Grassroots leadership and increased accountability are at the core of the Constitutional Revision Committee’s (CRC) proposals for overhauling Colgate’s Student Government Association (SGA), discussed at an open Senate meeting this past Tuesday.
The Committee’s plan aims to reassert the SGA as a governing body in touch with the needs of students, not just a “floating bubble unconnected to everything,” as junior committee member Dan Prial said.
The new preamble to the SGA constitution speaks to that goal and the specific measures the student government will take to achieve it.
“We, the students of Colgate University, have come together as a self-governing body, the Student Government Association, in order to improve our experience by providing the means to advocate for our interests,” the preamble reads. “As such, this Association will forge relationships that strengthen the ties between us, the student body, and the rest of the communality to unite us all under a single Colgate University culture.”
According to the proposed changes, the SGA’s representation distribution will change dramatically, reflecting a a concerted effort to be more equitable and fair. Of 55 senate seats, five will be At Large, and the rest will be distributed according to a “constituency system” whereby students will group together according to common interests.
Currently, the Committee has proposed an “Up the Hill” constituency of first-years and sophomores and a group of “Down the Hill” constituencies – including the Townhouses, apartments and Broad Street Community.
After examining population data from the Office of Residential Life, the Senate’s election commissioners will determine how many Senate seats to allot to each constituency, in a system similar to the redistricting process used by the United State House of Representatives.
Senators raised some objections to this proposition, noting the challenges of this system. Junior Dana Shaw said that there were too many diverse interests on Broad Street, for instance, to lump the houses together and represent them by a few senators.
The Committee’s proposals also included a clarification of the roles of individual senators, requiring they develop public relationships with students, faculty and staff.
“The [role of senator] is not about judging or selling the final product,” the clarification reads. “Rather, it’s about helping and making someone feel comfortable enough around you so that they will open up to you, and provide honest insight in a way that is constructive and beneficial to your end product.”
The proposals also include a plan to elect the SGA President solely by senatorial vote. The president would then choose his or her staff ( vice-president, representative, election commissioners and recording secretary), to be confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate would also choose the treasurer and parliamen-tarian, who are supposed to act as checks on the president and vice-president. Currently, these officers are nominated by their
predecessors and confirmed by the Senate.
Both of these ideas sparked heated debate during Tuesday’s meeting.
“The assumption we’re working under is that the Senate is more educated about the candidates than the average member of the Colgate community,” sophomore committee member Rob Sobelman said. Senators, however, were not convinced.
“It’s kind of elitist,” senior senator Brian Yellin said.
First-year senator David Kusnetz agreed. “I think what you’re doing is destroying democracy on this campus,” he said.
Community councils representing individual residence halls and Broad Street houses will take on more important roles in the reorganized SGA. Student senators will be expected to work closely with their respective community councils.
Class councils will also have a more refined role in the new SGA. The Committee’s recommendations call for class councils to work closely with the Dean of College staff to plan and execute activities relating to particular themes. Class councils will be encouraged to “think outside the box” in planning innovative activities, with fewer restrictions from the Dean’s office.
The committee hopes that increased commitment to community and class councils will foster grassroots governance and improved communication between the Senate and study body.
Continuing debate over the role of the Budget Allocations Committee (BAC) prompted the CRC to redefine its role as a new Student Activities Fee Planning and Allocation Committee (SAFPAC), which would consist of representatives from each of four divisions of student organizations: political and academy, arts and entertainment, media and publications and community and service. The SAFPAC would require regular spending reports from student organizations, and coordinate a student auditing program to safeguard against the misuse of funds.
Committee members began publicizing the proposed changes this week, with a poster campaign and a town hall meeting at noon today in the Coop. Based on input from students, the committee will retool its recommendations for a referendum vote in the spring semester.
“We really want to encourage a campus-wide discussion,” Prial said. “This is the student’s government, and as such the students must be the main actors in the work of the CRC. The changes we are talking about will really change the way everything on this campus works.”
New members of the BAC were also confirmed at Tuesday’s meeting. A slate of three nominees came before the SGA on Tuesday. The Senate approved first-year Chris Nulty, sophomore Nikhil Fernandes and junior April Williams as members.
A substantial amount of shuffling also occurred with respect to the executive board.
The SGA proposed the following changes: senior Rodney Mason will act as liaison officer, junior Martha Rose will be election commissioner, junior Pat Sabol and senior Drew Lane will be co-communications directors, senior Erin Grundy will take over as parlimentarian and junior Alicia Gleason will serve as corresponding secretary.
A resolution was also presented mandating a weekly e-mail from Senators to their constituents including a bulleted summary of the meeting’s salient points and a link to the full minutes. A copy of this e-mail would be sent to the recording secretary; and if a senator failed to accomplish this duty three times, he or she would be removed from the SGA.
Senators are currently required to e-mail only a link to the minutes, which Committee representatives explained is problematic because the minutes can be a long or complicated document, and the current system makes it easier for senators to skip reviewing the minutes