Unexcused absences by senators at Georgetown University Student Association senate meetings have more than quadrupled from last year’s legislative season despite the introduction of a committee this fall intended to track senators’ attendance records.
GUSA senate meetings over the last year have seen 43 unexcused absences without proxies from senate meetings, compared to last year’s nine. Conversely, this year the senate witnessed 15 excused absences without proxies from its meetings compared to last year’s 39 excused absences within the same time frame, according to GUSA’s attendance records.
At the latest senate meeting Sunday, 10 out of 27 senators were absent without an excuse. Of the 43 unexcused absences, 42 have occurred this semester.
Senators are required to attend all senate and committee meetings or report absences to the speaker. Three unexcused absences from either form of meeting is considered grounds for removal from office, according to GUSA bylaws. Under these standards, at least five current GUSA senators qualify for removal. These senators’ absences account for 18 of the 43 recorded.
GUSA senate committees did not consistently publicize their attendance records, but at least an additional five absences were marked among the records that were made publicly available.
Impeachment is the only binding punishment available to the committee, which ethics and oversight committee chair Dylan Hughes (COL ’19) said the committee is unlikely to resort to given the short amount of time to schedule a special election before the legislative season ends in late April.
GUSA established an ethics and oversight committee within the senate last October to track senators’ attendance records, ensure accountability and monitor conflicts of interest.
Ensuring better attendance this year was one reason for the creation of the committee, Sam Dubke (SFS ’21) one of the senators who helped draft the legislation that established the committee, said to The Hoya last October.
“A lot of senators would just not come to meetings that they felt were unnecessary, and there was functionally no enforcement mechanism,” Dubke said.
GUSA Senate Speaker Eliza Lafferty (COL ’21) and Vice Speaker Patrick Walsh (SFS ’21) declined to provide their own comment to The Hoya. The pair, instead deferred to Hughes’ statement as a comment from senate leadership.
While the committee plays a role in shedding light on the attendance problem, it is up to the senators to deliver on their duties in GUSA, according to Hughes.
“Each Senator takes an oath to the student body, and they have to show up to fulfill that oath,” Hughes wrote in an email to The Hoya. “That said, the Committee does have a role in reminding and incentivizing good attendance.”
GUSA’s bylaws allow absent senators to appoint proxies twice during the legislative season in an effort to provide more opportunities for senators to vote at any given meeting. Proxies are rarely used, however, with only 22 proxies appointed this year relative to the 58 total absences.
Low attendance might be evidence of dissatisfaction among senators with their legislative power, according to Senator Thomas Teravainen (COL ’22).
“There tends to be a lack of substantial impact that our policies actually make,” Teravainen wrote in a message to The Hoya. “We still need permission from University administration in order to pass anything and they are able to overrule anything that we do pass.”
This dissatisfaction may be because of the limited role GUSA plays relative to other campus organizations, according to Teravainen.
“GUSA’s actions and policies often overlap with many other groups on campus, and at times our efforts may undermine the projects that others have already been working on,” Teravainen wrote.
Hughes also noted a lack of consensus within GUSA leadership on the proxy policy.
“Limiting proxies encourages Senators to show up themselves to all meetings,” Hughes wrote. “Yet, hypothetically this could cause a Senator to not have any representation after having already expended their proxy limit.”
Hughes also said the attendance record reveals some positive insights. Although two meetings, including one near President’s Day, marked large absences, these meetings were not necessarily indicative of the number of absences at the average senate meeting, according to Hughes.
“On a brighter note, I hope future Senate leadership can continue the trend of improved median attendance and take steps to avoid outlier bad attendance days perhaps by rescheduling meetings near major holidays,” Hughes wrote.
The last time a GUSA senate meeting did not suffer any unexcused absences was Dec. 2. The average number of absences across the nine meetings in the spring semester was around four. Three meetings accounted for 27 of the 43 absences.
GUSA President Norman Francis (COL ’20) and Vice President Aleida Olvera (COL ’20) hope the senate takes steps to remediate the rising unexcused absences, according to GUSA executive chief communications officer Winston Ardoin (SFS ’21).
“Norman and Aleida are concerned with the absences and hope that there are actions taken in the senate to mitigate this. We believe that in order to have a strong GUSA that supports its students, individuals must be able to attend open meetings in order to provide transparency,” Ardoin wrote in a message to The Hoya.