Luke Jensen submitted a proposal to the University Senate in 2014 calling for a more streamlined and cohesive process for LGBT students to express their identities on university records and databases. But he never imagined the bill would still be gridlocked in the legislature three years later.
"I really didn't think it would take this long to get approved," said Jensen, director of the LGBT Equity Center. "We all want things to be written in a way that benefits everyone else on campus, so it is important to get it right. But I wish we could speed things up."
That bill isn't alone. Out of the 48 current senate bills, 13 were proposed before 2016, including a bill proposed in 2010 concerning policy when the university, faculty, staff or students own specific intellectual property.
The 2010 bill is taking longer than most items that go through senate committees because it's going through this university's Research Council, which operates outside the senate, until the bill is brought back to the Senate Executive Committee for approval, senate director Reka Montfort said. The bill was also brought to the senate two years ago but was sent back to the Research Council for additional work.
These types of bills are the exception, Montfort said, adding, "The majority of our items take no more than one to two years depending on the complexity of the issue, the timing of the charge and if the committee is already working on other charges."
"What a lot of people don't realize is the committees are only meeting once a month," Montfort said. "While it may seem like things are taking a long time, only a limited amount of progress can be made in the time scale of nine or 10 meeting per year."
Jensen said he understands why it has taken the senate so long to come to a decision on the gender marker proposal. On two separate occasions, the bill had to be set aside for more "urgent" proposals, one of the most notable being the updated sexual misconduct policy approved last year, which clarified certain definitions and made minor changes such as editing the confidential resources section and specifying the time frame for investigations and resolutions of complaints. And since Jensen proposed the bill, the Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Senate Committee — which the SEC tasked to look into it — has had some changes in membership two different times, including a new committee chair.
"Anything that doesn't get done by the end of the academic year doesn't quite go back to zero, but a lot of work has to be repeated," said Charles Delwiche, current EDI committee chair. "I wasn't in charge of the committee when most of the work was done on this charge, so when I came I had to learn the material associated with this problem and so did the new committee members."
Delwiche added changing the system for how students express their identity in university databases is most likely going to cost "millions of dollars," because "none of the university systems interact with one another, which would have to be changed." With the current systems, students' names appear differently in the student records versus the personnel records. The personnel records override the student ones, affecting class rosters, student ID cards and the university directory.
The complicated process of having to reach out to most administrative offices at this university is one reason Delwiche cited for the delay in moving the bill forward.
While delays with some bills might be frustrating for students and university members, senators are taking care to not rush through proposals, student senator J.T. Stanley said.
"When you are a student and your lifespan is roughly four years on this campus, it is very dissuading for things to take so long in the senate," said Stanley, a senior individual studies major. "But the reason things take awhile is because the Senate Office does intensive vetting and the committees do very thorough research on each bill."
Both the gender marker proposal and the bill on the policy for intellectual property will be discussed at Monday's SEC meeting. If approved, they will move onto the senate floor for a vote at the next senate meeting on April 6.
Despite some bills' delays, however, others can be approved within weeks of their original proposal date.
For example, the Senate Office submitted a proposal on Feb. 8 to add two new undergraduate senator seats in the College of Information Studies and the School of Public Policy. The Elections, Representation, & Governance Committee approved the proposal on Feb. 14, and one day later the SEC approved it as well.
These two schools previously did not have undergraduate student representation because those undergraduate programs were just approved this academic year.
"This wasn't something we had to do research on because all undergraduate programs have to be represented with at least one student senator," Montfort said. "It is something you can approve in one meeting … versus something more complicated where a committee has to look at peer research and talk to other administrative offices about the policy."
Because the policy is already mandatory, it did not have to go up for a vote at a senate meeting.
Jensen said he is excited that the gender marker bill might get approved at the next senate meeting.
"Everyone who has worked on it has seen the value and necessity for this policy," Jensen said. "I hope it will move forward and conclude this chapter so we can move onto other issues we need to address."