ASB recommends suspension of chancellor’s context committee

Posted on May 3 2017 - 8:02am by Maddie McGee and Briana Florez

A resolution to indefinitely suspend the Chancellor’s Committee on Context and History and a bill to have an invocation before every Senate meeting were passed yesterday evening on the Associated Student Body Senate floor.

The resolution recommending to indefinitely suspend the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Contextualization was passed in a 34-11 vote. Sens. Coco McDonnell, Hunter Story and Brady Kies wrote the resolution because they felt students were not being adequately represented on the committee.

Only one student (former ASB president Austin Powell) was included on the committee that was organized by Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter to work to contextualize the names of campus sites and buildings. The committee has held a number of meetings and listening sessions since its inception. One of the committees latest efforts includes the renaming of Vardaman Hall.

Senate members spoke up about the lack of student representation, stressing that the indefinite suspension would not be part of a political agenda if passed.

“You can get caught up in thinking that this is pushing a political agenda, but this is about student representation,” Sen. Ty Deemer said. “The reason we have to suspend this is because it’s clear that Chancellor Vitter wants this done before the end of this semester, and students deserve to have a voice.”

Some Senate members said they felt the chancellor and his committee are trying to rush the contextualization decision and that the chancellor is not open to hearing student opinions, especially at the two listening sessions held earlier this semester.

“At the listening sessions, the chancellor peaced out and went home,” McDonnell said. “He wasn’t eager to answer questions from students.”

Sen. Tristan Estrada said he supported what the committee stands for but said the process of creating the committee was done incorrectly and should have involved more student input from the beginning.

“Regardless of your political sphere, students aren’t getting any answers,” Estrada said. “If they’re going to use my tuition to push their agenda, at least give us representation. We need transparency.”

Some members in opposition of the resolution felt the use of the term “indefinite suspension” was too harsh, favoring the word “pause” instead.

“The phrase ‘indefinite suspension’ comes off as a threat to the chancellor,” Sen. Zack McEwen said. “If you want the chancellor to hear students, we need to change this wording.”

McEwen attempted to get the official wording changed through an amendment to the resolution, but ultimately failed.

“With this threatening language, we need a better dialogue as a school,” Sen. Drew Perry said.

The bill calling for invocation before every Senate meeting passed with a vote of 33 in favor, 11 opposed and five choosing to abstain.

“This is something that has been going on since we established our first meeting in Congress. You can’t get any more precedent than that,” co-sponsor of the bill, President Pro Temp Taylor Story, said. “There’s just no argument against it from either a legal or historical perspective. If they didn’t think it was important, they probably wouldn’t pass it for 115 straight Congresses in a row.”

Sen. Katie Davis said she feels the moment of invocation is unnecessary.

“I think the moment of silence is enough for our Senate and our campus,” Davis said. “I feel like it will probably be used for normal Christian prayer. Sorry if that came off a little strong – that’s just my opinion.”

Sen. Galina Ostrovsky pointed out that most organizations contacted for the bill were religious organizations and said those who are not religious weren’t thought of.

“Because this resolution does have religious implications – the organizations that were contacted are religious organizations – it ignores those that do not practice religion,” she said.

However, Sen. McDonnell said the bill does not claim any specific religion but rather encourages those from all faiths and backgrounds to exercise their beliefs.

“We’re not establishing any type of religion with this bill. It’s a moment of invocation. No specific religion is listed out in the bill,” McDonnell said. “I think this would also encourage the exercise of different religions.”

Sen. McDonnell proposed an amendment to the bill that was accepted by one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Sen. Ty Deemer. The new wording passed to say, “Whereas the invoking of the invocation can be made by any member of any group and made by any member of the Ole Miss family.”

The Senate also passed a bill to have an American flag at every state meeting and another bill written to honor crossing guard Stephen Wilkerson that was passed with unanimous consent.

“We might not all agree on some things, but we should express our gratitude to Mr. Wilkerson,” President Pro Temp Taylor Story said.

Story cited Wilkerson’s dedication to the school and his positive demeanor as reasons for the bill.