As an average member of Fairfield’s student body, I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the Fairfield University Students Association. I don’t know the inner workings of how bills are proposed or how much power FUSA actually has. I do, however, have a basic working understanding of what the purpose of the FUSA Senate is, and that is to advocate on behalf of the students, to voice concerns that the students they represent have and to have their concerns in mind each time they vote.
This is why I find their Bill S56-002: A Bill to Establish the Senate’s Subpoena Authority, passed on Dec. 4, worrying when it comes to these objectives of serving the students.
I have several issues with this bill, but the main one has to do with the targeting of the Executive Branch by the Senate for what seems to be an imaginary reason. While the bill gives subpoena power over all three branches, I am most concerned with the impact on the Executive Branch. Living in the time we do, with actual articles of impeachment being brought against the president of the United States, as reported by the New York Times, obviously issues of transparency between branches and holding each other accountable seems timely. But it’s important to also have some perspective on the matter, and to “zoom out” per say. And when I say “zoom out,” I mean gain some understanding about the world beyond Fairfield. While these issues are obviously pressing in our country today, the severity of the damage that could be done by the Executive Branch to just Fairfield University is not so astronomical as to require access to “documents, records, correspondences, or testimony”, as quoted in the text of the bill.
There are already measures in place to bring about our own articles of impeachment should members of the Executive Branch be found to be obstructing justice or acting in an unethical manner. The language of the bill, however, treats this subpoena power as though this corruption is already something pervasive within the Executive Branch, which if there were, constitutional amendments and other measures that are in place would be able to address.
The measure seems to me to be punishment for crimes that have not yet been committed, and seems off base of what the Senate is meant to do. FUSA is “for the students, by the students,” and while this measure may be intentioned for the future protection of the students from their government, I can’t think of a single situation dire enough that I would hope my FUSA president’s emails or other written communications would have to be forcibly turned over. The bill is also vague as to what sort of “correspondences” this specifically refers to, and mentions several times the power to “legally” compel these documents to be produced. How is this supposed to be enforced? The bill also allows for “a minimum of three (3) academic days to comply” from the time the subpoena is issued. How would the subpoena even be delivered? Is it ethical for it to be emailed, and if so, can a student be held accountable for missing a single email in their inbox on any given day? Logistically, this bill does not seem to account for much of the realities of such a situation.
FUSA Senate should be focused on immediate policy issues that directly impact the students instead of this directionless internal issue that is taking up time they could be using to spend on other things. It is not the Senate’s job to be the watchdog of the Executive or any other branches, and I have faith in FUSA as a whole that if such a serious issue arose, the checks and balances in place would deal with it accordingly. FUSA Senate needs to go back to its roots and understand its main purpose, which is to serve the students and not target the other branches of its association.