Group proposes SA Senate overhaul

Change for Students, a new campus group, proposed a new Student Association constitution last week that would replace the current unicameral senate and create separate graduate and undergraduate student councils.

The group, headed by Dan Loren, chairman of the International Affairs Society and a former SA senator, and SA Sen. Mike Pellegrino (U-ESIA), drafted a referendum for the SA elections at the end of February.

“Basically, there are structural problems in the SA and the body can’t get out of the vicious circle that is the current system,” Loren said. “What the SA does for undergrads and grads is different and this new system would allow for more to be accomplished in the respective bodies.”

Students will vote on the proposal during this year’s SA election if 10 percent of students, about 2,000 people, sign a petition in favor of adding the measure to the ballot. Loren said the group collected about 500 signatures by last Friday and intends to complete the petition by this Friday. With about 20 to 25 people soliciting signatures, Loren said the goal is “very realistic.”

Loren said he plans to run for SA president with Pellegrino, who will run for vice president.

Loren said a referendum on the 1999 SA ballot asking students if they wanted the SA to look into a bicameral legislature, but the Senate has not acted on the measure in the past two years.

“When you have two different groups, they will be able to accomplish more separately for their respective constituencies making an overall better campus for all,” Pellegrino said.

Loren said creating funding equality is one of the main reasons for the new constitution. Under the proposed constitution, each council would allocate funds for student groups under its control – something Loren said would ease tension among senators.

“Usually, the initial funding conflict in September sets a sour note for the rest of the year,” he said. “But the new way the SA will be put together will create a less contentious group.”

Although the proposed councils would act independently, they would meet on a regular basis to discuss issues that affect the entire student body. The councils would have to agree to pass bills on funding or that affect the entire University.

Some SA senators said they have reservations about the proposed
constitution.

“There are many reasons why this kind of proposal has been turned down in the past,” SA President David Burt said. “We just passed a new funding proposal and trying to change over to that will be hard enough without this whole new constitution, it just isn’t the right time.”

Pointing to unequal fund distributions for the councils, Burt said students should not pass the new constitution if it comes to referendum.

The proposed constitution would also create undergraduate freshman elections in the fall. Currently, there are two appointed freshman representatives with no voting power. Elections in the fall would allow freshmen to vote in council.

Another section of the proposal increases the size of the SA by
allotting a representative for every 650 students, instead of the current allocation of a representative for every 1,000 students.

The proposal also calls for a year-long Independent Electoral Commission that would control the fall and spring elections and ensure the SA councils can discuss issues dealing directly with students rather than with the association itself, Loren said.

Burt said the fact that the new constitution was written by a few people instead of by SA committees that typically review constitutional questions is humorous.

“It’s a poorly worded document that is too specific and is not in the students’ best interest,” he said.

Loren said about 10 to 15 people, a group larger than most Senate committees, wrote the proposal.

“Our ideas are very widespread, but obviously senators think they should have been involved,” Loren said.

Senators said they wanted more input with the proposal and questioned its timing.

“I agree with the concept of divided government but I would have
preferred if the authors of the constitution had worked with the current Senate to make it a stronger document,” Sen. J.P. Blackford (G-SEAS) said. “By proposing the constitution a month before the election, I’m concerned that only a few people will be able to fully read the document and I’m not sure how effective the referendum will be.”

Other senators said they support the changes.

“I am firmly behind the referendum to establish a new Student Association constitution,” Sen. Bill Eldridge (U-ESIA) said.

Eldridge was sworn in as senator Tuesday, replacing Sen. Seema Talwar, who is studying abroad this semester.

“I believe that the principles set forth in this constitution will establish a student government that will truly represent the concerns of the students,” he said.

Loren and Pellegrino posted the document the Web at www.changeforstudents.com.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.