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Senators struggle with Constitutional amendments

At the ASSU Undergraduate Senate’s March 12 meeting, senators struggled with two amendments to the ASSU Constitution. One amendment was withdrawn after extensive debate, while the other was initially approved for the spring election ballot before senators realized it hadn’t received the necessary two-thirds approval.

Both amendments were put forward by ASSU Executive candidates Billy Gallagher ’14 and Dan Ashton ’14 and had been on previous notice at the Senate meeting last week. Gallagher is a Daily staffer, and Ashton is a member of The Daily’s Board of Directors.

The first amendment

The first amendment would have, if approved by voters, allocated all unspent student fees money into a Senate reserves fund, called the Undergraduate Fee Reserve Fund, at the end of each year. Before a revised version was sent out Tuesday morning, the money would have instead been allocated to a President’s Discretionary Fund.

Gallagher and Ashton spoke to senators and visitors about the purpose of the amendments and the alterations that were made to them, beginning with the amendment to create the Undergraduate Fee Reserve Fund.

“The bill just recognizes that there’s this enormous problem that there is $600,000 in student funding that isn’t spent every year,” Ashton said. “It gives the Senate the ability to figure out what to do with it.”

During open forum, Hunter Kodama ’14, the incoming financial officer of Dance Marathon and a peer advisor at Student Activities and Leadership, spoke against the amendment.

Kodama said that there are “very valid reasons” why special fees groups can benefit from having large reserves funds and cautioned the Senate against voting the amendment onto the ballot.

“Putting it on the ballot is a very bad idea because it runs the risk of a bad bill ultimately still passing by a technicality,” he said. “The system that exists right now is 40 years old, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t change it – I think it is broken to an extent. But we shouldn’t be changing 40-year system in matter of two weeks.”

Several visitors at the meeting, including Stanford Student Enterprises (SSE) CEO Neveen Mahmoud ’11, expressed concern that the bill would raise student fees and result in what Mahmoud referred to as “irresponsible short-sighted fiscal management.”

“Lack of responsibility is particularly important when we are at a place where we get so many resources we are underutilizing, but that doesn’t mean we should err on the other side and go crazy,” Mahmoud said. “It’s problematic to enact policy that will diminish or erase the influx of buffer fund money without policy about how it will be maintained.”

Gallagher and Ashton decided to withdraw the bill until the student body could discuss it during spring quarter. Gallagher said that they planned to reintroduce the amendment to either the current Senate or the new Senate in hopes of holding a special spring election to vote on it.

The second amendment

The second amendment stipulated that the joint bylaws of the Senate and Graduate Student Council (GSC) can determine that a number of seats on the Senate are reserved for upperclassmen each year. A previous version had explicitly set aside five seats for upperclassmen.

Senators and visitors also voiced concern about the second amendment and argued that setting aside Senate seats specifically for upperclassmen would not solve the problem of the low number of upperclassmen running.

Senator Kimberly Bacon ’15 said that most current senators decided not to run again because many of them want to study abroad next year. Two years ago, the Senate passed a bill mandating that senators remain on campus for the entirety of their terms.

Others argued that upperclassmen avoided running for Senate for other reasons, including the fact that the Senate has a reputation for being ineffective.

“One thing I think would be cool is if all of you all changed about how you talk about Senate, shit would change,” Tianay Pulphus ’13 said. “If you use the statement, and we all use it, that the ASSU doesn’t do anything – when we talk about it like that – that is what we speak into existence.”
Eight senators voted in favor of the amendment, four voted against it and one, Christos Haveles ’15, abstained. After the meeting ended, senators realized that the ASSU Constitution states that an amendment must receive the approval of two-thirds of the Senate in order to be placed on the ballot.

The Senate currently has 13 members, and the amendment would therefore need nine votes in favor to pass. According to Senator Lauren Miller ’15, the Senate will hold a virtual meeting in 72 hours to vote on the bill again to “make sure everyone is aware of the consequence of their vote” and potentially place the bill on the spring ballot.

“We have always been using the other standard of two-thirds present and voting,” said Daniela Olivos ’15, adding that the change of standard for constitutional amendment approval “should have been stated beforehand.”

Olivos said that if the bill does not pass during the virtual meeting, Gallagher and Ashton can petition five percent of the undergraduate population in order to have the amendment appear on the ballot.

Funding bills

The Senate also voted on nine funding bills that had not been previously approved by the Appropriations Committee, including two special fees budget modifications and seven general fees bills. According to an email sent out by Appropriations Committee Chair Nancy Pham ’14, the committee “did not have enough time to meet with the groups” before the meeting. Pham was not present for voting on eight of the nine bills.
Representatives from the student groups requesting funding appeared at the meeting to answer questions from senators. None of the submitted funding bills were modified, and the Senate passed all of the bills that were voted on, totaling $15,524.49 in general fees allocations and $8,439.43 in special fees budget modifications.

The Senate passed funding bills from the Viennese Ball Committee, Students for a Sustainable Stanford, Kappa Sigma, Seneca International, SwingKids, Spicmacay, Sigma Theta Psi and Stanford Dragon Boat.

An additional general fees funding bill from the International Undergraduate Community for $430 was sent to the Senate’s mailing list during the meeting. Senators passed the bill two minutes after it was sent out.

Though Publications Board Chair Kathleen Chaykowski ’13 had already left the meeting and senator Ismael Menjivar ’15 had a question about whether or not the publication needed to provide an estimate of costs from the copy factory, senators unanimously passed a $1,518 Publications Board bill for El Aguila.

  • trisha_stanny14

    Dan Ashton seems a little power hungry to me..wasn’t he in the Senate last year?