Complaints from many schools dominated this weekend”s Associated Big Ten Schools conference, including Ohio State University”s declaration that it would not attend future conferences unless changes were made to the ABTS constitution. Conference attendees eliminated the constitution in an emergency convention Saturday, during which a new set of bylaws were written.
Michigan Student Assembly President Matt Nolan said the bylaws establish the conference as a meeting where delegates can discuss important campus issues and make connections with student government representatives at other Big Ten schools.
“What we did this weekend was restructure the format of our conference to focus on the conference and leader development aspects, which is what people had been wanting,” Nolan said.
He said this distinction is important because under the old system, in addition to holding issue sessions, ABTS tried to pass legislation on behalf of the entire Big Ten conference, and some delegates even had visions of presenting the legislation to the U.S. Congress.
University of Illinois delegate Chris Dillion said the ABTS is not recognized by the Big Ten as a voice for all its students, and the resolutions passed at ABTS conferences often would not be enforced by the schools that opposed them.
Nolan said ABTS got off course by trying to pass legislation for the entire Big Ten.
“We”ve been a conference that pretends to be an organization,” he said.
The bylaws abandon any attempt to create a governing body for the entire Big Ten, Nolan said, adding that if the new system is successful, legislation may eventually be considered again.
Most of the delegates supported the bylaws, which were instituted by a 16-2 vote.
Ohio State delegate Kristen Savko said although the new system still needs minor improvements, it provides ABTS with a good foundation one that is solid enough to ensure that Ohio State will continue attending the conferences.
“For the immediate future, we should concentrate on networking and issue sessions,” Savko said. “(Legislation) is important, but sometimes you have to move in small steps before you can move to big strides.”
Dillion agreed, saying that because ABTS legislation “has absolutely no bearing on the institutions, there”s no point to have it until we have legitimacy in the Big Ten.”
Re-focusing the ABTS may encourage Northwestern University to attend the conferences, said Jordan Heinz, president of Northwestern Associated Student Government. He said his school rarely came in the past because of its smaller student body and status as a private university, which prevents it from trying to lobby state or national governments.
“We would be much more interested in attending the ABTS conferences if they had a more idea-sharing focus,” he said.
The only school that opposed the changes was Michigan State University, whose representatives felt that resolutions can increase ABTS” lobbying power, Michigan State delegate Missy Kushlak said.
Laura Sorenson, another Michigan State delegate, said ABTS can only increase its effectiveness by passing resolutions.
“We recognize the importance of the networking that occurs, but at the same time we have an opportunity to use our collective voice to make a bigger change,” she said.
Nolan said the new bylaws eliminate the winter conference, leaving only two yearly meetings. He said the changes were made to save schools money and prevent the repetition of issues discussed.
Changes to the bylaws also limit student delegations to six representatives although the host school can grant exceptions mandate that professional facilitators speak at issue sessions, and create an Executive Council which elects a conference coordinator each year and decides which issues will be discussed.
Nolan, who will serve as conference co-coordinator this summer with MSA Vice President Jessica Cash, said the Executive Council will provide ABTS with stronger leadership than it has had in the past and improve the quality of issue sessions.