ASM Goals: Bylaws and Constitutional Changes

[This is part of my series of ASM goals for Spring Semester. Read them all here]

Move the United Council (UC) relationship out of the ASM constitution and into the ASM bylaws. Let me be clear right off the bat: I’m not proposing changing anything with UC. Everything, from a day-to-day standpoint, will be exactly the same. We would mirror the constitutional language right in the bylaws. Changing the constitution requires an item on the spring ballot.

Right now, ASM council members are required to attend a UC event per semester. That’s fine by me. I’m indifferent to United Council. It’s got some good people, but I don’t think it’s a very useful ally in anything ASM wants to get done.

I have serious doubts about the future of United Council, and at some point after I’m long since done with ASM, the inflexibility of having the UC requirement be constitutionally defined could be a problem. For example:

a)    UW Madison could pull out of United Council. With no organized opposition, and a campaign for it, UC barely won a Yes vote with only 53% to 47% 51.8% to 48.2% the last time around. I hope they don’t do this, but since conservatives on this campus hate UC, never get a real victory on campus or have any real ideas, and seem content to be the Party of No, it does seem like a well-organized conservative effort to defeat UC in 2011 would succeed. That would be a problem for ASM, which by its constitution has to participate in United Council. If the relationship were in the bylaws, if Madison pulled out, ASM could amend its bylaws quickly to reflect the new relationship.

b)   The bigger problem is what happens if UC folds or changes into something else? Most of the other 4-year schools have pulled out, leaving most of the two-years and UW-Madison and a handful of other 4-years (UWEC, Stevens Point, and Parkside). If they lose a few more schools they’re going to have a real problem keeping everything going. If UC folds, then the ASM Constitution says “ASM most participate in an organization that doesn’t exist.”

The time to fix your roof is on a sunny day. I think UC and ASM is going to be a problem down the road, so let’s fix that problem now before it rains. And again, from a practical standpoint, everything continues to work the same way as before.

Fixing the bigger problems with UC is not a high priority for me, but I support other people working on it and would obviously like to see it work better. Some UC thoughts:

A)   ASM needs to figure out what it wants from UC, and clearly explain that to campus, if we want to spend any time with UC. This is complicated by the fact that UC doesn’t report to ASM, instead UC is responsible to UW-Madison students directly.

B)   ASM needs to figure out how to disagree with UC without pissing everyone off. The geographical regent representation bill was a terrible bill and it’s good that it was vetoed, but it was a priority for UC. ASM just sort of threw up its arms and let UC go for it anyway.

C)   UC needs to raise its fee. It’s been $2 for far too long (7 years?), and $2 doesn’t go as far as it used to. What they really should do is get permission from the Regents to increase it at 50% of base tuition percentage increases per year automatically.

D)   The maximum time between referenda should be extended, to at least 3 years, but 4 would be better. Right now, campuses have to revote every at least every two years on if they should stay UC member campuses, which means UC staff is spending a lot of time on the road assisting “Vote Yes” campaigns. That’s a total waste of time that could be better spent working on actual student issues. Every 4 years is plenty good, and if a campus got all hot and bothered it could call an early referendum at any time, just like they can now.

E)   Long term, what is the relationship between UC and Student Reps, which is the organization of UW Student Government presidents? This is an uncomfortable question.

F)    This is probably an incredible non-starter, but if too many schools pull out of UC and UC is in danger of folding, ASM should look for ways to directly assist UC – in particular, use some of our staff to help organize UC, or incorporate UC staff into ASM. (Some would probably call this ASM taking over UC, and that’s probably not that far off from the truth. It’s got some advantages – UC money is MRF money – Mandatory Refundable Fee money, which can do some things that seg fees can’t.)

Pass an amendment simplifying the student council term language in the ASM constitution. When we worked on fixing Freshman representation in August, we had a huge fight – not because people didn’t want to fix the Freshman eligibility problem, but because people wanted to fix more than just Freshmen. For example, it probably makes sense for most of the professional schools to elect their representatives in the fall, and to give transfer students the opportunity to run and vote in the fall as well. However, we’re stuck with the current language in the constitution, which says everything is elected in the spring, except the Freshmen.

The debate we had in August was very passionate, and a lot of people swore that we’d return to the issue and do something for transfer students and new graduate and professional students, but so far nothing has happened. I’m not sure why this is.

I don’t know what the right election process should be. We struggled with it on the ASM constitution committee last year, and in the end didn’t come up with anything better, and decided just to punt to the future, and fix it in the bylaws. However, with the current ASM constitution, we can’t fix it in bylaws.

So, I think the right approach is to punt again, but to give the 17th session the flexibility to come up with a better fix. What I want the 16th session to do is to ask the student body to approve an amendment, to make the constitution read:

“Student Council representatives shall serve for one year. No person may serve more than two full terms as a SC representative. Terms for representatives elected on a spring ballot shall start May 1. Terms for representatives elected on a fall ballot shall start November 1.

The student council may, with three/fourths vote, shift the election of a seat to a spring or fall ballot. In such a case the term may expire before one year has passed, but in no case shall a term be extended past one year”

That’s it. We’ll also immediately put the current setup (everyone starts in the spring except the freshmen, who start in the fall) into the bylaws. Then, once the amendment takes effect, next year the council can twiddle with moving more seats to the fall. However, anything the move to the next election will have to be immediately reelected – for example, if you move the law seat from the spring into the fall, no one’s term runs for 18 months while they wait for the next election. All that could happen is a term could be shortened. It takes a 3/4ths majority to move a seat around, because it has to be a damn good idea to move a seat, and it shouldn’t be used as a way to get rid of a representative the council doesn’t like.

There should be an explicit bylaw that allows a position to decline some or all of a stipend. Right now, effectively no grad student can serve in a paid position because it will force them to give up their RA/TA/PAship. The combination of the ASM job and their assistantship would push them over a 75% time appointment, which the University won’t allow. This isn’t a question of can a grad student find the time to put in the hours – some can, some can’t. The problem is that they can’t do them all on the UW’s dime.

We need to fix the bylaws the explicitly set the agenda for the first meeting. For two years in a row, ASM has had trouble electing a chair at the first meeting, so the bylaws should be fixed to deal with this possibility – the Vice Chair, if elected, should be able to take over the meeting.

We need to clarify, in the bylaws, how to declare a seat vacant. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. That’s why we still haven’t filled the special student ASM seat – the SEC should have declared a winner for that seat but never did. We need protection from a small majority being able to declare an opponent’s seat vacant, probably with some way for council to override the chair.  I don’t think it’s that complicated of a bylaw change to get right.

We should give a good scrubbing to the bylaws, and delete crap we don’t use, like the Foundation Hiring Committee, and fix the numbering and awkward language. This is a big pain of a project and it’s probably not going to get done, but it’s needed.


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