Correction appended: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that students can start applying next week. They can apply now.
The Michigan Student Assembly will launch a constitutional convention in the next few weeks to revise the University student constitution — all in hopes of bringing legitimacy back to a document that many students on campus don’t even know exists.
MSA student General Counsel Jim Brusstar, who also serves as secretary of the convention, said the student constitution — which was written in 1986 — needs some major revising.
“It’s very broken up,” he said. “It doesn’t have the kind of logical flow that it should. It’s not very clear about some things. There are some parts that are even contradictory. I mean there are even some spelling errors.”
Though Brusstar has a detailed knowledge of the constitution and knows what he would like to see changed, he said discretion will ultimately be left up to the students involved in the convention.
“We wanted to involve people who might not otherwise be involved,” he said. “Ultimately everyone does have a stake in this.”
The student constitution outlines the structure of all student governments, establishes the rights of student groups and students and states the way in which these groups interact, said Brusstar.
The constitutional convention will have the chance to revise any of these structures, from the large-scale questions like the purpose of student government to more practical questions like how MSA distributes funds to student organizations.
MSA officials hope to make the document more relevant to students by inviting them to take part in the revision process. Students can apply to be a part of the convention on MSA’s website now. From those applications, MSA President Abhishek Mahanti, will select about 40 delegates to serve at the convention.
MSA representatives will hold about a quarter of the spots at the convention.
Mahanti said revising the student constitution has the potential to improve the way students interact with each other and with their student government.
“The all-campus constitution governs the way that all the student entities on campus work, whether it’s student government or student organizations,” Mahanti said. “By re-writing that, we can get student orgs to work together in a new, positive way.”
Michael Rorro, MSA vice president, will chair the constitutional convention. He said it will re-examine how MSA serves student groups on campus.
“The entire structure of how we function is really coming into light and coming into question,” Rorro said.
After the convention comes up with a revised document, they will vote to put the document on the ballot and then the student body will vote on it during the March MSA elections, Mahanti said.
Three fifths of the voting student body needs to approve the document for it to be enacted.
Rorro said he hopes the convention will be able to approve the document by the end of January to allow for two months of promotion on campus before the vote.
In the process of rallying applicants, the leaders of this convention have the added burden of proving the relevance of the constitution to the student body.
Rorro said the topics that are most important to students are funding for student groups, the Central Student Judiciary and the power that MSA has to amend the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
“Every single funding source from student fees for student orgs is governed by this document,” Rorro said.
The students on the convention will have the power to change how money is distributed and even what percentage of the MSA’s income will be given to student groups.
In addition to amending the funding structure, delegates to the convention can also amend the organization of the student judicial court. CSJ has the power to solve disputes between student organizations, within student organizations and students can file a CSJ suit against MSA.
In the current constitution, there are no specifics as to who can serve as a justice on CSJ, which allows for the possibility of corruption. While this hasn’t come up yet, the current constitution, for example, does not prevent the MSA president from sitting as a justice.
“I mean there’s not that many cases through CSJ, but if we clean up the process and let people know about it, there might be a couple hundred CSJ cases a year,” Rorro said. “Which means that MSA is putting people on this body and that’s actually a really important thing.”
The constitution also gives MSA the power to amend the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, which students agree to when they apply to the University, Rorro said.
MSA — along with executive officers of the University, and Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, the leading faculty governing body — has the power to amend the statement.
This year, MSA will consider proposing seven amendments to the Statement. There have been no proposals from University executives or SACUA, Rorro said.
By taking the power out of the hands of the assembly, Rorro hopes that the politics involved in MSA that have made large-scale change difficult in the past will not get in the way at the convention.
Rorro cited last year’s effort to get rid of political parties, which failed because MSA representatives were each sponsored by a party.
Along with the major changes that this convention could make to the constitution, Rorro said that this process has the potential to unite student organizations.
“This could, as a side effect, could really bring campus together,” Rorro said.
He added that the creation of the convention shows MSA’s commitment to change.
“We languished control of our organization,” Rorro said. “This assembly had a huge amount of faith with the student body.”