A Senate with wider doors?

Imagine being able to watch C-SPAN-like coverage of Student Senate meetings on TV-10, regularly fill out Senate surveys, or even have members of the student governing body drop by classrooms every few weeks.

The six presidential-vice presidential hopefuls on this year’s Senate ballot offered these and other proposals for enhancing Senate-student communication during a campaign debate Wednesday afternoon in Davies Theatre. Current Senate President Tim Lauer and Vice President Meghan Charlier moderated the debate.

Presidential candidate Aaron Brewster said he’d like to televise Senate meetings on TV-10, as well as introduce “British Parliament-style” question-and-answer sessions once a month where students and faculty could question the Senate president and vice president on their decisions.

Another presidential candidate, Michael Umhoefer, said he hoped to have regular polls and surveys either on Senate’s Web site or e-mailed to students, as well as to bring senators into lower-level classes to host monthly discussions with students on issues in Senate.

Casey Driscoll, who is running alongside presidential hopeful Adam Sorelle, said Senate goings-on should become more accessible to average students, who he said “have their own personal lives going on.”

“I think the most important thing that we need to do as a Senate is to become more inclusive,” Driscoll said, “and the way we do that is to break information down and make information easier to understand for people who really have no idea what’s going on.”

Other topics debated include:

State budget and funding cuts
Senate has already spoken with state legislators this year about the state’s projected $2.1 million grab from UW-Eau Claire’s auxiliary account, a money pool that goes toward certain building projects on campus, as well as toward dining services and utilities payments.

All three candidates said discussions need to continue with representatives to find a compromise on the impending financial cuts.

“We need to work with (local legislators) to try to figure out a solution to the budget,” Brewster said. “It’s just not fair that Eau Claire has to pay more into this than Milwaukee or Madison when they have five times as many students as we do.”

Future of Brewer Hall
The state Legislature’s Building Commission recently rejected a request from Eau Claire to build a new education and student services building in the 2009-11 capitol budget, according to a letter from Democratic state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout’s office. The new building would have replaced Brewer Hall, Charlier said after the debate.

Sorelle said he thinks the university should rethink its approach to building projects, adding the school should pay attention to the example set by other schools in the system.

“UW-Green Bay just got a new union building and right now they’re starting to plan their next union building,” he said. “You have to start planning 10, 15 years before you get a new one. I definitely think that we have to start taking that approach and start planning to get new buildings.”

Senate spending
When asked about his philosophy on student fees, which Senate has some control over, and on Senate spending, Brewster said he has two criteria for determining which projects to fund: those that save students’ money in the long run and those that raise the university’s profile.

Sorelle said the key to reducing spending is to remind younger senators just how each spending decision fits into the “grand budget scheme,” adding that as Senate’s carryover balance dwindles, the governing body’s ability to spend money will decrease.

Umhoefer said he believes spending should continue to be given to deserving organizations, but acknowledged that more skepticism should be employed in handing out money to campus groups.