Transparency is a word you’ll be hearing often this election season, as politicians at one another’s throats grapple for the trust of the American people. In this regard, Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) Senate is no different. They are the legislative representatives of the Clemson student body, and allocate approximately $1.4 million a year of your tuition money to student organizations.
Governmental transparency is broken down into three principles: openness, accountability, and honesty. From an insider perspective, how transparent is CUSG Senate?
According to an anonymous source, CUSG Senate as a body was set to discuss Dabo Swinney’s MLK comments on Monday, Sept. 19th, in “committee of the whole.” In this form of Senate, non-Senators and Senators alike are allowed to speak their minds. This was intended to be an open discussion in order to gauge the concerns of the entire student body. Even Clemson’s largest newspaper, The Tiger, was in attendance. All spectators sat in the left and right hand sides of the Senate chambers in what is known as “the gallery,” ready to give their input.
As the discussion was getting ready to begin, a Senator moved to enter “executive session,” meaning all non-Senators are asked to leave the Senate session. No Senator is allowed to speak about what occurs in executive session under the threat of disciplinary action from OCES.
The motion passed.
While I didn’t attend the Senate session myself, multiple people texted me expressing outrage at being removed from the Senate chambers. Confused, I looked at The Tiger’s twitter feed for answers. The Tiger was irate at the decision to enter executive session, stating, “It is illegal for a public body to go into executive session unless hiring or firing” and “@CUSG, as representatives of the student population, why are you not interested in transparency?”
Naturally, as a former student Senator, I was angry as well. I recalled similar instances of this blatant avoidance of the press. When Tillman Hall was vandalized, I proposed a resolution to “condemn vandalism on Clemson University’s campus,” which wasn’t very popular with the Senate body. Members of The Tiger newspaper sat in on that session as well, and were removed when Senators, fearing public opinion, entered executive session.
“Big deal, right? It’s just Student Government.” Each semester you attend Clemson, you pay $40 to the student activity fee, which Student Senate has direct control over distributing to student organizations. For a four-year college student at Clemson University, this is $320 of your money. Are you comfortable with this lack of oversight?
As The Tiger’s latest article reiterates, it is illegal to enter executive session under any other circumstances than personnel issues, as CUSG Senate is funded by public funds. This is in compliance with federal law.
Many student Senators aspire to hold “real” public office one day. As representatives at the local, state, or even national level, dealing with the press is a daily necessity. Entering executive session to avoid the press amounts to dereliction of duty, violating every tenet of government transparency. Asking a Senator what happened Monday during the Dabo Swinney discussion is fruitless, as they are bound to a code of silence. CUSG Senate can neither be open, accountable, or honest if students can’t observe the body’s inner workings.
Will we settle for representatives that will only speak freely behind closed doors, or will we hold them accountable?