Shreya Pabbaraju/Editorial Board contributor
In light of last week’s Student Government Association (SGA) meeting during which legislators discussed the contradictions between the Constitution and the Code of Elections, SGA must revise its constitution.
If two students examined SGA’s Constitution and Code of Elections, they could each walk away with different interpretations that could both be valid. Such inconsistent interpretations have led to infighting among SGA members which is detrimental to their ability to collaborate and work on undergraduate initiatives.
Elections Board members are appointed by the president, according to Section 4 of the Constitution, which states that all non-elected members and officials “serve at the pleasure of the President of the SGA.” While SGA President Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) interpreted this phrase to mean he could fire former Elections Board chair Justin Cohen, Elections Code Article 9, Section 2 states that Elections Board members can be removed by a vote of the legislature, causing some to question whether Ma’s decision was constitutional.
In addition, the expulsion procedures for members of the legislature are unclear; the Constitution says the legislature can expel legislators, but it fails to specify how many votes this would require. Students should be able to clearly know of the threshold of removal for elected and appointed members of SGA, as this information is crucial for holding officials accountable.
SGA has also failed to update some governing documents on their OrgSync portal, and others, such as the Finance Code and SGA Bylaws, have not been posted online for multiple years. The Rules and Procedures of the Student Legislature, adopted in 2014, has only had one revision since its publication: the addition of Resolution 47sl38, an “Omnibus Rules Revision and Reformatting.” The lack of revision demonstrates the incompetence of the SGA to effectively serve our current student interests. And even two years after the split from Graduate Student Government Association (GSGA), SGA has yet to adjust its documents to reflect the distinction of the bodies, with the same document including descriptions of defunct positions such as a “Vice President of Graduate Affairs.”
SGA’s Governing Documents Committee, formed late last Fall, should look to peer institutions’ practices. The SGA should consolidate their documents to avoid discrepancies. Vanderbilt University (Tenn.), for example, has clearly defined procedures for vacancies and removal from office for both elected and appointed officials laid out in its student government constitution, while Emory’s procedures are found in both the Constitution and Rules and Procedures of the Student Legislature. Washington University in St. Louis’ (Mo.) constitution outlines a much clearer process for how to recall a student official. The procedures allow for input from constituents and demand that petitioners provide ample evidence indicating the official acted inappropriately enough to warrant such action. Although laying out those removal and impeachment proceedings might appear tedious, it is imperative that Emory have formal proceedings outlined to prevent the recent confusion around removals from happening again.
Rather than debating constitutionality, SGA should be focused on addressing issues that affect their student constituents. To ensure that SGA’s time is spent effectively, their governing documents must be precise. That the student legislature can be bogged down in debates over the constitutionality of an executive removal — prompting the constitutional council chief justice to resign — illustrates that SGA must revise its constitution.
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.