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In Focus: Reconstituting the constitution

Amanda Michaels | Friday, January 21, 2005

Only in the political arena could a duty performed in the name of efficiency turn into a drawn-out and complex process – irony at its finest, and exactly what student government leaders entered into when they took on the awesome task of restructuring the student union constitution at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year.

After months of sometimes heated, sometimes philosophical, sometimes nit-picking debate, a constitution granting a drastic reorganization to the student union was approved the night before its new leaders were to take office.

Even with flow charts to guide the way, the new system can be disorienting, including for those acquainted with the old one.

But while a confusing organization is never a plus, the restructured constitution produced a student union with more across-the-board student representation and power – an agreeable benefit to the addition of more layers of bureaucracy.

To put the new system into perspective, the old one must be clarified.

Prior to this year, the student body president was truly the head of the government. Under the president was the vice president, who chaired the Student Union Senate, which was comprised by a set of standing committees.

The president was also connected to the Executive Cabinet, made up of a representative group of government bodies including the Office of the President, the Student Union Board, the Hall Presidents’ Council, the Club Coordination Council, the Class Councils and the Off-Campus Council.

The Judicial Council president was the student body president’s link to the Judicial Council, as the student union treasurer was the bridge to the Financial Management Board.

In this organization, the power to legislate was largely isolated in the Senate, while the power to implement fell to the president – with the guidance of the Executive Cabinet. Then-student body president Pat Hallahan found this division to be hurting the productivity of the student union, and led the charge for a massive overhaul.

Though the revamped constitution features many sweeping changes, one of the most noticeable is the transformation of the Executive Cabinet into the Council of Representatives. Members from every governing body sit on COR, and because of this complete representation, the group was originally granted both the power to approve the budget and amend the constitution. The latter power has since been transferred back to the Senate.

COR joins the two divisions of the new system together – the policy branch and the programming branch.

The policy branch, presided over by the student body vice president, is comprised of the Executive Policy Board and the Student Senate. The presidentially-nominated chairs of the six standing committees (University Affairs, Residence Life, Academic Affairs, Diversity, Gender Relations and Oversight) sit on the Executive Policy Board, and at least one senator must sit on every committee.

This design forces the Office of the President to work more closely with the Senate’s standing committees.

The programming branch is led by the chief executive assistant – formerly the chief of staff. Previously the chief of staff was solely in charge of running the Office of the President.

The rest of its members are made up primarily of the second-in-commands for the bodies most concerned with programming: CCC, SUB, HPC, Class Councils andOff-Campus Council.

As current chief executive assistant Dave Baron explained, the Executive Programming Board assigns a specific role to the student leaders who once lacked a defined function.

The fusion of legislative and executive powers into the Student Senate may create a relatively weaker student body president and less immediate results, but subsequent decisions will have been funneled through a group of men and women representing every undergraduate at Notre Dame.

Likewise, the division of the government bodies into two different branches and their reintegration in COR may create more levels of bureaucracy, and thus more debate and red tape, to drag ideas through.

Delegating specific functions to each branch, however, can lead to increased efficiency if utilized correctly, and the slower process of approval ensures that every proposal that makes it out bears the approval of the widest band of representation the student government could afford.

Though it took up the student government’s time for almost a year, the effort produced an imperfect yet decidedly better and certainly laudable result.