A group of students inside and outside the Student Association are seeking to place a referendum for a new SA constitution on the ballot in this year’s SA elections. Among other provisions, the new constitution would split the SA Senate into two groups – one representing graduates, the other one speaking for undergraduates. In some ways, the new plan could benefit students, but overall the proposal is imprudent because a restructured SA is still vulnerable to the problems that currently seem to plague and paralyze the organization’s operations.
The GW student community is a large and diverse group with diverse interests and concerns. No division is more striking than that between graduate and undergraduate students. Graduate students tend to live off campus and commute to class, and their concerns reflect this. But the majority of undergraduates live in University housing or very close to campus, giving them different agendas.
Bundling these two constituencies and their issues together under the same system, as in the current SA constitution, has led to long meetings and institutional inertia when, according to some senators, graduate students fail to appear for committee meetings and graduate seats remain unfilled. The new system would allow graduate and undergraduate students to focus their energies on issues affecting their two separate situations and still allow for cooperation on funding matters and questions that affect the entire University.
But it is in funding where the system is vulnerable. Perhaps the single most important duty of the SA is to responsibly manage and allocate the portion of student money the SA receives to fund student groups. By dividing the funds several times – once between the two branches of representatives and then among student groups, the new system has the potential to slow down the allocation process by creating even more opportunities to squabble over funds.
The proposed constitution does include good measures – like electing freshmen representatives in the fall – but throwing out the old constitution appears to be an overly dramatic step taken on by two possible candidates just before SA elections. The wiser, safer course would be to implement these changes incrementally and hopefully avoid over-politicizing an important issue in the midst of SA elections.