SGA approves constitution 16-0, 6 abstain

After bantering for about 50 minutes Monday, 22 Senators voted 16-0 to put a revised student government constitution on the Oct. 5 Senate election ballot. Six senators abstained.

Changes adopted last spring by the SGA constitution committee include adding a judicial branch and dissolving the steering committee.

“Every single year for the past five or six years there have been efforts to revise the SGA constitution,” said Sen. Ali Faruk, the only member of the constitution committee eligible to vote at Monday’s discussions. SGA adviser Reuban Rodriguez, dean of student affairs, and members of the executive branch also serve on the committee.

“This year’s really the only one where we’ve built-up enough momentum, and there’s been enough dedication that it has (constitution revision) actually gone through,” Faruk said.

The committee, he said, found holes in the current constitution where there was an oversight and lack of responsibility as well as authority in some cases. He said the committee made changes based on what worked best for the students.

“There were some things in the old one that were blatantly wrong,” Faruk said. “I want you guys (senators) to emphasize on whether this constitution is better than the one we work with now.”

Senators focused their debate on voting to vote on the new constitution. In the end, 11 favored the revisions. Although most favored the measure, others continued debating that voting be delayed until the newly elected senators can be inaugurated into office after Oct. 5.

“This is an important issue…To pass this bill, we’d probably only need two-thirds, which is about 15 (senators)” said Sen. Tin Htut-Myint of the School of Engineering. Slightly more than half of the 50 senate seats remain vacant.

Sen. Matt Haynes agreed that waiting until after the Senate elections would better represent students’ opinions.

“How would you feel if you were a student, possibly with no real concept of what’s going on — and you realized it only took, say, 14 people to change the way (you’re) governed?” asked Haynes, a fourth-year political-science major representing the College of Humanities and Sciences.

“Would you feel better knowing that it was 14 people or knowing it was 26?” he asked. “Would you feel better knowing not even half of a full Senate is voting on this bill? What’s more realistic for the student body?”

Some students agreed with Haynes and Htut-Myint.

“Considering we have (almost) 30,000 people here (at VCU) and only 22 are making decisions, I think there should be more,” said Colette Duffy, a second-year student. Duffy, who has yet to decide her major, suggested that she thought more senators could create more voices and broader opinions on debated legislation.

Audra Aversa, a third-year music-education major, agreed with Duffy.

“I think there should be 50 people (a full senate) to vote because if they want 50 (after elections), they should wait for 50,” she said. “If they go with 22 (senators) they’re undermining their idea of equal thought.

“Fair is fair.”

Aversa said she was concerned about the decisions the SGA now makes for the student body.

“If it’s that close between 12 (senators) and 13 (to equal a majority), they should think it over again,” she said.

The main opposition for waiting until after Senate elections came from Ali Faruk, the SGA director of elections, who said the senators were misusing their debate time.

“Look at what we’re doing right now,” he said. “We’re arguing about numbers, 14 versus 26. I think that’s silly. I would have rather spent this time talking about concerns you guys have and talking about whether or not it’s good for the student body.”

He continued by saying he feels students have had ample time to study the new constitution.

“There’s been more than a week,” he said, responding to Haynes’ remarks about senators having five or six days before elections to advertise the new constitution reforms.

“I sent a copy of the draft constitution to the CT weeks ago, and no one took it (upon themselves) to contact me. I e-mailed everybody I could,” he said. “Honestly, while some people are interested and some people looked over it (the constitution), the vast majority of the people are apathetic and that doesn’t bother me at all that much because my job is to give them the opportunity.”

Some senators and others on the Monroe Park Campus said the SGA fails to communicate its agenda to students.

“No one with common sense is going to vote on something they haven’t read,” Aversa said. “I think they (could) even hand out little 5×5-inch fliers just saying what (the constitution revision) is and how to find out about it.”

She also suggested the SGA visit the student commons and classrooms, plus post tabletop ads in the Shafer Court Dining Center.

“If you aren’t aware you can’t do anything to change anything,” Aversa said.

Faruk, however, said he doesn’t think the amount of time students had to read the constitution should be debated.

“They (the student body) haven’t just had five days to look at the constitution; they’ve had months,” he said. “I think what’s best for the students in the long term is getting them a better constitution.”

After voting for the revised constitution, SGA president Zmarak Khan thanked senators for their debate and concerns, saying he wanted to meet with those who were uncomfortable about voting.

“Those of you (senators) who abstained… I really would like to talk to you because, even though (the constitution) passed I’m concerned,” he said. “I’m still interested in letting you know that this is not the wrong decision that we made here.

“If you don’t think that 23 people are enough (to vote on legislation), I would suggest you resign from your seat because these are the 23 people that elected you also.”

Now approved by the Student Senate, the constitution will go to the student population and eventually to the Board of Visitors for a vote.

Copies of the old and new constitutions can be found on SGA’s Web site.

Senate votes
On voting for the constitution:
Yes= 11
No= 10
Abstention= 1

On voting to approve the new constitution
Yes= 16
No= 0
Abstention= 6
Voting Senators= 22

Members of the Constitution Committee
LeaAnne Eaton
Ali Faruk, director of elections
Kelly Carnes, head of student activities and university relations.
Zmarak Khan, SGA president
Ali Khan, clerk
Reuban Rodriguez, adviser and
dean of student affairs

SGA Constitution Web site
http://www.vcu.edu/sga/legislative/constitution.shtml

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