Union Constitution history in review

In 1970, the Rensselaer Union Constitution was restructured. Today, student government officials believe that it should be restructured again. The Constitution committee led by Nathan James ’15 will be going through and revising the Union Constitution this semester and next in preparation for it to be voted on in Grand Marshal Week 2015. This committee is open to all students; its first meeting will be Thursday, October 23 at 7 pm in Mother’s Wine Emporium.

RPI has one of the few student unions in the country that is entirely student run. Union-funded clubs are given money for programs by other students; staff have no control over the budget. The Union also provides a centralized means for student expression, action, and initiative. Our Union Constitution guarantees these and other rights. All changes to the Union Constitution must be passed by the Student Senate and then approved via referendum by the student body.

In 1966, The Polytechnic published the Union Constitution that was voted on and passed (1076-79) during GM Week that year. The officers of the Union were the GM, the President of the Union, the director of the Union, and the treasurer of Rensselaer. The Executive Board in 1966 consisted of “the President of the Union, two members from the communications Groups [radio and publications clubs], one member from the musical groups [band, orchestra, glee club, etc.], three members selected from other authorized and approved organizations, and one member from the Student Council [Student Senate].” In 1970, the E-Board was restructured to include “a representative of the Graduate Council, a representative of the Undergraduate Council, three members chosen from among the officers of the recognized and approved activities on campus, and four members chosen from among the members of the Union (one each from the sophomore, junior, and senior, and graduate classes).” The members-at-large could be chosen from members of the intercollegiate athletic teams by an amendment in 1972. A freshman member was added with an amendment in 1971. In 2013, a representative of the Student Senate was added to the E-Board and one member-at-large taken away for two total.

The 1970 restructuring was quite controversial. It was spearheaded by Ken Bossong ’72, who had complained about the ineffectiveness of RPI Student Government earlier, and then decided to fix it by restructuring the Union Constitution. Bossong was also chairman of the Rules and Elections Committee. Along with a group of students, Bossong worked on the Constitution over the summer of 1970. The Student Council became the Student Senate. The role of the Director of the Union became advisory; both the Director and the Treasurer were moved to their own articles. Graduate students were “recognized as full members of the [Rensselaer] Union,” and given Student Senate spots according to the Wednesday, September 23, 1970 Staff Editorial. The Class Councils, Independent Council, and the Interfraternity Council were all defined in the 1970 Union Constitution. The Judicial Board, which had been added in 1969, was also given more powers and clearly defined.

The student body vote on the 1970 Union Constitution was held on October 9, 1970. The vote count was 623-530; a “Vote No” campaign was held at the last minute, and was believed to have led to such a high turn-out. In the October 14 (Vol. XCI, No. 4) The Poly, Jack Tai ’72 wrote, “Among the many ‘faults’ under fire by the opposition groups were: the power granted by the new constitution to the President of the Union and his self-appointed Executive Board; the displacement of the Independent Council in the Student Government hierarchy; amendment procedures; and the lack of checks and balances.” The IC felt that the new Constitution took away their independence, as they had been operating outside the Union before. Bossong claimed that the IC officers had been informed of the new proposals, but had not gotten back to him. Some of the “Vote No” proponents accused Bossong and other students who had worked on the Constitution of illegal activities, such as putting out a “Student Senate News” publication urging students to vote for the Union Constitution.

The current Union Constitution, passed by the student body 2108-498 on April 13, 2013, does not explicitly list the director of the Union or the treasurer as officers of the Union. Only the President of the Union, the Grand Marshal, the Graduate Council president, and the Undergraduate Council president are listed as officers, in Article IV. The director of the Union and the Treasurer of Rensselaer are listed as sections under Article IV; sections 6 and 7, respectively. J-Board Chairman Anthony Barbieri ’15 said that he interprets this as meaning that the director of the Union and the treasurer are not officers, as they are not explicitly stated to be. Barbieri stressed that this was his personal opinion and not that of the J-Board.

The current Rensselaer Union Constitution can be found online at http://poly.rpi.edu/UnionConstitution. Another document titled Rensselaer Union Constitution is under the “Union Documents” tab and claims to have been passed by the student body during GM Week 1987, but its source is unknown; the RPI Library Archives were unable to find a copy of the Union Constitution more recent than 1970. Additionally, the only referendum mentioned during GM Week 1987 in The Polytechnic was for divestment from South Africa due to apartheid.

James says that he feels two changes are necessary. One is the elimination of references to the Independent Council in the Union Constitution as, the IC disbanded itself last year leaving a number of positions impossible to fill. The other change is to include Class Councils since, according to James “their position in the Constitution is very loosely defined and should be solidified.” James also notes that other organizations have suggested changes; the Executive Board wants to have 20 representatives instead of 15, and the J-Board “would like its selection process to be spelled out in the Constitution and not just their bylaws.”

The committee will work on addressing these changes. Each change will be discussed openly with students, and voted on by the Senate separately, James says, before being brought to the student body.