Amidst mounting criticism and concerns, the ASSU Governing Documents Commission (GDC) decided to cease attempts to ratify a proposed new ASSU Constitution this election season. The decision was made shortly after a March 19 Joint Legislative Meeting, in which the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council (GSC) did not provide the two-thirds majority in each legislative body required to place the Constitution on the spring ballot.
While Senate and GSC representatives expressed mostly favorable impressions of the proposed Constitution, the bill failed to receive enough votes at the Joint Legislative Meeting, mostly reflecting representative absences during finals week rather than sustained objections to the document’s provisions. The Senate was three votes short of the requisite for passage, while the GSC was one vote short.
Former ASSU executive officials, however, circulated emails in the days leading up to the Joint Legislative meeting, identifying areas that they foresaw as being problematic in the proposed Constitution.
“In light of the ongoing dispute involving ASSU alumni…the ASSU GDC has determined that it is unable to continue pursuing the ratification of the new ASSU Constitution,” wrote ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 and Parliamentarian Alex Kindel ’14, GDC co-chairs, in an email to student government representatives. “We do not believe that to do so would be in the best interests of the current Association.”
”Irreconcilably out of date”
Cruz and Kindel called the existing Constitution, which has not been updated since the 1970s, “irreconcilably out of date.” They added that reform is necessary to ensure the “long-term efficacy and sustainability of the ASSU as the representative body of Stanford students” and identified 15 flaws with the existing Governing Documents, in particular, that are in need of change.
They listed the current Constitution’s lack of distinct boundary between ASSU entities, under-representation of co-terminal and transfer students and violation of federal law as primary concerns.
At 32 pages, less than half the current document’s length, the proposed Constitution includes significant changes, such as the consolidation of Executive, GSC and Senate bylaws and authority. It also adjusts the standard of proof that students are subject to in the case of disciplinary proceedings, to align the standard with federal law.
According to Kindel, other suggestions, such as a reduction in the number of Senators from 15 to nine, were discarded due to feedback before voting. There was also discussion about reserving Senate seats for upperclassmen; removing the requirement that ASSU legislation must exclusively address issues that “uniquely and directly” affect Stanford students; and establishing looser criteria for closing ASSU meetings to the public.
The Constitution and its review process received extensive criticism from ASSU alumni.
Five former ASSU executive officials wrote an email to ASSU and GSC member lists on March 12 expressing concerns with the proposed Constitution. In particular, they identified a requirement that special fees groups petition twice for ballot placement each year and the removal of a Rights of the Accused section of the current Constitution as the “two most salient” issues.
Although they agreed that the current Constitution could use improvement, these alumni called for a delay of at least one quarter in the document’s ballot submission to allow more thorough public review.
“We are confident that additional problems of such magnitude exist in the current draft and have yet to be identified,” the former executives wrote.
The concerns of the five former executives were echoed and further expanded in a March 19 email co-signed by 34 ASSU alumni. The letter outlined 32 additional concerns with the Constitution and similarly disapproved of the review period’s brevity.
“Everyone had good intentions and saw all of the good things that it was doing,” former ASSU President David Gobaud ’10, who endorsed both letters, said. “But [they] didn’t understand the magnitude and the consequences of what they were doing, both intended and unintended.”
One of the principle objections of the five former ASSU officials and the 34 signatories concerned the deletion of the Rights of the Accused from the new Constitution.
“The Rights of the Accused section has been completely removed and replaced with a couple watered down bullet points,” wrote Kamil Dada ’11 M.A. ’12, a GSC member and former Daily editor in chief, in an email to the Senate and the GSC.
Cruz and Kindel noted, however, that the current Rights of the Accused are not in accordance with federal law and must be revised.
“If we keep [the Rights of the Accused] in for Fundamental Standard violations, we violate the Dear Colleague Letter of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR),” Cruz said at a March 13 Senate meeting. “If Stanford does not abide by the Office for Civil Rights, it is put in jeopardy of violating Title IX, which means that it is no longer eligible for federal funding.”
Cruz and Kindel also said a Rights of the Accused clause is redundant in the ASSU Constitution because such protections are included in the University’s judicial charter. ASSU Vice President Stewart MacGregor-Dennis ’13, however, agreed with alumni and former officials that retaining the provision in the central Constitution might provide extra protection.
“[While] the Rights to the Accused might be represented in the judicial charter as well, I think it might still make sense to keep it in the Constitution because that is the ultimate constraint,” he said.
The hurried discussion and compromise surrounding the judicial protections clause reflected a more general sense of urgency as the ASSU rushed to complete the document in time for spring elections – and the end of its members’ terms. To be placed on the spring ballot, the document required two-thirds approval from both legislative bodies by March 21, 21 days before the election.
The short time period that the Constitution, released Feb. 26, was available for public review was a principle criticism of the GDC’s effort. The document, which Cruz consistently emphasized to be a “working draft,” continued to undergo editing until the morning of a March 14 Joint Legislative Meeting.
“This did not give anyone sufficient time to read through the document and note the ramifications of the changes,” Dada wrote in an email to The Daily.
Cruz countered that all members of the community, including some of the alumni who signed the criticizing letter, had been invited to give feedback throughout the GDC’s yearlong investigation.
“I think from the charter of the GDC in the spring of 2011 until the voting to place it on the ballot – not to confirm the Constitution, but to place it on the ballot…that that year of process was a long enough period of public input,” Cruz said.
The battle over the ASSU Governing Documents continues to be a clash between those eager for urgent reform and those wary of unintended consequences. Dada emphasized that his concern stems from the importance of the Constitution – which must also be approved by the Stanford Board of Trustees following the student body vote – in maintaining student and ASSU independence.
“This is the most important document to the ASSU and arguably the most important document for the student body,” Gobaud concurred, “It deserves due process.”
Cruz agreed, standing by his personal sentiment that reform of the governing documents is necessary for student welfare.
“The structure of the ASSU does matter to every single Stanford student, even if they don’t see exactly how it [does],” he said. “This is important work that I hope is carried into the future. But as an outgoing ASSU President, I believe that it is no longer my place to advocate on these points.”
Marshall Watkins contributed to this report