Editorial | Dec. 5
On Dec. 8, the USG is planning to vote on a constitutional amendment that would formally separate the class governments from the Senate . The Editorial Board supports this amendment, as a more formal separation of the two bodies would accurately reflect the separate roles they play and the fact that one body is not superior to the other.
Currently, the class governments and Senate operate as two branches of USG. The Senate focuses on campus-wide social events and policy improvements, while the class governments focus on providing class programming and promoting class spirit and unity. For example, the Senate focuses on events and issues such as Lawnparties and whether to have classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Class governments, on the other hand, are in charge of class study breaks and class attire. Occasionally, these two bodies work on projects together, and they communicate both formally and informally.
An important aspect of the constitutional amendments is the formalization of USG structure; specifically, the amendment seeks to clarify the relationship between the Senate and the class governments. Currently, the Senate retains sole control of the ability to amend the constitution. This control includes the ability to alter the constitutionally mandated structure of the class governments. In addition to formally separating the two governing bodies, the proposed reforms would give the class governments the right to alter sections of the constitution that pertain to them, thereby limiting and clarifying Senate control of the structure of class governments. We believe these measures are prudent for two reasons. First, formally separating the bodies will likely clarify for students the distinct role each plays in campus governance and underscore the fact that the class governments are ultimately and primarily accountable to their respective classes. Secondly, because class governments are likely to know more than the Senate about the intricacies and difficulties of their job, it is logical to allow them to draft amendments to provisions of the constitution that affect their operation.
Another issue highlighted in debates over the proposed amendments is that the Senate currently can censor class government projects and call up a class government representative for review — though this right is rarely exercised. This means that a Senate member from one class year, say 2016, could hypothetically influence the decisions of 2015’s class government. This seems troubling given that there is no inherent reason for class governments to be accountable to the Senate. Class governments should not have their class-specific projects influenced by the Senate.
While completely autonomous class governments might raise some concerns, a second package of amendments would address autonomy and transparency issues. This amendment would require class governments to publish their budgets and project reports each semester. Currently, there is no requirement to do either of these things, which is disconcerting given the large sums of money spent by class governments each year.
Formally separating the class governments from the USG may also foster a greater a sense of ownership and responsibility among class government representatives. Currently, many class government positions are not contested after freshman year. Increasing the transparency, responsibility and political capabilities of the class governments may encourage more students to get involved with their class government representatives. Such involvement would improve class governments through contested elections and increased input to representatives.
Some have argued that, because amending the constitution necessarily affects the entire student body, participating in the amendment process is beyond the purview of class governments because their authority is limited to decisions relating to their specific classes. Significantly, even under the proposed amendments, the Senate would have to give final approval to constitutional amendments drafted by the class governments. Given this check, and considering that class governments are elected to best serve their specific classes, the Board does not believe that allowing class governments to draft amendments would have adverse consequences or is particularly philosophically incoherent.
Ultimately, the Board believes that the proposed amendments would increase class governments’ transparency and allot them an autonomy that they deserve. We do not believe that the separation would complicate effective governance, as the two bodies could still work closely on joint projects. We therefore hope that the USG will act so as to separate its component branches and support the increased transparency of class governments.
Dylan Ackerman is recused due to his position as vice president of the 2014 Class Council.