Tomorrow, you will be asked to make a decision on the most sweeping change to our student government in any of our lifetimes. We hope you vote it down.
Tomorrow’s ballot referendum deals with two issues: incorporation of the Student Association into a non-profit corporation and a complete constitutional overhaul of the SA as a government. Incorporation probably can’t hurt. It limits liability for the SA Executive Board and supposedly will solidify the SA’s independence from the Binghamton University administration. We’re unconvinced on the latter point simply because many college student governments are incorporated but few have as much autonomy as ours already does.
The flip side of the coin, though, isn’t quite so simple, and the risks involved outweigh any purported benefits of the SA’s incorporation.
In all honesty, this thing is probably going to pass. As you’ll see tomorrow, the ballot question itself is worded in arcane legalese, and — as even SA insiders admit — most people will just see it and check yes. (Take this terse example: “… and as the governing instrument of that student government, contingent upon the recognition of the Student Association at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Inc. as tax exempt under section…”) Based on our knowledge of SA ballot referenda in the past, most people will vote yes regardless of how poorly put together any ballot question is.
It’s important to remember that the outcome of this vote is not the end of the world either way, even if its supporters view it as the ultimate redemption of the SA and its detractors view it as the death of democracy. Most of the changes here have to do with how the SA deals with itself. Blue buses will still run, and we’ll still have Spring Fling.
Still, we have to vote no. And here’s why.
The new form of student government is really only half-done. For example, the annual SA budget — by far the most important thing our student government does in a given year — is only given passing mention in the proposed constitution. Things like the appointment process for the Judicial Board are left unfinished. This should be unacceptable.
These crucial, if not glaringly obvious, details are being worked out behind closed doors by a committee with almost no recognizable oversight. That committee is drafting the SA bylaws — the accompanying document to the constitution that is nearly as important as the constitution itself. Unfortunately, students on Wednesday won’t get to vote on that committee’s work.
There’s a proper way to do this kind of thing. In the past, with less significant changes in mind, the SA put together official committees in a public manner to consider constitutional changes over the course of an academic year. This proposed constitution was initially put together by a group of SA insiders over a matter of days, with no mention of their plans until after the document had been drafted.
We would certainly like to support reform of our student government — we spend a good deal of our time criticizing the SA for its systemic shortcomings and individual blunders. But the reconstruction of a decades-old system of government should take longer than just a few weeks.
And setting aside the process, the substance of the new constitution itself is worrying. Even with all the details left out, what’s in it is still unsettling. The new constitution, by all appearances, consolidates power in the hands of a few actors — the three branches of government we tolerate today will be combined, shrunk and have many of their checks and balances removed.
But our greatest concern is that this constitution will further separate the student government from the student body.