Constitution referenda

During the 2014–15 academic year, the Rensselaer Student Senate Constitution Committee, along with the Senate as a whole, worked to bring amendments to the Rensselaer Union Constitution to vote in the Senate. For those who don’t know, once these amendments are passed by the Senate, they must also be approved in vote open to all members of the Rensselaer Union before they can be put into place. After the poorly received amendments, and their voting outcome along with other controversies that were brought to light last April, The Polytechnic Editorial Board was interested, yet hesitant to endorse the new amendments. For this election cycle, there are eight amendments which will be on Thursday’s ballot. Our Editorial Board has unanimously decided to endorse YES on the passing of seven out of eight (Amendments 1-4, and Amendments 6-8), but has also unanimously passed endorsing a NO vote on Amendment 5: Judicial Procedure.

To expand on why we have chosen to endorse a “YES” vote on these amendments:

Amendment 1: General Changes and Disambiguation

This amendment carries few major changes which have not already taken place, it for the most part clarifies wording, removes ambiguity, and keeps consistency. Some positive changes include, clearly defining election cycles, clearly defining Greek status, adding amendments to the end of the document instead of within it, and ensuring simple GM/PU replacement is possible whenever the position becomes vacant for any reason, such as the case which occurred in the Spring of 2012.

Amendment 2: Officers of the Union

This brings a permanent change where the officers of the Union are made up of positions that can be only filled by students, meaning hired professionals such as the director of the Union are not considered officers. Additionally, the Judicial Board chairman becomes an officer, which we agree with as he is the leader of the Union’s third governmental branch, and the leader of the other two (GM and PU) were already officers. Finally term-limiting for elected officers, i.e. the GM and PU, are clearly defined as two full terms, compared with the previous two terms regardless if one was partial.

Amendment 3: Executive Board

This amendment brings back separately the sole major portion of one of last year’s amendments which The Polytechnic believed was a positive change. First, the Executive Board representatives are defined as “members of the Executive Board” instead of the President of Union’s cabinet. This brings a positive change in our opinion, because it affirms that the representatives work for the students which they represent, not the individual PU. The even bigger change alters the previous 15 member cap of the Executive Board. Under the proposed amendment, the Board may be expanded to up to 20 members at the President of Union’s discretion when selecting the Board’s representatives. This is a change we strongly believe would improve the Union, because the fewer clubs each representative must work with and support, the more time the representatives will theoretically have to work with the clubs they do represent. Additionally, we feel the Executive Board could use more voices, especially diverse ones, giving input, than it has now.

Amendment 4: Judicial Board

The amendment primarily defines aspects of the Judicial Board, such as the Board’s explicit role in interpreting the Constitution, defining board membership and alternate members, removing the selection committee and bringing the process to mirror the E-Board. We feel these are all positive and necessary changes to J-Board operation.

Amendment 6: Council System

This amendment brings a lot of new definitions in the operation and structure of both class councils and the entire undergraduate council. We understand the need for and reasoning behind these changes, and do not see them affecting many students beyond those who directly participate in the councils themselves.

Amendment 7: Greek Revisions

Our Editorial Board is strongly in favor of the changes which this amendment brings, because it makes the necessary action to separate Greek governing bodies from general student government bodies. It does this in removing the requirement for the Student Senate to approve changes to the Interfraternity Council or The Rensselaer Panhellenic Association constitutions, and it removes the Judicial Board’s power to declare IFC or Panhel action as unconstitutional. Additionally, it opens up the election of Greek Student Senators to the entire Greek community, not just a vote of their respective councils.

Amendment 8: Removals, Referendum, and Petitions

The final amendment coming to a vote this year involves allowing the Student Senate to remove any voting member from the body with an affirmative two-thirds vote. We feel this is a necessary power for the body, because each academic year, many senators who are elected in either April general elections or Fall freshmen elections do not actively finish out their term, failing to attend meetings and eventually needing replacement by a new, more effective individual. Additionally, the amendment defines when the Senate must address an issue raised by students, which works hand in hand with the new warmly received petitions website. Under this change, the Senate is mandated to address any issue which a petition includes ten percent of the Union membership’s signatures.

To further explain the single amendment which we have chosen to endorse a “NO” vote on:

Amendment 5: Judicial Procedure

This amendment brings a sweeping change to the constitution by fully removing the section on judicial procedure in its entirety. The argument for this change is that the judicial procedure described in the Student Handbook, which is produced by the Rensselaer administration, supersedes the Constitution, therefore making the section redundant. We feel that this is a case where redundancy is a good thing, as it creates a necessary check on administrative policy. It is important that a document which has been approved by the student body carry a description of how those students would go through a judicial scenario. We do not believe that having this section would hinder the judicial process, but instead create a set of guidelines to compare future revisions to the Student Handbook’s version of procedure, ensuring it is both fair and follows the doctrine which students who have come before felt was vthe best way of addressing this. This section should work as an advocate to ensure students are served correctly by the body which the Union Constitution creates in the Judicial Board. We believe the removal of this section decreases the strength of the Constitution and removes this advocacy. However, any and all discrepancies between this procedure and the procedure which the administration mandates should be made clear to all students and considered by the Student Senate to advocate for students’ rights moving forward.

The full text of the Constitution amendments can be found here.