By Kurt Chirbas
The Graduate Student Council (GSC) last Wednesday approved a bill overturning eight new bylaws to the Student Judicial Charter, in part because members said they had not been included in conversations before the bylaws were adopted.
The decision came nearly five months after the Board on Judicial Affairs (BJA) first adopted the bylaws and a day after the Undergraduate Senate, in a split 7-7 vote, failed to pass a counterpart bill that would have overturned the same bylaws.
“I want to emphasize that this bill, for me and for everyone I talked to, isn’t about sticking it to the BJA,” said Trevor Martin, GSC co-chair and a second-year graduate student in biology, who voted in favor of overturning the bylaws. “It really is about starting a process of working with the BJA to create a new set of bylaws, which can be more agreeable to everyone. We really look forward to working with them in the future.”
The two student legislative bodies, the Undergraduate Senate and GSC, will each take up a bill this week to form a joint committee on Judicial Affairs. Members from both bodies said they hope this proposed committee will ensure greater communication between the BJA, the GSC and the ASSU in the future.
GSC members who voted to overturn the bylaws said their decision was motivated by two factors: first, the lack of input from the greater Stanford community before the adoption of the bylaws and, second, the content of the bylaws themselves.
The BJA is a 15-member University committee composed of six students, six faculty members and three administrators. The board meets twice a month and is tasked with overseeing, clarifying and regularly reviewing the Student Judicial Charter of 1997. The Office of Community Standards (OCS) is then responsible for enforcing the charter and bylaws.
On May 21 and June 4, the board voted to add eight new bylaws to the charter—the first such change in more than eight years.
According to Miles Seiver ‘14, a BJA member last year and BJA co-chair this year, the board collectively spent hundreds of hours working on the new bylaws before members voted to adopt them.
“I can’t quantify how much time we spent last year in subcommittee and at meetings thinking about these issues and coming to the conclusions that we did,” Seiver said at the Undergraduate Senate meeting on Oct. 22, while arguing that the new bylaws should be kept. “Wordsmithing it. Making sure that it’s tight and right. Going back and forth. Agreeing and disagreeing…these are not bylaws that came out of nowhere.”
But some student leaders, such as GSC Parliamentarian Paul Harold J.D. ‘14, who drafted the passed bill to overturn the bylaws, argued the BJA should have sought input from students—beyond those serving on the board—during the process.
In addition, Harold cited concerns with how the BJA chose to notify students that it had adopted the bylaws.
According to Section III.A.2 of the Student Judicial Charter, “Whenever the Board adopts or modifies its bylaws, it shall inform the community, and shall forward the text of the changes to the chair of the Undergraduate Senate of the Associated Students of Stanford University, the chair of the Graduate Student Council of the Associated Students of Stanford University, the chair of the Senate of the Academic Council and the President of the University.”
Harold admitted the board technically followed this procedure. The board, through OCS Director Koren Bakkegard, sent an email on June 11 to the four parties specified in the charter.
However, Harold said this email notification was not clear that the BJA had actually adopted the bylaws, especially since the announcement only came within the text of two attachments that had the word “proposed” in the title.
He added that the BJA also did not carry out the spirit of the charter, which states the board “shall inform the community” about any changes to the bylaws.
The Undergraduate Senate and GSC first realized in the fall that the bylaws had been adopted when Bakkegard sent a second email. In the Sept. 25 message, Bakkegard reiterated the adoption of bylaws and stated that either student legislative body had the power to overturn them at any time.
When the Undergraduate Senate on Tuesday failed to pass a bill overturning the bylaws, the decision fell upon the GSC.
“We didn’t know there would be that type of pressure on us,” Martin said. “In the end, I don’t think it affected the way people voted…but it did raise the stakes, since only one of the legislative bodies needs to overrule.”
Reid Spitz ‘14, president of the Student Justice Project, said the Senate’s decision not to veto the bylaws Tuesday also put increased pressure on him to attend and speak at Wednesday’s GSC meeting. The Student Justice Project, a new campus group, alleges that Stanford’s judicial process remains implicitly slanted towards finding respondents guilty.
Spitz said he believes the bylaws do not merely define a term in the charter or a procedure to enforce the charter and, as a result, should have been passed as amendments, which must be approved by the BJA, as well as the Undergraduate Senate, GSC, Academic Council and University President.
Besides this point, he said the bylaws are not necessary.
“It’s the Justice Project’s position that we don’t need the bylaws—we don’t need a change to the charter,” Spitz said. “The charter itself is really good…the only problem is that the charter’s not enforced. All you have to do is refer to the charter, enforce the charter, and we wouldn’t need to be passing the bylaws.”
Contact Kurt Chirbas at kchirbas ‘at’ stanford.edu.