One of the biggest arguments in favor of the Union government restructuring proposal was that it would remove the difficult parliamentary procedure of the Senate. The new Union Assembly would have been a smaller body, free from the obscure minutiae of Robert’s Rules of Order and easier for students to approach and work with.
Even if the amendment had passed, it’s uncertain that this would actually have happened. The operating procedures for the Union governing bodies are found in the Bylaws, not the Constitution, and it would have been up to the Assembly members to decide to make the change. The five member Union Judiciary constantly chose to employ the most formal procedures possible; it’s entirely likely that the larger Assembly would have retained Robert’s Rules.
Still, the proposal had the support of at least 10 Senators, and I think that very few people would disagree that the devotion to Robert’s Rules is probably the biggest detriment to the Senate, both in student opinion and in quick and easy decision-making. So how can the Union get rid of Robert’s Rules for good and replace it with a less formal, more appropriate debate format?
Actually, it would be very easy. In fact, the Union Senate could do it at their next meeting, and we’d never have to worry about “points of order” or “motions to the previous question” again. All it would take is a Bylaw amendment, which would need to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the Senate, and any Senator could submit the legislation. I don’t know what procedure would replace it, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much research to find a procedure more suited for smaller assemblies. Alternatively, the Senate could just go without a formal procedure (as it does when it enters committee of the whole), which works surprisingly well as long as the chair is active in keeping the group focused. Anything that allows the focus of the debate to be on the merits of the proposal rather than on the debate process itself would be an improvement.
There’s definitely a proper time and place for parliamentary procedure, but it’s not in a 20 person student assembly that focuses mainly on chartering clubs. There’s nothing keeping the Senate from changing the way it operates, and no one likes the way it works now. Why don’t they do something about it?
Of the changes proposed by the Constitutional Review Committee, none received more discussion than the Union government restructuring — the elimination of the Senate and the creation of a smaller Assembly and a Club Support Board. It was endorsed as a great way to improve Union government efficiency by a wide range of campus sources, from the Justice editorial board to President Andy Hogan to our own writers. Despite this, it was one of only three (out of 13) proposals that didn’t get the 2/3 majority of the student vote needed to be added to the Constitution. So why did it fail, and what can we learn from it to fix the problems in the Union government?
I’ll start by saying that I really didn’t like the restructuring proposal. I’m not sure that it would have actually solved the problems it tried to address, and there were several consequences of its changes that made me pretty uncomfortable. It would have taken fewer students to make consequential decisions like de-chartering clubs, it would have raised the electoral barriers of participation higher, and it would have set up some explicit conflicts of interest for Club Support members.
But I doubt that even the small percentage of students who took the time to vote actually looked into the amendment very deeply. Many of them probably saw the amendment for the first time when they voted, and their priorities were probably on amendments they saw as more directly impacting their lives on campus (SSIS, SEA, etc.). Still, they chose to support most of the other proposals, even one which only changed a single word.
I think the problem with the restructuring proposal was much more simple: there was no immediately obvious benefit to the changes it offered. So they wanted to make the Senate smaller and move the club chartering process to another body — why? There’s a perception that students hate the Union because of its overly formal procedures, but I don’t think that’s true. After all, how many students have to deal with the Senate on a regular, extended basis? I think the real concern is what the Union actually does and the apparent disconnect between the Union government and the students, and there’s no reason to think that shrinking or dividing the governing bodies would have made a concrete change.
Thus, to most people, the government restructuring came down to a simple rearrangement of the deck chairs. When you take out the votes of the CRC, the E-Board, and the Senate (who all actively worked to put the amendment on the ballot), you’re basically left with a coin flip from the voters. There are definite problems with the way the Union works, but solving them requires a more direct approach than the CRC took toward the review process.