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Posted in Op-Ed, Opinion

Op-Ed: Our Collective Responsibility To A Working Constitution

By
April 10, 2014

Members of the Swarthmore Student Body,

The powers of the Student Council, and indeed that of any modern government, is defined by the principles and regulations codified in its constitution. Towards the end of last semester, the Student Council came together and decided that a change in its constitution was necessary. Since that time, we have not drafted – let alone ratified – a working constitution, leaving the protocols and procedures arbitrary and to the discretion of those in power. The SBC chair selection process revealed the perils of such a predicament, a failure in government structure that resulted in a violation of normal due process. As a member of the student body and of Student Council, I feel obligated to point out that this violation is not accidental: it is the direct result of Student Council not having a working constitution.

I want to make it clear that I am writing this piece not out of a grudge but with a non-personal approach so everyone can know the inherent problem and take steps to address it. I would like to ask you to be fair in your critique of all parties involved. The Student Council is currently in a period of transition away from our old constitution, attempting to accommodate the newer needs of the student body. However, we had very few guidelines as to how the transition would occur and have been trying to work through it without a working constitution. Our current operating procedure gives little direction to those with appointment authority, allowing them to decide on a whim which guidelines to follow. This is an ethical problem that has resulted from the constitutional predicament that we are in.

When the SBC Chair position was opened to applicants, I applied to the position before the first deadline along with several other students. However, the deadline was pushed back twice, and both times I was neither given the interview that the application implied would happen nor given any notification of my status as a candidate. In fact, the only notification I received came after the SBC chair was appointed. Throughout the entire process, I felt skeptical that I would be chosen, but the selection process made me think that I never had a chance. Given the lack of notifications, it seemed that I was being screened out and could not help but feel that favoritism was part of the equation. I’m sure others who applied felt similarly.

This entire selection process clearly shows the severe problems associated with the lack of a working constitution. Without a working constitution, the contract that all members of the Student Council metaphorically sign amongst ourselves and with the student body, it becomes all too likely that the tension and antagonism that accompanied the entire SBC chair selection process is the norm rather than the exception. If we had a constitution, one with clear and defined bylaws and guidelines overseen by a larger group of students, these problems could have been easily avoided. Thus, the best solution to this problem is that everyone supports the Student Council in its work for the rest of the semester to finish the draft and ratification of the constitution.

As a student who attends an institution that is dedicated to the education of social responsibility and justice, I believe that it is our collective responsibility to take immediate steps to advocate, draft, and ratify a working constitution. There are critical concerns and issues we must combat but how can we do this if our student government has such a serious flaw? Student government at best can be a legitimate, representative, and democratic organization that has the capacity to improve the student life of Swarthmore considerably, and I want to make this potential a reality.

Sincerely,

David Ding ‘16

15 Responses to Op-Ed: Our Collective Responsibility To A Working Constitution

  1. can you smell that? Reply

    April 10, 2014 at 5:16 am

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    • stephen crane Reply

      April 12, 2014 at 1:43 am

      But I like it

      Because it is bitter,

      And because it is my heart.

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. bob dole Reply

    April 10, 2014 at 10:32 am

    So how about a provision in the Constitution banning anonymous voting? The combination of the DG’s report and the minutes from the last meeting seemed alright, but the anonymous voting still makes no sense.

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    • Joe Boninger Reply

      April 12, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      This is how it was explained to me: consider the Halloween party during the first semester, when StuCo was at least partially responsible for deciding the alcohol policy. No StuCo member wanted their name attached to vote that said, “I think we should provide alcohol for minors.” Those kinds of votes are the reason why the anonymous voting thing was enacted. In addition, there’s nothing to stop StuCo members from revealing their votes by choice. If a StuCo member wants to publicly share a dissenting opinion, they can always write an editorial about it or just put it on Facebook.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 12

      • Erm Reply

        April 13, 2014 at 10:56 pm

        Wait so it’s okay for StuCo members to vote anonymously because they don’t want people to know that they support using college funds to serve alcohol to minors? Isn’t it issues like this that further necessitate public voting?

        Furthermore, at the meeting, members were explicitly discouraged from sharing dissenting views because apparently StuCo is supposed to be a unified institution??

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      • bob dole Reply

        April 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

        Well if they don’t want their vote attached to something that’s illegal, maybe they shouldn’t vote for it… personally, I like that we let everyone have alcohol, but that doesn’t mean StuCo should have anonymous voting in order to break the law.

