The undergraduate student government will vote Tuesday on proposed amendments to its bylaws, which would seriously damage the scope of the resolutions it could pass and impede the ability of the council to act as a pathway for student activism. As such, they should vote down both amendments.
If the amendments are approved, any resolution passed afterward by the Undergraduate Students Association Council would only apply to the council that passed it and will only concern “student welfare issues,” which the amendment restricts resolutions to topics related to students’ health, resources, education, safety and rights.
Additionally, the amendments would retroactively limit every resolution passed by the council in its history to the exact council that passed it.
Under the changes, the USAC president could cite this new bylaw as a reason not to bring a specific resolution to the table, using the vague definition of student wellness to procedurally strangle ideas that they oppose. In order to overturn the president’s decision, it would take a vote of two-thirds of the remaining councilmembers.
When defending the amendments, however, Facilities Commissioner Ian Cocroft revealed the central problem with them: Amendments were purposefully left open to interpretation to prevent them from being overly restrictive.
This would effectively grant discretion to decide what constitutes student welfare to the USAC president. Not only that, but it would strip undergraduate students of one of the few formal means of dissent they have.
Proponents of the bylaw change point to the greater flexibility afforded to councilmembers to focus on issues with direct relevance to the student body, better utilizing the $4.5 million in student fees that go to USAC annually.
But that flexibility means that, along with allowing greater discretion, the amendments could also be wielded as a political club to beat down ideas that may be contentious. The amendments, as of now, function as a way to codify the basic political views of those currently serving at the council table. But defining what does and does not concern student welfare should not be up to a small number of student government members – it should be up to the students themselves.
Student bodies from year to year evolve. This year’s council should not limit future students’ ability to participate in activism or prioritize certain issues.
Issues that the council has voted on in the past – including last year’s controversial resolution calling on the UC to divest from companies that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – are arguably detached from issues of student welfare, but are not any less vital to invested student groups.
The ability of the council to effectively function cannot simply be boiled down to the issue of bylaws being overly broad. Narrowing the bylaws does little but restrict the council’s ability to best represent its constituency. Additionally, retroactively erasing past resolutions and starting each year with a clean slate means the same resolutions could come up year after year, a far from efficient practice.
If councilmembers are truly committed to representing their constituents, they’ll allow students as a whole, not 14 individuals endlessly debating in Kerckhoff, to decide what deserves their attention.