Constitution Committee

Major constitutional amendments explained

Union Constitution

Hello, everyone. This is the final column on the work of the Constitution Committee for this year. This week, I will review and explain changes to the Union Constitution for Article VI: Judicial Board and Article VII: Class Councils and Articles VIII through XV.

Though the function of the Judicial Board has not been changed from its current state, it has been given a more defined structure and set of duties. The first major change deals with how the members of the J-Board are selected.

Currently, the J-Board is chosen by the selection committee, consisting of people appointed by various Student Government groups and Institute personnel. The composition of the Selection Committee is ill-defined and in recent years, the Committee has often failed to meet at all. This has resulted in J-Boards that have had difficulty with membership, and this cannot be the case if the J-Board is to fulfill its role as a balancing force for the Senate and E-Board.

In order to ensure that the Selection Committee does come together, the Constitution Committee decided that the vice presidents of each of the class councils will serve as members of the Selection Committee. Because vice presidents will be given this duty as a responsibility of their position, it eliminates the risk that the Selection Committee will not have members, as class vice president positions are rarely vacant. This also gets class councils more involved in the governing process, and adds an additional layer of scrutiny for potential J-Board members.

The Selection Committee will also include representatives from the Dean of Students Office and the Institute faculty, and will be chaired by the J-Board chairman. The Committee will appoint members of the J-Board, subject to the approval of the Senate.

The responsibility of the J-Board is to decide if a student’s rights have been violated under the Union Constitution, the Rensselaer Student Bill of Rights, or any other regulations governing student conduct. This is not a new responsibility, but new procedures have been established detailing when and how the J-Board reviews a case.

Under the proposed amendments, any student can bring a case before the J-Board and charge the Union, or any of its subsidiary organizations, with a violation of her or his rights. The J-Board can then decide if the case has enough merit to be reviewed. There may be some cases where a student’s case is not under the jurisdiction of the J-Board, and so they have the ability to refer the case to some other deliberative body.

When reviewing a case, the J-Board can declare “any decision, legislation, or action of any organization under the jurisdiction of the Union to be unconstitutional.” In terms of the checks and balances of Student Government, this is the J-Board’s most important function, as it can reign in the Senate and E-Board should either body act outside its constitutional boundaries.

The final major change to the J-Board is its new responsibility to establish procedures for the review of cases that do not charge a violation of the Constitution. This includes procedures governing the Review Board, the Faculty Review Board, and the Greek Judicial Board. In previous iterations of the Union Constitution, these groups were given their own article and were clearly defined. However, none of these organizations are truly under the jurisdiction of the Union; they are defined in the Student Handbook. To reflect the reality of the Handbook’s jurisdiction over these other review groups, the Constitution Committee removed the Judicial Procedures section from the Constitution. It also tasked the J-Board with establishing procedures for review of cases, with the stipulation that these procedures must “be in accordance with those defined in the Rensselaer Student Handbook.”

New to the Constitution is the inclusion of class councils. Under the current Constitution, class councils are constituted separately from the Union, with their constitutions approved by the Undergraduate Council. Much like the Independent Council, the UC has struggled with a lack of membership and purpose. For these reasons, the Constitution Committee decided to remove the UC from the Constitution, and delegate its responsibilities to the class councils.

Class councils will now be defined in the Constitution, and operate under bylaws rather than their own constitutions. Each of the five (graduate, senior, junior, sophomore, and freshman) class councils will follow the same structure, rather than being subordinate to either the Senate or the Undergraduate Council.

Article VIII establishes the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order as the parliamentary authority for all Union organizations. This is unchanged from the current Constitution, but is important because it contains definitions of terms used, as well as other procedures that would be too much to include directly in the Constitution.

Article IX lays out the process governing the elections for all elected positions defined in the Constitution. There are many changes to this article, but all were made to accommodate changes in other places in the Constitution, and the process of elections will remain the same.

Article X: Limitation of Office has key changes that provide for the separation of powers among our Student Government bodies. This adds two new restrictions on those holding constitutionally-defined positions. The first is that a person serving as Grand Marshal, President of the Union, or judicial board chairman may only hold that position, and cannot serve as anything else. The second is a general restriction on members of the Student Senate, the Executive Board, and the Judicial Board, stating that a person holding a constitutionally-defined position on any of those three bodies may not hold a position on either of the other two. These two restrictions help protect the integrity of the checks and balances among the three branches of Student Government.

Articles XI and XII deal with removals and succession, respectively. These articles have been modified to reflect changes elsewhere in the Constitution. Removed from these articles was a measure allowing students to petition to have positions filled under the succession rules be filled by special election. This was removed because the procedures for recalling a person holding a position give students the exact same power, because it will trigger a recall election.

Article XIII defines the procedures for school-wide referendums. While this mechanism has been available to students for many years, it has not often been used. The Constitution Committee attempted to simplify the process to allow students easier access to this legislative tool.

Referenda are now able to be called by a petition signed by 15 percent of the student body, or by a vote of the Senate. Prior to this change, even if a petition called for a referendum, it still had to be approved by the Senate. This will allow students to directly trigger a referendum election.

Removed from this article is the ability of a referendum to be only for a specific constituency; all referenda must now be applied to the entire student body. Additionally, the J-Board can rescind a referendum if it is unconstitutional or violates student rights.

The final two articles of the Constitution are unchanged from their current state. Article XIV details the process for constitutional amendments, and Article XV deals with liability issues for the Union.

For the full text of the proposed amendments, please go to http://poly.rpi.edu/35434. If you have any questions, please contact me at amend-info@union.rpi.edu.