SA to defend itself in Student Court for alleged lack of graduate student representation

Media Credit: Skylar Epstein | Photographer

Link called on the senate to pass a referendum this fall to adjust the number of senate seats allotted to undergraduate and graduate students based on each respective student population.

Updated: Sept. 7, 2019 at 10:09 a.m.

The Student Association will appear in Student Court in the coming weeks, months after an SA senator accused the body of unfairly representing graduate students.

The SA Senate currently reserves 18 seats for undergraduate senators and 20 seats for graduate senators, according to the organization’s website. But SA Sen. AJ Link, Law-G, filed a complaint in April saying the number of undergraduate and graduate seats are not proportional to the two respective student bodies.

Students voted in favor of giving freshman and first-year graduate senators voting privileges in spring 2018 after they have served one semester in the senate. A maximum of four graduate-at-large and five undergraduate-at-large seats can now be added once senators have served the one-semester term.

Logan Basch, the SA’s vice president for judicial and legislative affairs, said the constitutional amendment that changed the number of senate seats does not violate the organization’s role as a “representational body” that is detailed in the SA’s governing documents.

“The charter calls for representative governance but not proportional governance,” he said in an email. “On top of that, even if it did call for proportional governance, it’s important to note that there are more graduate seats than undergraduate seats in the senate, invalidating Link’s claim that graduates are underrepresented.”

Link called on the senate to pass a referendum this fall to adjust the number of senate seats allotted to undergraduate and graduate students to make them proportional to the student body. Undergraduates hold five undergraduate-at-large seats while graduates have four, but the graduate student population is larger than undergraduates.

About 15,500 graduate students – about 56 percent of the student population – enrolled in 2018, but roughly 12,000 undergraduates – about 44 percent of the total population – enrolled that same year, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

Link said that he hopes his oral argument will explain why the current number of seats allotted to graduate students allegedly “disenfranchises” graduate students.

“I hope that this case shows the SA that it needs to do more to reach out to graduate students at GW, and I also hope it gets more graduate students interested in the SA,” he said in an email.

SA Chief Court Justice Wayne Arminivage said the SA and Link will each have 30 minutes to present their arguments and answer questions from the court. He said the court will release its decision about the case and detail what action the SA must take in the 24 hours following the oral arguments.

Arminivage added that members of the court called on members of the student body to submit statements about how the court’s decision of the case could affect them to help the court make its decision. Students are required to submit statements by the evening of Friday, Sept. 6, according to court documents obtained by The Hatchet.

“The impact of the court’s ruling could force a new apportionment of the senate, or at least a vote on a new apportionment, which is why we want as many learned arguments as possible in front of the court when making that decision,” Arminivage said in an email.

The SA last appeared in front of the court in 2009 when the then-vice president for judicial and legislative affairs sued the body’s executive vice president and senate secretary for incorrectly handling a presidential veto, according to Court documents on the SA’s website.

Samantha Paralikas, the SA’s former vice president for judicial and legislative affairs who is currently serving in an advisory role, said she will represent the SA during the hearing because she gained extensive knowledge about the case in her former role.

Paralikas said Link’s demands are not as “dramatic” as some students may think when they hear that an SA senator is suing the organization, because the court exists to deal with concerns like Link’s.

“Some people might think there’s a lot of controversy over this, but I kind of view this as, ‘No, this is exactly what the Student Court is supposed to do: show people’s interests,’” she said. “And I fully support where this is going.”

Editors note: This post was updated to clarify the language of Link’s complaint. 

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