Throughout the campaign season for the Michigan Student Assembly, members from both parties made it a point that, if elected, they would work to better include the student body in the governing process.
But recent attendance data obtained from MSA shows that Abhishek Mahanti and Mike Rorro, the new President and Vice President for MSA, might need to look to participation from the assembly’s own members before trying to tackle the campus as a whole.
Nearly 30 percent of assembly members, on average, have failed to show up to or stay throughout entire MSA meetings and other related obligations this semester, according to the data. There has been an average of about 12 absences and about 31 representatives present at each meeting.
Additionally, 14 of the assembly’s representatives have accumulated more than 10 absences this semester.
Though dismal, those numbers look much better when compared to last semester, when an average of 32.5 percent of members were missing at each meeting.
There was an average of about 13 representatives missing at each meeting and about 27 representatives present. There were also 17 representatives who had more than 10 absences and five who had accumulated more than 20.
Former Student General Counsel Michael Benson said that while there is a 12-absence maximum, representatives maintain assembly status and don’t have to appeal their absences until they receive a full account of their absences in writing. There is often a delay in these e-mails, and some representatives accumulate upwards of 20 absences in this way.
MSA President Abhishek Mahanti said he recognizes that attendance is an issue. He said that he thinks the incoming executive board can help ensure representatives attend and contribute to meetings by making them more productive and conducive to open dialogue.
“I think a lot of getting attendance up has to do with the way the meetings are carried out,” he said. “We need to make them more efficient, more open and make people feel comfortable in them where they feel comfortable speaking up.”
Mahanti said many absences are accumulated by representatives from schools where it’s more difficult for MSA to recruit replacements, like the School of Nursing and Rackham Graduate School. It’s often easier for executives to excuse the issue than to find new representatives to replace them, which is a separate and concerning issue, he said.
Mahanti said it’s “absolutely inexcusable” to delay replacing seats that are more difficult to get, like Engineering and LSA, once representatives holding them reach the maximum number of absences.
He said that it is the executive board’s responsibility to ensure the seats are replaced in a timely fashion.
“It’s definitely a problem, and I think it becomes a delegation problem,” Mahanti said. “(Representatives) need to be held accountable for their absences and know the consequences.”
To increase visibility and raise attendance, Mahanti said the executives will be more hands-on in informing individuals who have accrued too many absences. They will also place the Google document, which records attendance, on MSA’s website so individuals know where they stand.
Though MSA’s Constitution and compiled code lay out specific guidelines for removing representatives who do not participate enough and accumulate a large number of absences, few representatives are actually dismissed from the assembly for this reason.
“More often than not, individuals find a way to get some of those absences excused from their record so that they aren’t directly kicked out,” Benson said. “Actual removal does not happen very often.”
MSA’s compiled code states that after representatives accumulate 12 absences, the Rules and Elections Committee must notify them in writing, detailing the type and date of each absence and the procedure to excuse absences.
Representatives then have two weeks following this notification to have their absences excused. If they remain absent or do not have the absences excused, they may be removed from the assembly.
Absences can be excused in the event of illness, if the representative has an exam at the same time as the MSA obligation or if there is a death in the family. Exceptions to this can be granted by a two-thirds majority vote from the assembly or from the Steering Committee.
Representatives can appeal each absence after they collect 12 absences. Benson said occasionally individuals who accumulate more than this maximum will go to the Steering Committee to have them excused, usually they resign.
“People come and fight it or they just resign,” he said. “It’s pretty rare that someone who hits 13, 14, 15 absences will just keep on going.”
According to MSA’s Constitution, representatives are required to take part in multiple activities on a weekly basis, with extra duties during election time. Representatives must attend MSA weekly meetings, participate in at least one committee or commission meeting a week, hold one office hour a week in the MSA office and work for four hours at a polling site during elections.