Let’s talk about the constitution

So on Thursday there’s a big vote on the proposed changes to the constitution that the Constitutional Review Committee wrote up. Now, I was on the Con Review committee, and obviously I don’t agree with all the proposed amendments, but some of them I fought really hard for. So here’s a sort of “insider’s look” at all amendments. It’s rather long, so I’ll skip to the conclusion and you can read the whole report underneath:

Concluding thoughts

In general, the Con Review process was not the best. Many decisions were made without voting. Many members skipped meetings. Some good ideas didn’t come up for a vote. A couple good ideas lost the vote. But here’s one thing I learned – the constitutional review committee actually has no power that you don’t have. Any recommendations it makes have to get 10 senators or 15% of the student body to sign on before they go up for a 2/3 vote of the student body. If you wrote a constitutional amendment and got 10 senators or 15% of the studetn body to sign on, it would go up for a 2/3 vote as well.

The Constitutional Review Committee only has the power we decide to give it as a society. And I don’t mean that in a legal or political abstract sense, I mean it in a “they have absolutely no formal power” sense. Isn’t that interesting?

Are you frustrated with the way the Con Review Committee’s recommendations turned out? Do you think you can do better? Well, write your own amendment and get 10 senators or 15% of the student body to sign on. You have the power.

First off, the minor proposed changes:

  • Adding a definition of Secured Organization as “those organizations that the student body recognizes as fundamental to the mission of the University”

Reasoning: Stephanie Grimes, the head of Student Activities, said that this was the informal basis of securing clubs. As we had trouble figuring out which clubs are worthy, the informal (non-voted-on) consensus was to adopt this reasoning, and to explicitly state it for later Con Review committees. I’m not personally enamored with this definition, if only because it seems rather at odds with reality (is BTV fundamental to the mission of the University? Is Student Activities?)

  • Clarifying that secured organizations’ “baseline” funding is actually “benchmark” funding.

This actually has a lot of backstory. Long story short – fboard treats secured organizations’ baseline funding as a de facto ceiling. Fboard wanted to formally change the word “baseline” to “ceiling” to reflect this reality. Others wanted fboard to turn this ‘baseline” into a floor, not a ceiling at all. The compromise was to embrace the ambiguity and call it a benchmark. I’d vote for it – this gives more flexibility to fboard, which is good because they can give underperforming secured organizations less money and more deserving ones more money.

  • Include the Club Sports “Memorandum of Understanding” to constitutionally define how they receive funding

A while ago the Union hashed out with the university how club sports would work. I’m not too familiar with it, but it seems to work well enough. This would formalize that agreement in the constitution. I don’t see a compelling need to either vote for or against it, though I probably will vote for it because the “experts” at the union think it’ll be helpful.

  • Increase BEMCo’s Constitutional funding amount to help with auditing efficiency and new costs.

The reasoning for this is pretty clear. Health care costs rise a lot more than inflation. BEMCO therefore wants their baseline/benchmark funding to increase. Seeing as how BEMCO kicks ass and medical inflation rivals or beats college tuition in how rapidly it rises, I think they have a point.

More important or complicated proposals:

  • “Racial Minority” senator name change to “Historically Underrepresented Races” and clarification that any member of the student body may run for the position but only those who declare themselves as such can vote

OK, let’s split this into two parts: 1. changing the name of the Racial Minority senator, 2. changing how the RMS is voted on

1. Change of name. The current Racial Minority Senator, as well as the Intercultural Rep to the Con Review Commitee  are behind the name change. I think it’s clunky, and if adopted the new name would open the position to more efforts to get rid of it. On the other hand the current RMS and the rep from the Intercultural community are behind it. Not sure how I’ll vote on it.

2. Change of elections: Before, only those registered as minorities with the Registrar could either vote or run for this position. This proposal would allow anyone to run, while still limiting the electorate. I like it! It’s a good idea.

  • Securing SSIS

I think a lot of people are surprised that SSIS is not secured already. It has a dedicated staff, very competitive applications, a training process, professionalism, everything. It also brings a great service to the Brandeis community. SSIS overwhelmingly won over the Con Review Committee. They should be secured.

There’s currently an active facebook event urging people to vote to secure SEA. There are many arguments as to why this would be a good idea. The reason that appeals to me is that this would be a way to actualize and put into practice Brandeis’ commitment to Social Justice and good works. There was some talk at the Con Review Committee of hopefully securing ARC instead of SEA during the next constitutional review, as the ARC (the Activist Resource Center) is the umbrella group of all activist clubs on campus. I agree – in theory, ARC should be secured as a placeholder for all activist clubs, in a role similar to that of Waltham Group. However, there’s no denying that right now SEA is the most organized activist group on campus, and that Climate Change is an urgent, if not the transcendent, moral issue of our time. SEA deserves to be secured.

  • Additions to the formation and structure of the Constitutional Review Committee in the future.

