Examining the Proposed ASSU Constitution

On Saturday, ASSU President Michael Cruz sent a campus-wide email announcing the establishment of a new ASSU Constitution and soliciting feedback on the drafts proposed by the ASSU Governing Documents Commission (which includes himself and Alex Kindel, the body’s Parlimentarian).

In an issued statement, the Committee explained that the ASSU’s governing documents – comprised of the Constitution, the UGS and GSC Bylaws, and Joint Bylaws to name a few – were too long, convoluted, and at times contradictory. According to Cruz and Kindel, the stated goal of this exercise was to revise all of the documents with an eye towards “brevity, clarity, and efficiency.”

I, for one, agree with the assessment that the governing documents in their current form are essentially useless and have been treated as such, i.e. relegated to gathering dust while the ASSU’s governing bodies go along doing as they please regardless of the constraints imposed on them.

A prime example of the Undergraduate Senate’s general ignorance of their governing documents (and their proclivity to transgress them) can be seen in the recent initiative that led the UGS to use reserve funds to put on two concerts in Spring Quarter. According to UGS Bylaws Section 7, Sub-sections A and B, reserve fund expenditures can only be used exceptionally for service projects, long term investments, or critical VSO needs. From meeting minutes, it is clear that the current Undergraduate Senate was unaware of this provision and of the fact that they technically had no grounds for allocating the funds.

Insomuch as the revision of the governing documents can bring to them clarity and relevance, it is a laudable endeavor. And based on their current draft, Cruz and Kindel manage to do that for certain aspects of the Association. Specifically, the consolidation of the Joint Bylaws and the Rules of Order makes intuitive sense and effectively cuts down on unnecessary fluff.

Similarly, merging the undergraduate and graduate legislative bodies under one umbrella with the express goal of increasing communication could also be seen as a more efficient way of running our student government (though it has yet to be seen what is to be gained pragmatically from this closer cooperation given that the two populations are starkly different in composition and needs).

However, the newly proposed Constitution does not just trim down the excess fat. It also makes a slew of sweeping and surprising changes that would undeniably change the face of the ASSU hereafter, were they to be accepted.

By consolidating the three branches of government, the proposed Constitution would significantly increase the power of the Executive. The ASSU President would preside over meetings of the newly created Student Senate and would be afforded the right to veto any bill put forth by the legislature (by a 2/3 vote of the Senate). He would, furthermore, chair the Joint Selection Committee, a body created with the intent to supplant and replace the current (independent) Nominations Commission in vetting, selecting, and proposing student representatives to University committees.

Not only would this reconfiguration allow the President undue influence in areas of the Association that should be free of Executive presence, it adds on additional responsibilities in an already overwhelming schedule. In past administration, the President has barely been able to manage the workload of the position, let alone balance the need to be a full time student. In order to be efficient and effective, the Constitution should be looking to place unnecessary responsibility out of the Executive’s hand so that they can truly meet the needs of their constituents.

Ultimately, the Constitution proposed by Cruz and Kindel is a paradoxical document. Preaching an ideal of ‘bare necessities,’ the new structure erases, shifts, and consolidates existing bureaucratic entities, while creating entirely new ones at the same time. For example, the proposed document institutionalizes the creation of a Community Advocacy Board – a body created out of the whim of this year’s Executive, which, to my knowledge, has not produced anything of substantial value, nor has justified its existence under the Executive umbrella (or its existence period).

There are some inconsistencies throughout the new document that are difficult to rationalize. The proposal, for example, requires that at least four members of the undergraduate legislative body be upperclassmen. However, it does not outline a procedure in which this requirement can fairly be carried out – especially in light of the statement in the “Elections” section of the Constitution that very clearly outlines that the top fifteen vote getters will be elected to office. Similarly, the document requires that the ASSU Parliamentarian not be an elected member of the legislative branch but also tags him (or her) with the responsibility of chairing an important committee within said legislative body.

Finally, the updated Constitution proposes some outright odd changes. For example, in the case of the President’s dismissal or removal from office, the chair of the Community Advocacy Board, not the Vice President, would be slated to fill his role. Or the fact that, in the case of an elections tie, the Elections Commission would literally pick the name of the winner out of a hat (yes, you read that correctly and yes, the hat-picking procedure is outline in the Constitution).

As the broader community pours over the proposed changes in the coming weeks, I’m sure more questions and concerns will emerge. And frankly, I have to take my hat off to Cruz and Co. for going through the grueling and painful process of encouraging feedback on such a dramatically altered document.

The real test, however, will come on Election Day when 15% of both the undergraduate and graduate populations will have to vote in favor of the new document for it to be adopted. Graduate students are notorious for their abysmal turnout rate (just look at past years). My prediction: the promise of a cosmetically altered ASSU won’t be enough to lead them to the polls.

*Anton Zietsman is a senior majoring in Political Science. He can be reached at zietsman@stanford.edu

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