In early spring, the Association of Student Activities (ASA) emailed to all ASA-recognized student groups requiring that the information in their ASA database entry to be up-to-date and compliant with the ASA’s rules and regulations. One of the requirements was that group constitutions include the ASA Governance Clause — any group missing the clause from its constitution received a notification of such, requiring that the clause be added in order for the ASA to approve the constitution. (The Tech, as it is currently an ASA-recognized group without the governance clause, also received this request.) The clause as a requirement for ASA-recognized groups has existed for several years, according to ASA president Rachel H. Keeler ’14, but has not been uniformly enforced.
In light of this, some groups have questioned whether the clause grants too broad a power to the ASA.
The ASA Governance Clause
The clause reads: “The [activity name] agrees to abide by the rules and regulations of the Association of Student Activities, and its executive board. This constitution, amendments to it, and the by-laws of this organization shall be subject to review by the ASA Executive Board to ensure that they are in accordance with the aforementioned rules and regulations.”
According to its website, the ASA “oversees student group activity and is the governing body of student groups on the MIT campus.” Being ASA-recognized comes with many resources and privileges, including office space, a spot at the Activities Midway, and bulletin board space in the Infinite Corridor. As stated in its operating guidelines, the ASA can derecognize groups either by a two-thirds vote at a General Body meeting or if the Executive Board deems that a group is not meeting “its responsibilities.”
Some groups unsettled by ASA governance clause
The Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC), an ASA-recognized group, currently does not have the clause in its constitution. It was founded in 1948, making it one of the oldest student organizations on campus, possibly predating the ASA. (The earliest mention of the Association of Student Activities in The Tech was in 1963, although previously there existed an Activities Council.) The Tech, founded in 1881, predates the ASA.
“We think that the ASA’s governance clause seems overly broad, and we are unclear what the implications of adopting it are,” said Rebecca Perry, TMRC’s governor, speaking on behalf of the club. “As requested by the ASA, we are in the process of voting on the adoption of a governance clause, according to the procedures specified in TMRC’s constitution … the ASA has been asking us to accelerate this process, but to do so violates our constitution.”
The governance clause provides the ASA too much power, agreed Alexander Chernyakhovsky ’13, the chair of MIT’s Student Information Processing Board (SIPB). SIPB was approved by the ASA and founded in 1969.
“The ASA Governance Clause gives the ASA overly broad authority over student groups, and allows it to overstep the bounds of its mission,” said Chernyakhovsky. “However, when speaking with ASA representatives, I was informed that the ASA does not see the Governance Clause as giving the ASA any power, but that it is merely recognition of the student group that the ASA has power over them. That is to say, the ASA believes that they already have all of the powers.”
He continued, “Ideally, I think the ASA Governance Clause should not be required in all groups’ constitutions; some groups are ‘special,’ and have obligations and oversight that are incompatible with the ASA.”
SIPB met with members of the ASA Exec this past Monday to discuss their concerns. As a result, they adopted a modified version of the governance clause which protected certain SIPB property — both digital and physical — from being redistributed as the ASA Exec saw fit should it be derecognized. The last line of SIPB’s modified clause states that “the Board retains the right to separate from the ASA in perpetuity.”
Supporting the clause
In contrast, MIT’s Film Club is one of the newer student groups on campus. The governance clause has been in its constitution since the group’s founding last winter.
“We think that the ASA Governance Clause is fair; it ensures that all student groups are held accountable for any infractions of the rules and regulations of ASA,” Joseph Elias, the president of MIT Film Club, stated. “These rules were drafted to ensure that student groups, such as the MIT Film Club, are accessible to and enjoyable for the entire student body; these groups cost money and use up some of MIT’s valuable resources and should be held under review for infractions of the rules.”
Keeler believes that the clause is reasonable, as all groups must agree to the ASA’s rules and regulations in order to be ASA-recognized in the first place.
“The clause has been a requirement in constitutions for quite a while,” said Keeler. “The clause doesn’t really grant additional powers to the ASA — regardless of what a group acknowledges, the ASA is the governing body for student groups on campus — but having the clause in every constitution hopefully ensures that groups are aware that they are bound by our rules, and are paying attention to them.” In addition, Keeler says that the clause helps keep everyone “on the same page.”
ASA secretary Benjamin P. Lehnert ’13, also the grandmaster of the Assassins’ Guild (an MIT student group), believes that the clause is justified “because all it does is delineate the powers of the ASA Board, which every group that seeks recognition agrees to anyway.”
The ASA does not derive its authority from one place, but rather several places at MIT. “The ASA serves many roles, and so it derives authority from many different parts of the Institute,” Keeler explained. “For example, our role as the allocators of space to student groups is derived from the Dean’s office and CAC [Campus Activities Complex]; we work with SAO [Student Activities Office] and occasionally other offices on financial issues; and so on.”
Keeler notes that the ASA generally likes to let student groups keep to themselves.
“We have no particular desire to interfere in almost any of the content of the constitution,” emphasized Keeler. “The notable exceptions are requirements that MIT offices or we have that we think are just good for the general health of every student group. For example, we require student groups to be over 50 percent students.”
She added, “I think it’s very much within the MIT spirit to have student groups governing other student groups.”