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  3. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON Reply

    April 10, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Why the hell did StuCo scrap the constitution before making a new one??? Why didn’t they keep the old one until the new one was ratified?

    Of all the times that StuCo could have started preventing members of the press from reporting directly on its meetings, this point of time is incredibly inopportune and fishy.
    1. The President just appointed her boyfriend to one of, if not, the most powerful positions on campus.
    2. StuCo is working without a constitution, which resulted in members of StuCo being fucked over.
    3. StuCo is drafting and going to try to ratify a new constitution.

    I feel like this is a time that even more press coverage would be needed.

    It seems to me that you of all people, Mr. Ding, would be in favor of allowing as much transparency as possible.

    My suggestion is that StuCo once again allows press members to report on meetings and also put out it’s own statement weekly, so as to keep their message from being polluted or whatever bullshit reason they gave for changing press policies.

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    • well Reply

      April 11, 2014 at 11:55 am

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    • David Ding '16 Reply

      April 11, 2014 at 10:10 pm

      Yes, I am in favor of more transparency, and this is a big reason for my opt-ed. However, please consider that there are only 2 more StuCo meetings left before the end of the semester. While the issues are extremely salient currently, what student body needs is the Student Council to set a contract of sorts with our publications. We need to develop a system to ensure that StuCo’s projects will be transparent through the media while placing limits on the media’s sensationalism of issues; I think the way to do this is by building trust through various means.

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  4. icantseemtofindmolly Reply

    April 13, 2014 at 3:31 am

    lol whatever not like student government does anything anyways

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  5. Wtf Reply

    April 13, 2014 at 10:43 am

    This is totally untrue. Press is still welcome to report on meetings and is in fact encouraged to do so. Reporters also have a 15-min press conference immediately after the meeting where they get to ask any conceivable questions they have for StuCo. The only thing they aren’t allowed to do is take quotes out of context and distort what was said.

    In response to the idea of StuCo releasing its own statement every week, that seems redundant given that StuCo’s internal meeting minutes are completely public and are even linked to in the DG StuCo Reports. If everyone is really so concerned about transparency, why don’t you read those? Or better yet, go to a meeting?

    StuCo is NOT working without a constitution. StuCo is working according to the last-ratified constitution, with the exception of changes they instituted in order to advance a new (and far more representative/capable) structure. All of the changes instituted, including the process for replacing the SBC Chair, do not in any way violate the old constitution, and all changes were voted on by StuCo before being instituted. It wouldn’t make sense to write and ratify a new constitution for a body that does not yet exist because the body itself would not be able to contribute to its drafting or debate its various clauses according to the needs they have identified. That is why StuCo waited to write a new constitution, but in the meantime, this is not some kind of anarchy. StuCo is still using the old constitution, with the exception of minor changes (such as the introduction of Student Assembly and new position titles for Student Council), which were voted on and passed unanimously.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 22

    • WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON Reply

      April 13, 2014 at 11:54 pm

      Thanks for the reply!

      On your first paragraph, 2/3 student news organizations have written against policies that Stuco has taken. (http://www.swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/03/27/stuco/ http://www.swarthmorephoenix.com/2014/04/03/stuco-editorial/ http://swarthmoreindependent.com/2014/03/28/phoenix-editors-object-to-stuco-censorship/)
      The third one doesn’t even really report news anymore. I think they do a fine job of representing their opinion and pretty much cover mine, but I particularly like the line “it implies that StuCo gets to be the arbiter of deciding how its policies and decisions are to be discussed and interpreted. Even if reporters have not done due diligence in covering their meetings, surely the solution is not to give StuCo complete power over the presentation of their policies.” Why should StuCo get to decide what quotes get reported from the open meeting?

      Second, my suggestion to releasing a statement was along the lines of doing whatever you want to call this: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2014/03/25/camco-report-student-resource-guide-genderfuck-student-government-and-more/
      I don’t know what you consider this, but to me, it seems like releasing a statement. DG said of this format that, “Starting next week, CamCo meetings will take place completely off the record and The Daily Gazette will report on summaries provided by CamCo members after the meeting.” Maybe you don’t call this “releasing a statement.” However, I call this releasing a statement, and it is what I had in mind when I made the post.
      On your suggestion that I go to a meeting: I, nor anyone else, should be expected to go to every meeting to know what is going on in the campus government that is supposed to represent me. The media should be there and allowed to report what is said and what goes on to allow the members of the community to know what decisions are being made. Do you expect citizens of a town to go every City Council meeting if they care about transparency in local government? I don’t, and I think it’s a ridiculous that a body that claims to care so much about transparency suggests that you have to go to a meeting to receive transparency.

