Student senate uses site to promote transparency

By Andrew Maloney

While transparency and unaccountability are hot topics at one level of Illinois government this week, members of the University’s own student senate are trying to make sure people know what they’re up to.

The Illinois Student Senate Web site has undergone several revisions that are intended to promote transparency in the University’s student government, and Vikram Chaudhery, vice president-external for the student senate and senior in Engineering, said his goal was to make the site reflect efforts in both publicity and outreach to the student body.

“This was my pet project for this semester,” said Chaudhery. “My view was that when Jason Webber, the last VP-external, got us the contract to get our videos aired on TV, that gave us credibility as a student government.”

One of the changes is a continuous voting record that works in conjunction with iClickers, which ISS members use to cast votes during meetings. Because each clicker is registered to a specific senator, the votes can be tallied electronically and recorded onto the senate Web site.

Jaclyn O’Day, student body president and senior in LAS, said this feature would be especially useful during next semester’s senate elections.

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“When elections roll around in the spring, people can look to see how their particular senators voted on issues that are important to them,” O’Day said. “They can have them lobby those issues harder or use it as accountability for how they’ve been acting or representing their constituents.”

Chaudhery also mentioned how much of an upgrade the system had been.

“Up until last year, our voting was based on hand-raises,” Chaudhery said. “There was no efficient way to count votes.”

But the effort hasn’t come without growing pains. Chaudhery said he’s been working on the site since the beginning of the summer and added that the original webmaster quit because of the extra work involved with it. Additionally, many recordings of previous ISS meetings have not yet found their way onto the page.

Yousif Al Rawi, student senator and senior in LAS, said he’d authored a resolution in October which mandated that at least the four most recent meetings be available, but so far, the most up-to-date video is from a meeting on Oct. 15.

“At least some of them are up there. It’s a start,” Al Rawi said. “The main thing is that some people don’t watch TV. If I want something, I’ll come online because it can be accessed anytime.”

And though the student senate is working towards transparency, there’s still no guarantee that the student body will respond and become more invested in how the group functions.

“We hope the traffic on our Web site will improve,” Chaudhery said. “We get about four hits a month right now.”

O’Day said she thinks traffic for the site will increase as interest in elections heightens during February.

“Students who are running in the election can send people to that Web site and say, ‘OK, you want to know my track record and what I’ve been in favor of, what I’ve been supporting and the resolutions I’ve been authoring?’ Look back on the Web site and you can see all of my voting records,'” said O’Day. “It creates that footprint.”