The snowstorm that led to the cancellation of classes and on-campus activities on Monday also disrupted the timing of a plan to replace the current Student Association constitution and institute a new system of student government.
The SA Executive Board introduced last week a proposal in the Assembly to dissolve the SA as it now exists and refound it as a corporation with a new constitution and reorganized governing structure.
After a week of revisions and a heated debate between SA leaders and other Binghamton University students who came Thursday to a forum in Lecture Hall to discuss the changes, the Assembly was set to vote on the proposal at its regular 7:30 p.m. meeting Monday in the Old University Union’s Mandela Room.
Had the Assembly passed the legislation, the decision on adopting a new, incorporated system of student government would have been put to a referendum of all BU undergraduates that would be placed alongside the ballot for SA elections on March 15 and 16. Students would be able to vote on putting the proposed changes into effect.
When the meeting was cancelled due to weather, questions were raised of whether it would still be possible to bring the matter to a vote in the Assembly in time for the referendum to go on next Tuesday’s ballot, should the Assembly pass the constitution.
Daniel Rabinowitz, SA vice president for academic affairs, said that as of Monday night the SA had not determined how it would proceed, but he thought it was unlikely a referendum could be held on March 15.
“This got messed up due to the blizzard,” Rabinowitz said. “It’s looking like it will probably get pushed back until after spring break.”
He added that there would need to be an emergency meeting of the Assembly Elections Committee this week to approve the ballot in time for the March 15 campus-wide vote.
According to SA bylaws, the Elections Committee must publicize information about an election along with copies of the ballot and any referenda at least seven days before the election. The deadline for the upcoming elections would have been today.
TIMELINE FOR REFERENDUM
Some members of the Assembly and campus community have objected to the short time frame between when the new constitution was proposed on Monday, Feb. 28 and when the referendum would be held on March 15, arguing that it did not allow for proper deliberation on the constitutional changes. They also argued that it did not leave enough time to inform the student body about the implications of the vote.
“They’re rushing to put it on the SA-elections ballot … and that’s certainly not enough time for students to be informed and make an informed vote,” said Diane Wong, an Assembly representative. “The fact that they put the constitution together in two weeks is a huge concern to me. It’s something that should be worked on for longer, maybe even a semester. It takes time, and it takes multiple drafts, not just two or three.”
SA leaders who back the new constitution and incorporation have contended that the Assembly would have had to vote on the proposal at its scheduled Monday, March 7 meeting to allow a campus-wide referendum to occur alongside this spring’s SA elections on March 15 to promote a better turnout.
“The timeline sucks, it’s absolutely terrible,” said Assembly Speaker Randal Meyer. “But we have to line it up with E-Board elections if we want a democratically representative turnout. If we waited until next year’s elections, that means we’re operating for an entire year with this question hanging over our heads. It would be a disservice to students to wait another entire year.”
Davon Harris, a senior triple-majoring in Africana Studies, human development and Latin America and Caribbean Area Studies and treasurer of Jump Nation, spoke at the forum. He said that he thought the SA should take more time to inform students about the proposed changes and work to bring out the vote for a separate referendum.
“There are ways to promote voting that the SA has not put to use,” Harris said. “This needs to be more about students and what they want. The SA leaders need to clarify to them what they’re trying to do.”
IMPETUS FOR REFORMS
SA President Jared Kirschenbaum said that the SA has been looking to incorporate for upwards of 15 years, but had only recently been told by the University it could move forward with the institutional and legal steps necessary to transform the SA into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation.
He explained that incorporation would help reduce the SA’s legal liabilities and preserve it as an autonomous entity from the University.
“The corporation would be collectively responsible for any legal action against the Student Association, rather than the officers as individual people,” Kirschenbaum explained.
But the Executive Board’s proposal goes beyond changing the legal nature of the organization. At a meeting with select Assembly representatives before the Assembly’s Feb. 28 meeting, the Executive Board unveiled a new constitution they drafted that they said would restructure the SA to address a number of problems with how the student government operates.
The current SA constitution calls for a three-branch system: an Executive Board with six positions filled by campus-wide popular election, an Assembly made up of 60 members who represent residential communities or Off Campus College and a Judicial Board with nine seats that hears grievances brought against actions of the SA and has final authority to review the constitutionality of these actions. Much of this would change if the newly drafted constitution were to replace the one now in use.
Under the proposed constitution, the Assembly would be replaced by three committees and a 10-member “Representative Council” that would have to approve the committees’ decisions. There would be a Rules and Governance Committee, a Student Outreach Committee and a Financial Council. The first two would each consist of 20 members and the Financial Council would consist of 11 members, elected from the various communities and off campus.
The “Representative Council” would consist of three members of the Executive Board — the executive vice president, vice president for finance and vice president for academic affairs — the chairs of the three committees and three at-large representatives, all of whom would be popularly elected by the entire student body.
The new constitution would allow decisions handed down by the student-run Judicial Board to be appealed to the SA’s attorney, who would issue a binding ruling.
Another major change in the new version of the constitution is that the Executive Board position of vice president for multicultural affairs would be converted to the “Director for Multicultural Affairs,” which would be elected by the groups that make up the Intercultural Awareness Committee. The DMA would not be a part of the Executive Board, whose members must be elected by the whole student body under SUNY Board of Trustees policy.
TOWN HALL FORUM
The elimination of the VPMA spot on the Executive Board in favor of a DMA was the part of the proposal that drew the most ire from audience members at the Thursday forum, many of whom were members of campus cultural groups that are represented by the VPMA’s office.
Wong, who is involved with the Asian Student Union and Asian Outlook Magazine, read a statement at the public meeting.
“[It gives] cultural groups a meaningless representative to go along with an unfairly strengthened executive board,” Wong said.
Wong also called rewriting the constitution an abuse of the SA’s “power over student groups.”
“Given the suspiciously short time frame, incorporation is being used as a tool to push the agenda of a few, by subtly playing down very important changes and creating a false sense of urgency,” Wong said.
As a result of the objections raised by cultural groups during the Forum, the SA leaders who moderated the discussion agreed to scrap the constitutional provision for a DMA and keep the VPMA position.
Rabinowitz said, however, that ICA group members had reacted positively to the DMA plan during further discussions at a meeting on Monday, and that a final determination regarding which position would be included in the constitutional proposal was still pending.