      Third, that’s wonderful news! I guess I was led astray by Mr. Ding when he said, “leaving the protocols and procedures arbitrary and to the discretion of those in power” and “it is the direct result of Student Council not having a working constitution,” and “However, we had very few guidelines as to how the transition would occur and have been trying to work through it without a working constitution. Our current operating procedure gives little direction to those with appointment authority, allowing them to decide on a whim which guidelines to follow. This is an ethical problem that has resulted from the constitutional predicament that we are in.” Even if StuCo is working with a constitution, it is not inspiring at all that a member of StuCo says that it is working without a constitution. Of all people, someone on StuCo ought know…
      “It wouldn’t make sense to write and ratify a new constitution for a body that does not yet exist because the body itself would not be able to contribute to its drafting or debate its various clauses according to the needs they have identified. That is why StuCo waited to write a new constitution, but in the meantime, this is not some kind of anarchy.”
      Are you saying that a group of people are incapable of making a constitution before the group that the constitution makes has been created? That claim is dubious at best. Pulling an example from history, would it make sense for the Founding Fathers to say “We can’t write or ratify the Constitution because there is no House of Representatives yet!” This doesn’t map directly onto the problem we have here, but I think the point still stands.

      To me, it seems incredibly suspect that we are in the middle of a constitutional transition (that a StuCo member believes affects the running of the body) and a StuCo president appointed her boyfriend to a position of high power at the same time as media restrictions are being made. These three things coincided a bit too well for me not to wonder if these events were set in motion with a grand plan envisioned. I would love to be sure that none of this has taken place. However, when you have a member of StuCo crying foul about the hiring process, when what implied to be the hiring process for a coveted position(i.e. everyone gets interviewed -> not everyone gets interviewed) does not occur if anyone), and when the governing body is less than forthcoming about all these things, it really makes me and others worry.

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    • David Ding '16 Reply

      April 14, 2014 at 8:09 am

      Thank you, you have just outlined the problem: I
      thought that giving ourselves time to write a new constitution in the midst of changes was the best way to do things, but recent events have proven that this was not a good idea. How can we establish legitimacy as a transitioning student government without proper guidelines as a way to verify protocols? Regardless of my personal distress, the point is that there needs to be more standards so that similar selection processes in the future won’t seem like violations of individuals’ right to due process. While I will say that StuCo lacks manpower, and that SBC chair selection process was extremely inopportune, all selections SHOULD have been done with proper guidelines so that the members of Student Government aren’t metaphorically signing a moving contract between. What you said concerning the constitution is correct to the best of my knowledge, but we, StuCo, have created a potential flaw by having a constitution we are writing on the fly.

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  6. a_lum Reply

    April 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    David – I think “due process” may be the wrong term for what you are describing here, but it I understand what you are getting at.
    If this is the state of things, Student Council (or Campus Council) has created a banana republic in student government. You can’t scrap your existing Constitution to “make” a new one. You have to operate with your existing Consitution, and make the appropriate changes and votes to get you to your new Constitution. The existing one is your starting point. Just like you changed all the names of your positions, if you are adding additional bodies, etc…, it can be done within the context of your existing document, unless that document gave you absolutely no way to change itself, which would seem very odd. It takes more work, thought, and time, but it prevents what is being described here.

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    • David Ding '16 Reply

      April 15, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      Thank you for your advice. I agree with you completely. It was a good intention of the Student Council to try to reform to meet the needs of the student body, but as events told me, it seems that we have moved too fast and furious. The Interim government this semester is almost a complete departure from the old constitution that we have. We stated that we have passed a vague resolution to transition, but we did not have a clear idea how the transition was structured and, I feel, we have failed to communicate it clearly. I am not saying we should make a new constitution, but that we should have had one written before the semester began. I am making an appeal to the student body that the most important thing the Student Government should work on is the new Constitution right now; it is very important to have the appropriate guidelines in place so an appointment such as the SBC chair selection process won’t be misunderstood again.

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