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UA Council Rejects New Constitution

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Editor in Chief

In a meeting more like a barroom brawl than an organized legislative session, the Undergraduate Association Council last night overwhelmingly rejected a constitution that would have implemented changes across the entire organization.

Instead, the Council passed an amendment to the current constitution that reduces the size of the body by half, one of the flagship provisions of the defeated constitution [see sidebar, page 11].

The new constitution was not passed because "there was too much administrative business" to process at the meeting, said former UAC floor leader and now UA Treasurer Russell S. Light '98. Several election decisions had to be approved, as well as the Finance Board budget recommendations.

"Basically, people didn't know what [the new constitution] was," Light said. While the final draft was not circulated until yesterday, many of the changes had been discussed and voted upon by the UA Council at earlier meetings.

"I'm very afraid that the postponement of the new constitution means that we'll waste another semester of the UA on administrative business," said new UA President Carrie R. Muh '96, who was in favor of passing the new constitution. "I was really hoping to get a lot of active programs out of the UA next semester."

Muh plans to continue work and push for adoption of a new constitution in the fall.

Many councillors and officers were dismayed by the imbroglio. "This meeting left a bad taste in the mouths of the officers who were here," said Jennifer K. Johnson '98, Burton-Conner house representative. "This was almost a brawl," she said. "This is funked up, messed up."

In a discussion that was heated at times, council members, UA officials, and other participants mixed personal attacks with political rhetoric about the future of the UA.

"This is why people get totally frustrated with the UA," said outgoing UA President Vijay P. Sankaran '96. "Undergraduates don't really care about this stuff," he said. "This is just a waste of time."

At the close of the meeting, Muh was sworn in as the new UAP, along with new UA Vice President Erik S. Balsley '96. Light is the new UA Treasurer, and Ashwin Viswanathan '98 is the new floor leader.

Council size dominates debate

One major change introduced in the new constitution was the downsizing of the UA Council by a factor of two. A modified version of this provision was the only such measure passed by the council as an amendment to the current constitution.

Dormitory representation would have been reduced to two representatives for each dorm with more than 250 residents and one representative for dorms with 250 or fewer residents. Interfraternity council representation would be in line with dormitory representation.

The class council contingent - currently consisting of the four class officers - would have been reduced to one representative per class. The text was modified to increase the number to two representatives per class, and then passed as an amendment to the current constitution.

The debate over the new constitution was dominated by the question of class council representation.

"Class council is very important because of the amount of interaction that we have with our classmates," said Class of 1996 President Matthew J. Turner '96, who is in favor of a strong class council presence on the UAC. "We do events where the entire class is invited."

Students voice opinions to their class officers, who are natural conduits of student input to the UA Council. To reduce the class council representation on the UAC by a factor of four "is ridiculous," Turner said. "It almost turns the UA into an exclusive group."

A major reason for reducing the class council presence was representatives' poor attendance at recent UAC meetings. "This year has been the worst year for class council participation in UA Council," Turner said. However, "that has something to do with the way the UA went about doing things this year," he said.

People were "discouraged about coming" and "wasting their time sitting through a meeting that wasn't doing anything," Turner said. Several years ago, UAC meetings were run well, were short, and were "effective in getting things done," he said.

"This is absolutely sad that people argue over one or two representatives," Sankaran said. The UAC should "encourage people to come to the UA and not turn people off," he said.

Implicit electronic voting proposed

One of the most significant proposals in the new constitution is a procedure for UAC electronic voting. According to the defeated constitution, the UAC Floor Leader could send a motion deemed by Execcomm to be uncontroversial and "likely to pass the council by a large motion" to councillors via electronic mail. If less than five UA members register an objection within seven academic days, the motion would pass.

The UAC's work last year was bogged down with technical amendments, according to Light. "It was not necessary to let them lay on the table for two weeks" as required by the current constitution, Light said.

"We're trying to prevent the UA from wasting time as it has in the past," Muh said. Electronic voting would resolve issues "which otherwise would waste time at UA council meetings," she said; issues "which nobody would really have a problem with."

UASG would be eliminated

Aside from the change in size of the UAC and the advent of electronic voting, other major changes proposed in the defeated constitution focused on a reassessment of the separation of governmental powers.

The office of UA Secretary General would have been eliminated by the new document. The UASG's primary responsibilities concern keeping records of meetings and acting as historian.

"The UASG was a useless position that did nothing," Muh said. The council already has a secretary, and archival duties would be delegated to the various UA offices.

The frequency of UAC meetings, strictly regulated under the current constitution, would have been less restricted in the new document. Currently, the council must meet no more than two times per month but with a minimum of 10 days between meetings.

The new constitution would have required the UAC to meet at least once every 30 days, but put no maximum limits on the frequency.

The UAP currently has no vote on UAC or Execcomm; in the document, the UAP would be a voting member of both.

"As it stands now, the president has no legislative power whatsoever," Muh said. However, "the UAP is the person who gets all the flak, support, and blame for the legislative items which are passed," she said. "We felt that person should have some legislative power."

Another departure from the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers is shown in proposed changes to the judicial review board, the judicial organization of the UA concerned with interpreting the governing documents and resolving disputes between bodies of the UA.

Judboard decisions, currently only able to be overturned by a constitutional amendment, would be able to be overturned by a three-fourths vote of the UAC.

The size of the board would be expanded from three to five members; in part, because of past problems with members leaving, Muh said.

Muh said she plans to continue work on the new constitution and have something for the UAC to act on first thing in the fall. The ideas in the proposed constitution have all been voted on beforehand, Muh said. "People hadn't seen them presented in one big format" and were reluctant to vote on the package so soon, she said.

The UA Council Executive Committee will meet over the summer to iron out any wrinkles and eliminate any bugs and loopholes in the document, Muh said.

One goal in the fall will be to "make the proposed constitution more publicly available," Balsley said. Balsley said he hopes people concerned with the future of the UA will speak with him and Muh.

"We hope this won't affect the UA in the future," Muh said. "I'm committed to passing something that will make the UA more effective."

The rejected motion to adopt the new constitution at the same meeting it was introduced was itself in violation of the current constitution. To circumvent that, UA Council passed a special amendment to the current constitution allowing the UAC to vote on a new constitution at that specific meeting.

Shang-Lin Chuang and Ven-katesh Satish contributed to the reporting of this story.

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Volume 115, Number 24.
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