Letter to the Community: Vote to approve amendments to the ASSU Constitution

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Dear Stanford Student Body,

While you are likely familiar with the Associated Students of Stanford University’s (ASSU’s) function and hopefully are engaged with the current ASSU election cycle, you may not be as familiar with the ASSU Constitution. The Constitution serves as the foundation for establishing the larger institutional structure. This document is lengthy and dense, weighing in at 52 pages plus an additional 110 pages of bylaws, and it is tasked with outlining definitions, clarifying duties and responsibilities and formalizing procedures. Unfortunately, a full review of the Constitution has not been performed since the 1990s, and the document as it stands does not fully reflect how ASSU currently operates. 

Since the beginning of 2021, the Constitutional Review Committee, a team of both graduate and undergraduate students holding a variety of roles both within and outside of the ASSU, has evaluated the Constitution and developed recommendations for changes to the document. In a process involving a comprehensive review of constitutional language and purpose as well as interviews with members and officers of the ASSU, the Committee has made headway in identifying key focus areas. We anticipate that a thorough and full review will continue into the 2021-22 academic year, but several key recommendations, passed unanimously by both the Undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council, will be on the spring ballot this year for you to consider.

Our Interim Report provides additional context on the review process to date and about these recommendations, but we provide short explanations below to inform you as you prepare to vote on them this week. 

  1. Gender neutrality: The committee has reviewed the Constitution and removed all gender-specific pronouns to ensure the document includes and represents all members of the student body. 
  2. Undergraduate Senate elections by Single Transferable Vote method: To better capture students’ voting preferences, the Committee is supporting a change in voting method for Undergraduate Senate Elections to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) method, similar to ranked-choice voting. Instead of merely voting for multiple candidates from a list, students would rank them in order of preference. An explanatory video can be found here.  More detail on the process can be found in the interim report.
  3. Updates and clarification to the Constitutional Council process: The judicial branch of the ASSU is the Constitutional Council, an independent body of President-appointed councilors keeping the elected branches of the Association in check. This amendment aims to make the Council more accessible and accountable to all members of the Association by clarifying the Constitution’s language regarding the Council’s jurisdiction, as well as removing contradictory and confusing provisions from the text. The general changes this amendment proposes codify the findings of past Constitutional Council cases and make procedures of the Council easier to understand for a lay student. Of the minor changes proposed from past practice, this amendment allows the Council members to discuss cases in private and also allows for the Council to provide emergency relief over the summer months until a full case can be heard with the resumption of the school year in the fall. The first change is limited in that all official actions must be taken in public with three days of advance notice and that all records of the Council continue to remain publicly available to any student. The second action is intended to close a loophole that potentially allows unconstitutional actions to be performed during the summer months.
  4. Updates to the ASSU Finances Articles: The financial system is one of the most complex pieces of the ASSU, and the banking services and grants the ASSU provides to campus organizations is a central part of that system. The constitutional language surrounding the financial system is unclear and outdated. In addition, the legislative bodies, who bear the fiduciary responsibility of the organization under these Articles, presently have a limited understanding of the structure, status and activities of many parts of the financial system. This amendment improves the clarity of the constitutional language describing the financial system, and the engagement of the legislative bodies with its management. The full text of the proposed change can be found here.

    Key aspects of changed language include the following: 
    1. Improving the engagement of the legislative bodies with the financial system by providing regular reports from the Financial Manager’s office to the Legislative bodies.
    2. Revising language around legislative reserves and VSO reserves to match the ways we have already improved our banking system, including language about surcharges used to pay accounting staff and how fees interact with the ASSU general budget.
    3. Moving Quick/Standard Grant language to the Joint Bylaws. The GSC does not use the current system as described, and the language is unnecessarily detailed for the Constitution. This language has been replaced with more generic language allowing these rules to be further specified in the bylaws.
  5. Inclusion of a non-discrimination statement in the ASSU Constitution: Currently, an explicit prohibition on discrimination is in the ASSU Joint Bylaws, but nowhere in the ASSU Constitution. This amendment adds the non-discrimination language from the bylaws to the Constitution and additionally designates protected status based on perceived or actual disability, familial status, pregnancy, and genetic information. The amendment provides that all governing documents, officers, and branches of the Association must refrain from discrimination on the basis of a variety of protected characteristics, including race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation and (dis)ability.

After close review, we strongly believe that adopting these changes offers a starting point that will adapt our Constitution to contemporary community norms and expectations for inclusivity and equity. As we continue to revise this document over the summer and into the next academic year, we will continue to update the community on our progress. In the meantime, any questions, ideas, or feedback are encouraged and welcomed at krapivin ‘at’ assu.stanford.edu. 

Signed,

The Constitutional Review Committee:
Viktor Krapivin, Co-Chair
Sherwin Lai, Co-Chair
Jamie Fine, Member
Christian Giadolor, Member
Daryn Rockett, Member
KC Shah, Member
JJ Scot Sutton, Member
Tim Vrakas, Member

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