Does the GA Care About the Wilf Constitution?
On April 25, four days before the Spring 2021 Elections are scheduled and students are to vote on proposed amendments to the Wilf Constitution, the Student Court declined to hear my suit against the General Assembly (GA). I sued the GA on Friday, April 23, because they illegitimately approved three amendments that the eight-member Amendments Committee (AC), which I chair, did not approve. This circumvention of the constitutional process is partially why I think all students should vote against them.
The Wilf Constitution clearly states that the role of the AC is both to propose amendments of their own as well as “deal with” student proposals (Article XIII 1). The AC received a number of student proposals this semester, which we studied carefully. We ended up approving many of them which were referred to the GA, where they were approved and will appear on the ballot alongside our own proposals. However, we denied approval to a number of amendments (numbers 7-9) because, after careful consideration, we determined that they were not in the best interests of the student body. The text of these amendments follows:
1) Leave of Absence Permission
Add to Article VIII Section 5(1), XII
The General Assembly must authorize by majority vote for any official to take a leave of absence.
The General Assembly by 3/5 majority vote may file to the Office of Student Life to dissolve any WCSG club.
2) No holding two positions simultaneously
Change Article VIII Section 3(2)
No student may hold more than one position in YSU, YCSC, SYMSSC, SOY, or the SLC simultaneously.
3) Minimum student body vote needed to pass future Amendments
Add to Article XIII Section 1(6)
At least two-fifths of the student body must cast ballots, including blanks, in the General Student Body Amendment Vote for an amendment to be ratified.
The first of these amendments contains two unrelated clauses. The first clause requires the GA to approve any temporary leave taken by a student government official (see Article III Section 2). We actually considered this amendment last semester, and rejected it because, by its very nature, taking a temporary leave is an extremely personal matter. Our student government leaders are extremely dedicated, and we did not feel that it would be appropriate to require them to reveal their (perhaps quite personal) reasons for taking leave. The second clause of this amendment gives the GA the ability to dissolve clubs at will. Recall that all clubs must be approved by the GA in the first place, in a process involving the collection of signatures and the finding of a faculty advisor. The AC did not think it necessary to grant the GA additional power to arbitrarily dissolve any club at any time during the academic school year.
The second proposed amendment is remarkably similar to an amendment the AC did approve; in fact, it takes a close reading to notice the difference. The AC’s amendment (which was actually approved by the GA), reads “No student may hold more than one elected position in one of YSU, YCSC, SYMSSC, or SOY simultaneously.” The difference is that the AC’s amendment only prohibits a student from holding two positions within any one of the student groups listed, while the GA’s version prohibits a student from holding any two positions, be they in the same or in different councils. In all honesty, there are reasons to support either version of the amendment — too much power consolidated in the hands of a few student leaders is assuredly a bad idea — but the question students will need to decide on April 29 as they vote for one of the two amendments is how strict this requirement should be. Both amendments would prohibit the same person from being, for example, SOY president and SOY BMP representative, but should the BMP representative also not be allowed to hold a YCSC position?
The third amendment approved by the GA was by far the most concerning to me and to the other members of the AC. Right now, in order for an amendment to be ratified, it needs 3/5ths (60%) of all yes/no votes to be “yes.” This amendment would also require 2/5ths (40%) of all students to vote in the election. What this means is that if there is low voter turnout (common in the Fall Election), no amendments can be passed. In fact, as The Commentator reported, last fall only 18% of all students voted. Had this proposed amendment been a part of the Constitution last fall, all 13 of the amendments (which all received significantly more than 60% approval) would have failed to have been ratified, and all the hard work the AC put in all semester long would have been for nothing.
The GA voted to approve these amendments even though the AC denied their approval. I petitioned the Student Court to intervene, but they refused to take the case. In the email declining to hear the case, however, the Court added: “The court believes the election shall proceed with all amendments approved and voted on by the GA, on election day.” Essentially, the Court ruled in favor of the GA by refusing to hear the case and take action to preserve the constitutionally-mandated amendments process. This sets a dangerous precedent, in that it shows the willingness of the GA to ignore the Constitution, abetted by the Court's refusal to act.
What does this mean for you? If you are eligible to vote in the upcoming elections, carefully consider your vote on each and every amendment. Consider the long-lasting effects of each GA amendment. And think twice before legitimizing GA amendments that were voted on without the prior approval of the AC, in blatant disregard for the Wilf Constitution.
David Tanner is the chair of the Wilf Campus Amendments Committee.
Photo Caption: The cover of the Wilf Campus Student Constitution
Photo Credit: Wilf Campus Student Government