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SMC drafts new Constitution

Liz Harter | Tuesday, March 24, 2009

After almost a year of discussions and revisions, the Saint Mary’s Student Government Association (SGA) Constitution is online to be voted upon the student body this week.

As far as she could tell, the Constitution hadn’t been revised since 2000, Sarah Falvey, student body vice president and chair of the Constitution Committee, said. The Committee is a group of student representatives as laid out by the Constitution meant to be representative of the entire student body. It consists of members from each major board, each class board, each hall council, clubs and off campus.

Falvey presented the Constitution to the Board of Governance (BOG) at the March 16 meeting for ratification. The document passed unanimously.

“Our old Constitution was out of date and a lot of the rules didn’t make sense,” Falvey said. “It was time to streamline student government and make it clear exactly what its role and purpose is.”

The Constitution came under fire earlier this school year when its unclear wording created a debate among students, SGA Executives and College administrators when the SGA Executive Board allotted funds for a stipend for themselves in the SGA budget. Some students and Executives said that BOG was supposed to get to vote on the budget, but others stated that BOG did not have to vote and the Executive Board had the final vote. The Executive Board allowed BOG to vote and the budget, without a stipend allocation, passed after weeks of deliberation.

The new Constitution eliminates any debate as to who gets the last say on the SGA budget, by stating that SGA, which is what BOG will become under the new document, will “provide final approval” of the budget and “recognized clubs and organization financial allotments.”

Falvey said this specific wording, along with other sections like it, were put in the document to “balance the power” of SGA.

“It was our intention to clear up confusion about when commissioners played a role in voting,” she said.

The new Constitution does not, however, clear up any confusion as to whether or not the SGA Executives can collect a stipend. It does not address “whether a stipend can or cannot be granted to any and all members of student government,” Falvey said.

One of the main reasons the budget was not passed with the stipend was that many BOG commissioners were not comfortable with the idea of eight students receiving money for doing their jobs, but the old Constitution did not say the students could not allot themselves a stipend.

Falvey said the Committee didn’t feel as though they should draft any parts of the Constitution about the stipend because it “primarily affect[s] the new administration, [so] we will let the new board draft them and vote them into place.”

She said she doesn’t believe not addressing the stipend issue in the new Constitution will cause the same confusion as it did last fall because it could be addressed in the Constitution’s by-laws.

“By-laws, unlike a constitution, are easily amended and are meant to outline specific procedures of an organization, which is why things like budgeting procedures which might include the granting of a stipend, and elections procedures were moved there,” she said.

One of the biggest changes outlined by the new Constitution is the elimination of the BOG title. Instead, BOG will be called SGA.

“After asking students around campus to distinguish between BOG and SGA, we found that most students had no idea what the difference was,” Falvey said. “So, as a committee, we thought it was unnecessarily confusing to have an organization known by two names, and decided to streamline it.”

The Constitution also redefines the election procedures for various boards under what would be SGA if the document passes.

The Student Activities Board (SAB) coordinator position will be replaced by the SAB president, an elected position. The change was made at the recommendation of current SAB coordinator, Michele Peterson, and her board, Falvey said.

“We felt that the person responsible for planning the bulk of activities on campus should be elected by the students who are participating in those activities,” she said.

The Class Board elections will also be changed so the positions of class treasurer and secretary will no longer be elected, but rather appointed by the class president and vice president.

“We wanted to be consistent,” Falvey said. “On all the other boards, only the president and vice president are elected and they appoint the other members of their executive board.”

The purpose of the Student Diversity Board (SDB) would also be changed with the new Constitution. The old Constitution stated that SDB is supposed to unite the College community to provide an “open forum for all cultures, histories, traditions and religions.” The new Constitution will change that purpose to specifically state that the SDB is in place to support the cultures, histories, traditions and religions of “multicultural and international students.”

It also states that SDB is in place to “provide support for ethnic students and increase their enrollment and graduation rate from” the College.

“This part was written specifically by the Student Diversity Board and was accepted at their recommendation,” Falvey said. “I believe the intent of the new statement was to represent the varied heritages of all Saint Mary’s women, not just a select few.”

For more information on the Constitution, a copy of it can be found online at http://www.saintmarys.edu/~bog/Final_revision-1.pdf

To vote on the Constitution, visit the Web site http://www.saintmarys.edu/~surveys/sgaconstitution.htm?id=nVDd