued to hold meetings via Zoom, an online platform that has been employed by faculty and students alike.
On April 15, AS Senate held a remote session of their weekly meeting to discuss several matters, many related directly to COVID-19. Deliberations in this session included the controversy surrounding privacy issues related to ProctorU, as well as the challenges faced by academic workers due to the epidemic. However, the chief issue of the night regarded the AS Senate itself, and whether it would continue to hold weekly meetings throughout the crisis.
The resolution in question, introduced by Senators Giselle Etessami and Tyler Ferguson, proposed that the Senate should continue to hold its weekly meetings even if the agenda doesn’t hold any particular legislation. Several senators argued that they have an obligation to provide a platform for students to voice their concerns. Senator Kimia Hadidi urged that the pandemic actually increases the necessity for the Senate to respond to the needs of students.
A number of senators such as Kevin Sway and Benjamin Chocton objected to the resolution on the grounds that, should the AS Senate agenda be void of legislation on a particular week, a meeting would be unproductive. Senator Dagan Addinall suggested that meetings without legislation could have minutes approved through email, as opposed to holding Zoom sessions.
Senator Ferguson claimed that student interest in the AS Senate was still significant, indicating that the session held that night had upwards of 60 participants. Senator Etemassi also contended that the legal code undergirding Associated Students suggested a responsibility for the Senate to continue to convene in order to facilitate the right for students to participate in student government.
Another consideration that arose regarded honoraria for AS senators; Senate members receive monetary compensation for their positions on a quarterly basis, provided that they fulfill their responsibilities to the AS organization. One such responsibility includes attendance of AS Senate meetings. Some senators claimed that an interruption to regular meetings may constitute a violation of those responsibilities.
The executive director of AS, Marisela Marquez, suggested that any decisions regarding honoraria made by AS Senate should be introduced in a separate resolution, allowing the Senate to make an immediate determination on how meetings would be conducted moving forward.
Ultimately, the motion was passed to continue weekly meetings on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m., regardless of the legislative agenda. In addition, the Senate agreed that any resolutions regarding honoraria would be tabled for future discussion in a separate resolution. Students who wish to partake in AS Senate meetings can find the Zoom link on the AS Facebook page, and log in using their UCSB email address.