Author: Rachel Cohn
Members of four branches of the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) are in the process of reviewing a proposal for a new constitution created this summer. The proposal deviates from the current constitution most significantly in sections outlining the process for removing elected officers, the method in which student fee increases are evaluated and the inclusion of the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB).
The new constitution proposal came as a response to two controversies last spring surrounding the ambiguity of certain powers and processes in the existing constitution: the impeachment of the ASOC Senate president and the Honor Board veto of a proposed increase in student body fees to fund DEB.
“Due to everything that happened last year, I think it really brought some light to some ambiguities and some confusion with authority and powers and the structure of ASOC overall,” Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein said.
To address these problems, Himmelstein selected students, including those who had previously served on Senate or Honor Board, to create a student working group that crafted the constitution proposal over the summer.
In addition to reviewing the most current version of the ASOC constitution, students were asked to look over a number of other constitutions from universities and colleges around the country. According to Himmelstein, common language and sections that tend to appear in university constitutions informed many of the proposed changes which appear in the current proposal.
One such change is the process of impeaching elected officials. The existing constitution does not address the removal of officers, so processes were established separately by Senate and Honor Board in their respective bylaws.
As it is currently written in the proposal, any ASOC member can petition to remove an elected official from office, although it does not outline what impeachable offenses will be. The petition will then need to be signed by at least 20 percent of the students that fall within the officer’s constituency and submitted to the ASOC branch of which the officer is a member. Other members of Senate or Honor Board will then inform the officer of the petition, who has 24 hours to respond to claims. Within an additional 48-hour period, the impeached party and the impeaching party debate their claims at a public forum. Ultimately, the officer’s constituency votes on whether or not to remove the officer from office.
At an Honor Board meeting Thursday, Honor Board jurors expressed the need to clarify what claims would be appropriate grounds for impeachment and whether or not the 20 percent requirement should be raised.
Under the proposal, Honor Board jurors would also be subject to impeachment. Jurors raised concerns about how this policy could compromise Honor Board’s effectiveness, given the difficult and sometimes unfavorable decisions they have to make in their capacity as jurors over cases in which students are believed to have violated the honor code.
ASOC Senate President Theo Savini (senior) agreed that there is a need for more clarity on which types of claims would be appropriate grounds for impeachment.
“There are a lot of things that still need to be reviewed within the draft itself,” he said. “I would hope that someone wouldn’t get impeached for breaking-up.”
Senators and Honor Board jurors also questioned the proposal to change the review of student body fee increases. While the current constitution requires that Honor Board review all changes to student body fees, the proposal would leave the decision up to a student body vote.
According to Himmelstein, this change is a response to last year’s ballot initiative advocating a constitutional amendment to allow student fee increases to be determined by a student body vote, which was ruled invalid due to a clerical issue.
“Students were in favor, generally speaking, of having a student fee increase going in front of a student body,” Himmelstein said. “So we wanted to honor that.”
Some Honor Board jurors believe they should maintain the power to approve student fee increases, with the option of an appeal process led by a student vote.
“We do see a reduction in Honor Board powers and a perceived increase in Senate powers,” Honor Board Chair Malena Ernani (junior) said. “The question is how do we get the student body involved in a way that makes sense and in a way that is fair.”
The constitution proposal also includes DEB, which did not exist when the current constitution was ratified in 2013. As outlined in the proposal, DEB will be composed of nine voting members, who will be selected through an internal application and interview process. There will also be a faculty advisor and a non-voting Senate liaison, according to the proposal.
The proposal will continue to be debated throughout this month as Himmelstein collects student comments from the different branches of ASOC. After reviewing all comments, the student working group who created the initial proposal will revise the document and then release it publicly to the student body. Following the release of the document, students will have the opportunity to express their concerns before the document goes to a student body vote. According to Himmelstein, the revised version of the constitution proposal is likely to be released to students in the week leading up to fall break.
“I want student input, I want students to feel like they were heard, and while it would be too lofty to suggest that every student is going to love this constitution … I do want them to feel like overall they can get behind it, ” Himmelstein said.
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