OPINION: Vote No on the Student Senate Referendum

By: Christopher Cornell

Like many current and former students, I was surprised on Tuesday to receive an email from the student body president that the SMU Student Senate had passed resolution S-106-09 which proposes to abolish the graduate affairs officer (GAO) position and create a student body treasurer position.

I will be voting no.

A little background on myself: I was elected four times as an SMU senator in the 99th through 102nd student senates and was elected to serve as the senate parliamentarian in my second and third terms. In my final term, I spent several senate meetings as acting speaker or acting parliamentarian and passed the Texas bar exam to become a practicing attorney today. In short, I know the process and how it is supposed to work.

First of all, the resolution ties together two separate issues. There should ideally be one referendum regarding the creation of the treasurer role and a separate referendum regarding the abolition of the GAO. If the two are linked, then I am afraid that I, and many other graduate students, will be voting no in order to preserve the GAO role despite the potential merit of creating a Student Body Treasurer.

S-106-09’s premise for abolishing the GAO is laughably inconsistent. It assumes that the creation of the Moody School will fill the current role of the GAO to coordinate the graduate school populations. It is already hard enough to get graduate students to run for and fill their allotted senate seats, let alone get the respective graduate school councils to meet. Removing the one elected spokesperson for graduate student interests on the possibility that a not-yet-existent school might later do so solves nothing.

Additionally, based on my four terms at the law school’s Voting Council of the Student Bar Association, I feel confident in saying that the graduate councils generally do not want to be consolidated. Rather, they are mostly OK with their limited senate representation as long as they receive their respective student activity fees and are otherwise left alone to manage their own schools and programs.

The creation of the treasurer position faces different though less complicated issues. Senate should instead consider consolidating the existing finance committee chair position with the treasurer role since most of the proposed treasurer’s responsibilities are already exercised by the finance committee and its chair. It may also be worth abolishing the position of senate comptroller since the comptroller’s stated constitutional duty to “maintain all monies of the Student’s Association” seems to be swallowed up by the proposed treasurer position.

Resolution aside, senate’s attached resolution on Tuesday’s email broke with the proper formatting of past resolutions. Upon first glance, I was under the impression that the resolution did not actually propose to abolish or add anything since nowhere in the body did it specifically outline what text would be added to or deleted from the constitution.

Senate has, in fact, posted their proposed changes on a separate PDF linked on the referendum’s site. But merely passing a resolution, and then, after the fact, posting a document to a website that has not been voted on as a formal part of a resolution does not cut it.

As a senator, I wrote and passed several resolutions, S-13-04-12 and S-14-03-13, that actually amended the student senate governing documents and the student body constitution. In the 99th and 100th senates, we revised many of the student senate’s internal governing documents. Two of the resolutions to do so (S-13-02-03 and S-14-03-16) ended up being 44 and 9 pages long respectively. They conformed to the proper procedure, and, in the end, they both passed.

Some might argue that this process is tedious. I’d reply that it is supposed to be.

You do not want any elected body to have the power to take action without immediately spelling out the nature or implications of that action. Lack of clarity aside, I have no problem with creating a student body treasurer. But, if student senate wants to propose the creation of a student body treasurer and the removal of the GAO, then it needs to pass a resolution that includes and specifically dictates the resulting constitutional text that will be added or deleted as has been done in the past.

Senate needs to go back to the drawing board, consult earlier, properly handled resolutions, then write and pass resolutions that spell out what text would be added to or removed from the constitution. Until they do so, the proposed referendum should be considered illegitimate. Should it proceed, the student body should send a strong statement against this sloppy process by voting no.

Christopher Cornell ’15 and ’16 is a practicing attorney, M Award recipient, and a student in the Master of Liberal Studies program in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development

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