One seat and how it is filled has become a hot topic with the Student Government Association (SGA). The SGA Senate is comprised of 35 voting members. A recently-defeated constitutional overhaul would have added a seat, as well as changing how those seats are filled.
Article V of the proposed constitution includes information about which groups get automatic seats in the Senate, and which must vie for the 12 at-large seats. This section became the subject of contention when the document came before a February vote of the student body.
The issue at stake was whether primary councils should have an automatic seat in the senate. The other option would be opening those seats to the entire student population to be selected by the student senate.
All parties agree that the constitution needs to be updated, but there are differing opinions about how large of an overhaul is necessary. For now, the work of updating the document will fall to next year’s SGA, since the new officers will start their terms in May.
Proponents of changing the constitution said that it would provide adequate representation for the student body as a whole, according to Juan Bettancourt-García, president of the Student Government Association.
Opponents worried that the changes would disenfranchise some of the smaller voices on campus, according to Rakeem Golden, president of the Minority Student Organization Council.
The senate is currently comprised of 12 primary councils with one senator each, as well as nine secondary councils with one senator each. Additionally, there are two voting seats for SGA executive officers.
Primary councils, including each of the 12 schools on the Volker and Hospital Hill campuses, would have remained the same under the proposal. The seats currently reserved for secondary councils, executive officers, and an additional seat, would have become at-large seats.
A diversity advisory committee was also proposed as a permanent standing committee that would speak on any issues of importance.
The secondary councils that would have lost their guaranteed voices include the Inter-Fraternity Council, International Student Council, Minority Student Organization Council, Residential Life, National Pan-Hellenic Council, and Pan-Hellenic Council.
SGA and the Senate found that under the current constitution, the typical attendance at senate meetings is 25 out of 35 senators. Another issue discussed by the Senate’s constitutional committee was the lack of accountability for primary council representatives, according to Bradley Hook, former UMKC student and draftsman of the proposed constitution.
To implement a constitutional change, the document must be approved by the constitutional committee, the full senate, Vice Chancellor Mel Tyler, and the student body.
“Our proposal was quite audacious since it was not an amendment but the passing of a new document,” Bettancourt-García said.
The necessary two-thirds vote of approval by the student body was not reached in this election, according to Dr. Angela Cottrell, director of the Office of Student Involvement.
All senators, except the author of the constitution who abstained, voted in favor of the document. Prior to this vote, the document had been read aloud and senators had the chance to relay information to their councils.
After the vote to approve the constitution in the senate, many secondary councils reversed their votes, according to Hook.
As word spread around campus that a vote of the entire student body would be held, many students and student organizations engaged in dialogue that had not been seen in the past.
“It’s exciting to see students engage in the process,” Cottrell said.
The official position of the SGA Executive Board was to remain neutral, but many took personal stances.
“Students need to get involved in creating a solution rather than sitting back and pointing the finger at the failings of SGA, or voting ‘no’ in the hopes that they can continue abusing a broken system for personal gains,” Hook said before the vote.
Not all students felt that this was the appropriate measure.
“The proposed changes were not only overzealous and incredibly ambitious, they were detrimental to the diverse needs of our student body,” Golden said.
With the spring semester half over and SGA executive elections coming up, the plan is to focus on the election code of the current constitution’s bylaws.
“Our legislative agenda as an Executive board going forward is to abide by the current by-laws and capitalize on the momentum to foment student involvement,” Bettancourt-García said. “I have, however, encouraged students to join the Constitutional Committee to work on much needed election code and various changes SAFC requires.”