SGA constitution reform misses the mark

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 19, 2015

At issue: SGA proposes lower threshold for constitutional changes.

Our take: SGA should redouble its efforts to increase voter turnout.

Currently, the Student Government Association’s constitution requires at least 10 percent of the college’s student body to vote on any constitutional amendments, and a majority of those voters must approve the amendment. But SGA would like to change that. This week, SGA unanimously approved a problematic amendment to remove that 10 percent requirement, meaning it will head to the ballots next week. If ratified, future constitutional amendments would only need a simple majority to be approved.

According to Chief Justice Shekinah Beepat, this amendment is necessary to more easily change what she called outdated language in the constitution. And even though the current group of representatives may have the best of intentions, this change would set a detrimental precedent and open the door to unsupervised structural changes.

This may seem like an esoteric issue, but it could set the direction for the next generation of student governance at Emerson, when stewardship is far from guaranteed. The implications of this measure’s passage should be deeply concerning to students who want a voice among their school’s representatives. The SGA is a small group of students elected by a slightly larger group of students. In last year’s presidential election, only 112 students, or 3 percent of the undergraduate body, cast votes. With a selective group of people in power, this amendment would strip an already limited system of checks and balances over the SGA constitution. If SGA wants to make constitutional changes, it only makes sense that a quorum of its constituents would need to approve it.

The SGA constitution is a long document—with 13 sections and over 5,000 words—and details important regulations like election procedures, term limits, and official responsibilities. As of now, for example, an officer may hold a position for one academic year, unless re-elected, according to Article IV, Section One. This policy, however, could be revised with just one student’s vote if this amendment is approved. Moreover, it could affect policies that affect nearly all students on campus, including funding procedures for student organizations, recognition for new clubs, and channels of communication with the administration and Board of Trustees.

SGA has done more this year with voter engagement by highlighting the upcoming election on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a welcome first step for an organization whose own efforts have long been overshadowed by its candidates’, from the number of Facebook group invitations and flyers that make their way into every inbox and onto each bulletin board. So it’s even more ironic, then, that SGA would simultaneously propose this measure that effectively lowers the voting expectations of the student body. There’s much time being spent getting out the vote this year only to, potentially, obviate that effort in the future.