I don’t remember voting on this amendment, actually, and I definitely don’t remember there being a vote on the language adopted. The changes themselves are bureaucratic and an attempt to dictate to future constitutional review committees how to conduct their business. I also don’t necessarily agree with some of these dictates, like that alumni reps must reside in Waltham. Now, we had a serious issue where it was difficult for the Alumni reps to show up, especially the one living in DC. So there’s a reason behind this one. Still, forcing them to live in Waltham seems heavy-handed. What if they live in Boston? What if they’ll be really responsible about Skyping in? I do like one passage – if a rep cannot come to meetings they are replaced with another rep at large- mainly because I came up with it an added it in at the last minute. But look – it WAS added in the last minute. It was added without a vote. And while I think in this case that was a good thing ( more Reps at large, and less reps from specific groups would be better, especially reps at large are elected and not appointed) , the fact that such a change could be inserted without a vote – in fact that this wording was not voted on by the committee , is a problem.

Even more complex or interesting proposals:

  • Have “at least” two representatives to the Board of Trustees, leaving us the option of adding representatives in the future.

This was my idea. I really like it. The idea is this: the reps to the Board of Trustees are really powerful and could use that position to do good. However, there aren’t enough of them. The faculty, for example, get more reps to the Board than we do. Also, the reps to the Board really are starved for student contact. It’s a no-brainer to try and get more Reps to the Board. This amendment would remove one more bureaucratic obstacle to letting that happen. My original plan was to have us elect, say, four Reps to the Board, and dare the Board of Trustees not to recognize them. Most of the Con Review committee, as well as Andy Hogan, weren’t as keen on that idea, so we settled on this compromise. I think it’s well worth passing, though of course it’s only a first step.

  1. a. Replacement of “Senate” by an “Assembly” and addition of a “Club Support Board”
    b. Vice President elected from within the Assembly
    c. “Union Judiciary” changed to “Student Judiciary”
    d. Mandatory Treasurer and Finance board training periods

Ok, let’s take these one at a time. First off, let me point out that points A, B, and C were proposed by the current Union E-board. Point D was proposed by F-Board.

A. The idea is to shrink the senate, give responsiblity to a new body called the “club support board”, and turn the senate into a cross between a glorified focus group and a body dedicated to lobbying the administration on behalf of students. It’s interesting that the E-board is implicitly arguing that the Senate as it exists is dysfunctional, and needs heavy restructuring/to matter less. The club support board would only charter/recognize/help clubs. I know Adam has strong feelings about this, so I’ll leave analysis of the merit of these proposals to him. I will tell you this – these proposals were all by the E-Board, and since no one had a competing grand sweeping change to the union government, the changes passed more or less unanimously.

B. The idea of electing the VP from within the assembly (the new name for the senate) came (again) form the Eboard. The idea was to promote assembly/eboard ties. I really dislike the idea. Why take away the right for a direct vote from students? As a side note, let’s remember that the Eboard is a relatively recent invention. Not too long ago, the Senate held most of the power in the union.

C. This change I like. We’re changing the Union judiciary to the Student Judiciary. Whatever. Next change – the judiciary will try to mediate all disputes before going to a trial. Good! The less pompous bullshit and the mroe actual reasonable solving of issues the better. Next, the Judiciary will explicitly be bound by the “constitution, relevant precedent (de facto and de jure), and their own good sense”, in that order.  Lastly, they will appoint a public defender to help people accused of bullshit. Imagine this scenario – it’s finals, and some asshole accuses you of some trivial nonsense. You now have to scramble to convince someone on the mock trial team to represent you, build a case, etc. The public defender position is supposed to mitigate against those problems.

D. Fboard and treasury will have mandatory trainings. This is relatively uncontroversial because the treasury/fboard deals with a lot of money – it’s good if they’re competent, trained, etc.

  • Use of Instant Runoff Voting for future elections to simplify elections, improve voter turnout, better represent will of the student body.

I am most excited about this amendment. I offered it up, of course. The idea behind instant runoff voting is pretty simple. You rank your choices for votes. If your first choice clearly not going to win, your vote will automatically switch to your second choice, and so on. There are so many reasons why this is a good idea. This website is much more eloquent than me. Here’s the center for Voting and Democracy comparing our current 2-round system to IRV

So many other colleges have adopted Instant Runoff Voting. It is less confusing, features higher turnout for elections (have you noticed that for the second round of an election a significantly lower number of people vote at Brandeis? It’s crazy!) , and promotes positive campaigning. Also, it’s more democratic and representative of the people’s will. Last time it was up for a vote at Brandeis (2005?) it lost by a couple of percentage points – it got like 65% or something rather than 67%. Hopefully we’ll make the right choice this time.


2 thoughts on “Let’s talk about the constitution”

  1. Does anyone see the problem of diminishing the power of the senate (which is democratically elected) while leaving the Eboard (which is appointed) completely intact and powerful? If we wanted real change then there should have been a proposed amendment that all eboard positions should be elected.

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