Before I begin, let me state that even though I serve as the Chief Justice on College Government cabinet, I am writing this article as a student-at-large. That said, my viewpoints have been influenced by my work with the Honor Code Council, but the perspectives that I am sharing are not written on behalf of either CG cabinet or the Honor Code Council.
On March 30, a petition to call for a referendum vote was circulated to select members of the student body. I say “select” because the email was blind copied to the Wellesley community, with certain people left off the thread. From an Honor Code perspective, I question the ethics of removing some recipients, including one of the current Student Organizations and Appointments Committee (SOAC) Appointments Coordinators, who spearheaded the original proposal.
Earlier that same month, College Government senate passed a constitutional amendment to split the SOAC into two separate groups headed by two different members of cabinet. The College Government Vice President would chair the appointments committee while a newly created position would oversee student organizations. The reason for doing so was to better represent student voices and to save $3,000-6,000 of the student activities budget.
A referendum, according to the College Government constitution, forces a vote on a measure passed in senate. In this case, the ballot will ask the student body to vote on the original measure: a vote “yes” will split SOAC into two different committees while a vote “no” will leave the committee as is.
The petition that was circulated, however, asked students to sign if they saw the senate vote as procedurally incorrect, arguing that quorum had not been met during the session. If such were the case, the vote should not have taken place. It is the right of any member of the student body to voice concerns about CG practices. There is, in fact, a council dedicated to handling exactly those issues: the Senate Policy and Ethics Committee (SPEC). Concerns about the voting process should be handled by SPEC, while concerns about a senate measure should be voted on in a referendum.
To me, the nature of the petition itself rejected constitutional principles. This document misrepresented an issue in order to deceive students into signing a petition that had nothing to do with the actual senate measure. The email commented on the legitimacy of the vote that took place. That is to say, this petition questioned the means by which the measure was passed, but not the measure itself. To date, no arguments have been circulated that critique the actual amendment that passed senate.
Questioning the ethics of a vote should merit presenting the measure to senate a second time, so that the same body that has witnessed all of the debates regarding this proposal and has shaped its development is voting again. There is something positive to be said about the entire student body being able to weigh in on a large-scale change such as this one, but that raises additional questions: first, what merits a “large-scale change” and who makes that decision? Second, this proposal is fundamentally a routine alteration to the structure of a committee. In the fall, senate voted on changes to the makeup of Elections Committee (EC), which were changes of a similar magnitude. That amendment removed members of CG cabinet from a committee. Should the entire student body have voted on that as well?
The purpose of the referendum clause in the CG constitution is to enable students to choose which measures they would like to engage with further. The fact that we have never, in recent memory, called for a referendum indicates how committee changes are often ignored or uncontroversial. The SOAC vote, to a large extent, is also no longer stirring dissent. No counterarguments have been presented since the measure passed senate and many SOAC members have publicly voiced their support.
Moreover, if the entire student body were obligated to vote on all changes, that would force everyone to learn CG policies, procedures and measure proposals. Senators are designated to do exactly that; they dedicate their time and efforts to this endeavor. Even if senate is not a perfect representation of the student body, it strives to be. If students want more of a say in CG policymaking, constituents should hold their senators accountable. The burden of compelling senators to come to senate now falls on the College Government President (CGP) or the Secretary-Treasurer. However, if CG is to function as it is meant to, constituents should make sure that their senators are attending senate regularly to learn about and debate proposals. The role of the senator becomes more representative if they come to senate to represent their constituency, rather than because of a CG attendance policy.
In conclusion, this call for a referendum is illegitimate. The petition asked students to comment on the means by which the measure was passed, not the measure itself. No counterarguments have been presented regarding the amendment itself. Had the petition offered criticisms of the measure, which students signed out of concern, then this referendum would have had a legitimate basis. That never happened and, as such, this petition shows a wanton disregard for constitutional ethics.