SGA Constitution Change Proposed

Chris Nickels

The Constitution Revision Committee (CRC) is currently working to finalize a complete overhaul of the Student Government Association (SGA) constitution and anticipates changing the senate’s structure, instituting new positions within the SGA and redesigning old ones.

In early November, the Senate reviewed possible changes to its structure. Based on conclusions drawn from a straw poll, the Senate seemed divided between maintaining the status quo and switching to an equal representation system. The current system allows one senator to be elected from each residential unit, with a number of Senators At Large and one senator representing students abroad. The equal representation system would change the structure of the senate so that a fixed number of senators would be elected for each class year.

Elections Commissioner and President of the Class of 2009 sophomore Chris Nulty supports the shift to a system based on equal representation.

“It allows a lot more people to get more involved who want to be involved, as opposed to just having an obligatory senator from every single residential building on campus,” Nulty said. “There’s no natural constituency within a dorm; just because we live together doesn’t mean we have the same interests.”

The current system does not allow for a large pool of students to run in elections.

“We had a lot of trouble this year electing senators from all of the dorms. It’s really difficult because you may have in Curtis Hall five people that want to run but in West Hall nobody that wants to run,” Nulty said.

Not everyone was in favor of the equal representation system. Senator-at-Large and Chair of the Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) junior Malik Wright supported a different kind of change to the senate’s structure. He advocated an interest-based system of representation, which would essentially pull senators from student groups. For example, one senator would represent political groups, while another would represent the arts. This system would ensure that senators would be motivated.

“People on campus care about their organizations. They care about their clubs more than they care about student government,” Wright said. “So, if you’re coming to student government with an expressed thought or plan in mind that you really care about, you are probably going to be a lot better at your job.”

For many senators, the equal representation system was not a big enough change to the current senate’s structure.

“If we’re not going to do something radically different than it is now, then we might as well keep it as it is,” Wright said. “At least with the system we have now we still get more people getting more opportunities.”

Along with changes to the senate’s structure, the constitution drafted by the CRC opens up new positions in the SGA. Co-President of the CRC sophomore Dave Kusnetz outlined one such position.

“We’re creating a new position called ‘the speaker of the senate’ whose job will take much of the power that the vice president has right now. He’ll run meetings, he’ll set up the agenda and really for the first time, the senate will be in control of its own agenda,” Kusnetz said. “Right now it’s being dictated to by the executive. In this [proposed] structure, senate motivates itself.”

Even this issue was controversial, because debate lingered about the roles of the executive being infringed.

“As it stands, the President and Vice President don’t have a lot of tangible power…I’m not sure that it even makes sense to pull even more power away from the President and Vice President,” Nulty said. “We elect them for a reason; we elect them because we feel they can do the best job.”

The CRC maintains that the roles of the president and vice president would remain significant.

“The idea is not to destroy the power of the president,” said Prial. “The speaker of the senate’s job is to balance the power.”

Another contentious proposal was for the establishment of an additional Budget Allocations Committee (BAC) who would be elected directly by the senate. Doing so would add another opinion to the process of allocating funds to student groups, which is the role of the BAC. The move would not be without its drawbacks.

“Adding another member to that committee just makes it that much more difficult,” said Nulty, who served on the BAC last year. “It’s a lengthy process as it is. It’s a process that is really difficult to be efficient.”

Nulty also expressed a desire to keep the powers separated more thoroughly than a senate-elected BAC member would allow.

“Senate serves a much more difficult role than the BAC does. Senate is there for legislative action, whereas the BAC holds the purse strings. It doesn’t make sense to me to mix the two any more than they already are mixed. I don’t think BAC members want what could be perceived as a senate watchdog on the committee,” Nulty said.

Some of the current positions in the SGA would also see drastic changes. The new constitution would require that the parliamentarian and treasurer be elected by the senate, instead of appointed.

Current SGA Treasurer senior Ian Maron-Kolitch would endorse such a change.

“Having an elected treasurer sounds like a good idea. As the students’ activities budget lies in the hands of the SGA treasurer, he or she should be elected by the students,” Maron-Kolitch said. “There are certain credentials, though, that a treasurer must possess, such as experience on the BAC and quantitative and budgeting knowledge. My only reservation would be that the outcome of an election might be determined less by a candidate’s qualifications and more by popular appeal.”

The CRC has worked to draft a new constitution because many senators perceive the current system as ineffective, although many agree that this year’s administration has done an excellent job running the senate.

“Resolutions are written by the senate, and they don’t go anywhere. There’s no follow-up. There is no connection to the greater campus,” Prial said. “If it’s not accountable to itself and the rest of the University, why have it? If it’s not transparent to the student body to be able to say ‘hey that’s our government; we know how it works; we are part of it,’ it’s worthless. And unless we work from year to year and hold sustaining initiatives that go beyond just covered cruiser stops, it’s going to be worthless.”

The changes to the constitution will likely be voted on early next semester. Until then, the members of CRC and GAC continue to brainstorm resolutions to the SGA’s legislative slump.