College Council’s Censorship is Anti-Democratic

Do you know where your $92 Student Activities Fee (SAF) is going? A Wheel reporter tried to find out by attending a recent College Council (CC) session, but he was removed because CC went into an “executive session.” When the reporter asked to read copies of the bills passed during the session, he received versions with financial information redacted.

Student government institutions like CC are meant to give students a voice in how their SAF is spent. The procedure described above completely negates that purpose by closing off meetings that determine funding. Though CC claims to be protecting clubs’ financial privacy, they are destroying the necessary mechanisms of transparency and accountability. These claims are unfounded: Student Government Association (SGA) publicizes funding requests they receive, and the Wheel has published student government budgets in the past. CC should follow the lead of SGA, their parent organization, by holding legislative meetings open to the student body and releasing financial documentation.

To justify the procedural changes, CC Vice President Hemal Prasad (19C) and Chief of Staff Jacob Hicks (18Ox, 20C) both cited Robert’s Rules of Order, a rulebook for legislative bodies adopted by CC in Spring 1971. While neither the latest revision of CC’s constitution nor standing rules reference Robert’s Rules, the rules would allow those bodies to call for private, executive sessions. However, the rules of procedure of CC that Hicks sent to the Wheel should supersede Robert’s Rules, and they fail to mention any such executive session. What’s worse is that CC is currently using executive sessions for legislative activity, which, though permitted under Robert’s Rules, violates their spirit and undermines transparency.

CC has also said Student Government Services (SGS), an office of University employees hired to assist student government process finances, has urged them not to make financial documents public. SGS’ claim is based on a poor interpretation of the SGA constitution, which reads,  “All meetings of the Student Legislature shall be open … [and] the papers of SGA shall be considered public records.” SGS has repeatedly interpreted that clause to exclude financial documents when Wheel reporters requested financial documents. Such an interpretation is completely unjustified by the Constitution’s text, and interpreting the student Constitution is outside SGS’s purview.

SGS officials are unelected. These administrators do not pay into the SAF, and there is no constitutional mechanism through which their interpretation should hold any weight. If CC concedes that SGS can interpret the student constitution, they are handing sovereignty over to a wholly undemocratic body. Further, using SGS’s interpretation to close legislative meetings also breaks from the norms of other student government bodies; none of them actively remove observers while passing bills.

This would be less of an issue had student government bodies not repeatedly demonstrated a need for oversight and electoral accountability. While CC has largely avoided scandals, its members should continue to act openly and responsibly instead of hindering public access to information.

It’s worth noting that CC’s use of executive session followed the Wheel’s decision to regularly send reporters to its meetings this semester. Preventing media access to CC meetings severs a vital link in communication between the student government and students, many of whom do not have the time to regularly attend meetings. CC’s decision is an unnecessarily adversarial stance toward the press that ensures students will vote in the spring with incomplete knowledge of their elected representatives’ performance.

We understand that funding diverse student organizations and organizing CultureShock are difficult tasks that may require heated debate, but that does not justify anti-democratic action.

As long as Emory students are required to pay the $92 Student Activities Fee, the financial process of student government organizations should be open to scrutiny.

The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Kimia Tabatabaei is a freshman legislator on College Council and recused herself from this piece.

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