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.

4 comments on “Union Restructuring: Why Did It Fail?”

  1. Phil LaCombe Says:

    One of my roommates said he didn’t vote for amendments 1a and 1b. Surprised because I knew of his dissatisfaction with the current system, I asked him why he voted the way he did. His response was that it would take away the students’ vote for the vice president, and that was something we needed to retain in order to hold the Union accountable. Perhaps without that it might have passed?

  2. Pitbull Says:

    Two thoughts. First, I think that having an internal Union created group propose that the VP be internally elected came off to people as a power grab. I just don’t think people saw the merit of the proposal.

    Second, I think it may have been a mistake for the amendments to be placed on the ballot with only the minimum required Senate signatures. I think if the Union had taken the time to go around and get the required 300 or so signatures it would have (1) increased participation in the election and (2) allowed them to educate the student body of the merits of the proposals. It is true that most of the amendments did pass, but I think for the ones that had radical changes (specifically the major amendment that failed) there needed to be more education on the topic.

  3. Devorah Says:

    I’m with Phil’s roommate on this one. I would love to know what would have happened if 1a and 1b were separated… not that we’ll ever know.

  4. Lev Says:

    The whole process was way too closed from the start.

    There was absolutely no reason why those meetings needed to be confidential – had the student body been engaged from the get-go, the committee could have crafted amendments that would have been supported by everyone – rather than coming up with something that students only had a week to figure out.

    The VP is a good example of this. Its actually a really logical switch when you get a chance to think about it. The role of VP is entirely internal – to lead meetings.

    On paper it sounds bad to make the VP an internal election, because it seems like it takes power away from students (it doesn’t).

    Really, they could have given the VP a different name (Chairperson??), and eliminated the role of the VP… and then it probably would have passed. Presidential succession could have been done by making the chairperson temporary President until a new one is elected.

    Easy. No power grab, no students losing power, no illogical system in which students vote for someone to lead meetings for the legislative body.