Top Hat

Union Constitution: importance and direction

This past Monday, the 45th Student Senate voted to establish a Union Constitution Committee for the third consecutive year, to be chaired by Nathan James ’16. With this week’s Top Hat Article, I would like to explain the importance of the Union Constitution, our decision to reestablish this committee, and our current intentions for its direction this year.

As many of you are aware, our Rensselaer Union is one of few entirely student run unions in the United States. Our Student Government is the means by which this union is run—the Union Executive Board, our financial body, unites and coordinates all student organizations, and provides funding for the many fantastic clubs and activities that we all enjoy. The Student Senate provides a professional voice for the student body, an advocate for student initiative, action, and positive change on the RPI campus.

The Union Constitution is the document that outlines the purpose, structure, and purview of each governing body and of the Union itself. The Student Senate, as the chief legislative body of the Union, is responsible for reviewing and updating the Union Constitution when necessary.

In 2013, the Student Senate saw a need to lend clarity and readability to the Union Constitution. The present edition, dating back to 1987, had been updated via several amendments, adding and removing clauses, or even rescinding previous changes. In GM Week 2013, following weeks of discussion, a new constitution was passed via direct student body vote, consolidating the comprehensive amendment structure into an updated, user-friendly, document.

Last year’s Constitution Committee aimed to go further, overhauling the document to better fit the current state of the Union and Student Government while more accurately representing the needs of the student body at large. Certain clauses in the 2014 proposal, however, were controversial and generated student concern, resulting in its rejection at the public polls.

Following these events, there still remains work to be done. Many changes in the proposed 2014 revisions were designed for the explicit purpose of fixing sections of a document that is ultimately broken. Among them are the class councils, well-funded and active bodies, which are not spelled out in the document and have not been properly referenced since the 1987 version. The Independent Council, dissolved as of last year, is still referenced throughout. And finally, the percentage of students necessary for a petition requesting the Senate take a course of action was set too high to be realistically attainable.

This committee has been reformed with the primary purpose of addressing these concerns and document flaws.

Importantly, we will be taking a bottom-up approach to any additional changes. We will pursue amendments only after extensive student feedback, and involvement from each stakeholder group given changes affect. Fixing the above inconsistencies is absolutely essential to the accuracy and stability of the Constitution, but any further amendments will be pursued if and only if associated groups express interest in changing the language related to their jurisdiction. Currently, only the Union Executive Board, Student Senate, and Judicial Board have expressed interest in updates or changes.

Furthermore, recognizing the concerns raised by last year’s approach, we will hold public discussion before private review of each item. Current plans include dialogue threads on social media forums such as Reddit and public forums throughout each topic’s review process. Amendments related to particular bodies will be passed back to those groups for review, before being finalized and prepared for public vote.

We are taking an open approach this year: to focus on the necessary fixes, and only address further changes when requested directly by groups. We will maintain transparency into our discussion and considerations via an open and honest dialogue with the public. This begins with the committee itself. While we will be prioritizing membership from stakeholder groups, any interested or passionate students may join. If you would like to be a part of this committee, please contact the committee chair Nathan James ’16 at, or as always, you may reach me at