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2014-08-07

Friday, December 19, 2014

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UMEC begins to revamp constitution

By Michael Spaeth, Daily Staff Reporter
Published August 6, 2014

In the wake of a Central Student Judiciary ruling in March that invalidated the results of the Engineering Council’s December election, UMEC has commenced work on a new constitution and bylaws.

Engineering senior Kelsey Hockstad and Engineering graduate student Kyle Lady sued UMEC in early March for improperly conducting its December Executive Board election and violating their rights of equal protection and democratic representation. Among other violations of UMEC’s constitution and bylaws, the students that became president, vice president and director of administration — all positions on the Executive Board — never ran for the position they were set to serve in.

Additionally, the petitioners argued that UMEC’s constitution and bylaws were in violation of the Central Student Government All-Campus Constitution because UMEC claims to represent graduate students even though it cannot collect dues from them. UMEC does collect dues from College of Engineering students.

In their March ruling, CSJ ordered the UMEC Executive Board members to resign their positions to be replaced by interim board members until the next March election. CSJ also ruled that while UMEC’s constitution and bylaws were not in violation of the All-Campus Constitution because graduate students are still covered by the College of Engineering, UMEC can limit graduate students’ participation because they pay dues to Rackham rather than the College of Engineering.

Engineering senior Max Olender, UMEC President, said the CSJ case brought greater attention to the problems with UMEC’s constitution and bylaws and emphasized the need for further reform.

“Even though CSJ ruled that neither UMEC constitution nor bylaws were in violation of the Central Student Government All-Campus Constitution, it revealed a lot of issues that had to be addressed, and it was really sort of eye-opening for those of us who at the time weren’t involved in UMEC,” Olender said.

In April, the UMEC General Council passed a resolution creating a constitutional convention to write a new constitution and bylaws. In early May, Olender began reaching out to engineering departments and student organizations to recruit delegates. By the end of June, convention leadership positions had been finalized and informal online discussions about the content of the new constitution and bylaws began in early July. The group is set to begin forming an outline and rough draft over the next few weeks.

While the delegates are still in the brainstorming stage of the process and have not met in person as a full group yet, there are several issues that are already being discussed.

One of the most important issues is student representation. Many of the General Council representatives are members of engineering student organizations. At least one member of each of these organizations must attend General Council meetings if the organization wants to receive funds from UMEC.

Engineering senior David Hershey, chair of the constitutional convention, said this has led to general disinterest among General Council representatives and has made it difficult to get people to care about UMEC’s work.

“We’re looking at things like moving to a Senate model or an elected model so that the people that sign up to be on a legislative body are people that want to be in student government and care and are passionate about it and can make a difference,” Hershey said.

Additionally, convention leaders believe that the current 10-person Executive Board is too large and should be reduced in size or converted into a committee structure. Other issues being discussed are funding models, new committees and a clearer statement of UMEC’s role and mission.

Olender said the current constitution and bylaws are inconsistent, poorly written and contain references to passages that are either irrelevant or nonexistent.

“It reads as if it’s an extremely old document and it’s just continuously updated and sort of patched up to remain relevant and address the current issues, and at some point, it doesn’t make sense to keep putting on patches and it makes a lot more sense to just start over,” he said.

The delegates hope to have a final draft completed in October so the new constitution and bylaws can appear on the November ballot, coinciding with the Central Student Government elections. The entire student body of the College of Engineering would be able to vote on the new constitution and bylaws.

“I’m extremely optimistic that what comes out of this in October is going to make a really big difference and I can’t wait to see what the document looks like then,” Hershey said. “I think it’s going to be a great basis for a student government and something that we can be proud of moving forward as a college.”