Low MSA Senate retention sparks reform

MSA Senate was at 38 percent capacity April 9.

The Missouri Students Association Senate is seeking organization reform after a year of decreasing senator retention.

Attendance records obtained from the past three full Senate meetings — during which the 2015 budget draft was debated — showed that on April 2 and April 9, 27 of 43 senators were present. On March 19, there were only 22 senators present.

The MSA Senate can have 71 senators, including the Senate speaker, according to Chapter 2.40 of the MSA bylaws.

MSA members are looking into a variety of ways to increase retention. One method is changing Senate’s attendance policy.

Resolution 53-40, establishes the return of proxies as counting toward attendance for senators but only allows them two absences. It also lowers the required number of meetings before a student may run for an at-large seat from two to one.

“The goal is to basically reform the current system, to make it more accessible,” Operations Committee chairman Nick Schwartz said.

The resolution also decreases the number of meetings a new senator must attend before joining Senate from two to one.

Schwartz, who drafted the resolution, said he hopes it will both increase retention and get more people interested in MSA.

Former Senate Speaker Jake Sloan said he encountered retention issues when he was a senator, as well.

Sloan joined MSA as a freshman in September 2009. He said attendance that year was good. During his sophomore year, the rules became more relaxed under the new Senate speaker.

“From my perception during my sophomore year, we lost quite a few senators,” Sloan said.

He said the number dwindled to about 30.

Sloan said when he became Senate speaker, he encouraged the use of proxies by senators when they were unable to attend meetings.

“It was definitely really useful because we were still getting bodies,” Sloan said. “During my time, there were a lot of perspective senators who wanted to join MSA, but they couldn’t. So they’d serve as proxies, and that was really beneficial to them. It showed their dedication.”

Last year, former Senate Speaker Mckenzie Morris created a new attendance policy that did not allow proxies to count toward attendance points and lowered the number of absences from four to three. After Schwartz’s legislation, Senate attendance is a bit more relaxed.

Sloan also established the Senate retreat to teach senators about parliamentary procedure and a mentorship program, which paired younger senators with older senators.

“I think one of the problems why people left MSA is partially because it might’ve been confusing at times with things like parliamentary procedure,” Sloan said.

Current Senate Speaker Ben Bolin said he is working to improve the annual Senate retreat, which is where senators learn parliamentary procedure and build relationships.

“Last year, when we had our retreat, it wasn’t nearly as big,” Bolin said. “We didn’t foster those relationships.”

He said he believed this was a big factor in the low retention of senators this year.

MSA President Mason Schara found room in the 2015 fiscal year budget to allocate $2,150 to Senate. This allows Senate’s budget to remain at $4,000 rather than decrease to $2,000, as was originally proposed.

“Last year, we didn’t use as much funding as we had in the past,” Bolin said, referring to the $3,000 decrease in Senate’s funding between 2013 and 2014. “There’s no harm in that, but I’ve seen a quasi-relationship between the amount of money that you can spend on certain events and the retention of your members. You have to … make everybody feel like it’s a great organization to be in, and that sometimes requires that you spend money.”

For the remainder of the year, Bolin said his main goals are to encourage committees to build stronger relationships with each other, plan the next Senate retreat and increase senator recruitment through outreach.

The executive cabinet also invited Senate leadership to a meeting April 10 to discuss improving Senate and executive communication, according to a press release issued by MSA on Friday.

Bolin said he plans to address more Senate retention strategies in the fall.

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