After examining the student senate constitution, junior Steven Uhey, a pre-law major, has many concerns with the phrasing and clarity of it. Questions about the constitution were also raised by some students in the Q&A with the student body presidential candidates March 5 during the senate election.
“It’s just been a trend of apathy really with student senate which honestly in past years didn’t matter,” Uhey said. “It’s like I’m auditing student senate.”
Junior Aron Tan defeated current student body president sophomore Luke McConnell in the election. Now, he said his primary goal going into next year is to fix the current constitution.
“My hope … is that there is much more clarity in the constitution,” Tan said. “There were issues when we had our Q&A where students brought up the constitution the way they interpreted it, and it wasn’t clear.”
Students specifically raised concerns with the clause addressing who senate has the power to fund. Article 4 section 3 of the constitution states that senate has “the power to allocate funds to campus clubs and organizations.” In the past, senate has allocated funds to individuals for projects and to independent groups raising mission funds. Students questioned whether these groups were included in this clause.
“I think that some of the constitution is written with some space for some interpretation,” Ron Coffey, Ph.D., student senate adviser, said. “I think there are some areas where there is some space for senate to interpret … I imagine that for some people they are uncomfortable with that because they don’t like any ambiguity at all and for others they probably prefer it.”
Uhey said his main concern is with senate being able to provide the records showing that their current constitution was properly ratified. The current constitution was drafted in 1998 and ratification would have required approval from 2/3 of the student union — roughly 594 students — at the time. The student union is made up of all students that pay the student activity fee and are taking at least 12 credit hours.
“Without proper documentation of the signatures, student senate does not have the authority to allocate any funds,” he said. “Without a valid constitution, student senate, in theory, should not exist.”
Coffey and senior Jason Wright, student body vice president, both said they were unaware of any records kept specifically of votes to pass amendments and to ratify the constitution.
“There is an expectation [to keep records],” Coffey said. “I can’t say that it is always done to perfection, but we do have a repository of past constitutions so we can see the progression of changes that have been made over time.”
The past constitutions for each year are kept in the student life office and student senate minutes up until December 1993 can be found in the library archives. Minutes, which include information on when amendments were passed, from August of 2013 to the present can be found on the student portal, but they were not available until March 2013. The minutes for years between 1993 and 2013 are unaccounted for in either of these locations.
Randy Neuman, director of the United Brethren Historical Society, said he does not remember ever receiving any records from student senate.
“Student government is somewhat transient,” he said. “Without a written record retention, policy items get overlooked and sometimes destroyed.”
Neuman said keeping accurate records is a valuable asset for an organization.
“Accurate documentation of the past is a key to analyzing how an institution has arrived at this point and how it can avoid future mistakes,” he said. “Records also support decision making and the documentation of actions.”
McConnell said the constitution is still valid.
“It is my understanding that the constitution did have to have a 2/3 student body approval to make any changes to it,” he said. “Any and all revisions and changes to the constitution have been approved by a 2/3 student body vote as to the requirements of the original constitution.”
Uhey said it is crucial that senate “needs to show us that they have a valid constitution.”
“With the current lack of documentation, we are forced to assume that student senate has illegitimately allocated roughly $500,000 since 1998,” he said. “Honestly, it’s not really their fault, the current student senate. It’s the fault of senate over the past 16 years.”
The constitution will be reviewed this spring as it is every year by a committee which consists of the student body president and four other members of student senate. The committee has yet to be determined.
“We depend on students to collectively work at having the constitution reflective as much as possible of what’s necessary for the organization to conduct business,” Coffey said. “But it is, in the end, a student document by students.”
Wright said that he thinks change is on the horizon.
“There seems to be more of a push, more of an interest in it, and we might do more than we normally do,” he said. “I think nobody has really cared about it so we’ve just kind of let it slip and now that there’s people interested in it I think we will actually see a change.”
Uhey said he is “not trying to cut down student senate.”
“But they have power to delegate quite a lot of funds, and the president is a voting member of the board of trustees,” Uhey said. “I think they should be held very strictly to their constitution.”