Last month, the Central Student Judiciary ruled, with considerable irony, that the Michigan Student Assembly’s attempts to amend its constitution were unconstitutional. This was due to the fact that constitutional convention delegates were appointed rather than elected by the student body, a clear violation of the rules for amending the constitution. Though MSA leaders are now pursuing another method of rewriting its constitution, many of the same concerns still exist — namely, that the process is too exclusive. They should actively involve students in the process to rewrite its constitution, and students should join the effort.
There are several different ways that MSA can revise its constitution. At the start of the semester, MSA leaders had formed a constitutional convention whose delegates were picked by President Abhishek Mahanti from a pool of interested applicants. But now that CSJ has disbanded the convention on the grounds that these appointments are unconstitutional, MSA leaders are using a different method. Former members of the convention have formed a student group — Students for Progressive Governance. If the group garners 1,000 signatures from students., its proposals will be put up for a campus-wide vote.
The problem is that this student group doesn’t appear to be much different from the constitutional convention. It consists of about 20 members from the original convention, including MSA leaders like Vice President Mike Rorro, Student General Counsel Jim Brusstar and Rules and Elections Committee Chair Michael Benson. But more concerning, membership in the student group is only available to students who are nominated by a current member and approved by a majority of group members. While that might be good enough to survive CSJ scrutiny, it shouldn’t be good enough for the group.
After all, the constitution mandates a student-wide election rather than appointments for delegate positions for a reason. Students for Progressive Governance is a body with a considerable amount of power to impact students’ lives. Keeping a strong hold over who can join this student group is all too similar to appointing convention delegates. In both cases, MSA leaders have too much control over which students participate in the constitutional revision process.
While deficient student interest in MSA is a problem — with student turnout at only about 9 percent in the recent election — it’s unlikely to be improved by a constitutional revision process in which you have to know someone in the group to get in. If there are passionate students out there interested in reforming campus government, such an approval process won’t encourage them to be active. All students should be able to join the group without undergoing a nominating and approval process.
In addition to discouraging interested students, restricting the group’s membership will only give credence to arguments that assembly leaders don’t tolerate dissent. By opening up the group to any interested student, MSA leaders can demonstrate that they don’t want any views to be excluded. Such a policy could only benefit the group, and by extension, MSA leaders.
Despite its shortcomings, MSA has the power to weigh in on important University issues on behalf of students. If students want MSA to be making the right calls — and for administrators to listen — they need to show more interest in the assembly by voting in its elections and participating in groups like Students for Progressive Governance. But the process has to be more accessible for students to care.