The entire Emory student body will vote in a referendum that would amend various parts of the Student Government (SGA) Constitution on Tuesday. It will be attached to SGA election ballot, which students will receive via email on Monday and have until April 2 to electronically vote.

The Legislature passed the amendments unanimously at their Feb. 17 meeting.

Some of the amendments are minor changes to the wording of the Constitution. Others enumerate powers to appoint and remove officers that already existed in the bylaws but were not present in the Constitution and one affects the amendment process itself. These latter amendments have raised some controversy among students and election candidates.

Some have criticized SGA for the process by which they amended the Constitution, which some believe was rushed, and that SGA did not publicize the amendments enough.

Amendments to the Constitution not only require approval from the Legislature but also need a simple majority vote of the student body through a University-wide referendum.

The amendments were authored by College senior and SGA President Raj Patel, executive members of the SGA, members of the Constitutional Council – the judicial branch of SGA – and members of the SGA elections board.

Each of the eight questions on the ballot will correspond to all the proposed changes within one article.


University Senate Authority


The amendment to Article 10 proposes that the University Senate must also approve constitutional amendments, not just the student body and the Legislature.

The University Senate is the highest governing body of the University under the Board of Trustees and is made up of faculty, employees and students.

“The University Senate right now can already overturn anything SGA does,” Patel said. “It’s a policy-making body for the entire University.”

Patel said this measure is necessary because a student referendum could theoretically be passed solely by undergraduate students because they make up a majority of Emory students. He said the University Senate needs to have final say so that one division alone does not overpower or make decisions that would affect every other division.

Patel also said other divisions of the University Senate, such as the faculty, already implement this practice, where faculty bylaws are subject to University Senate approval.

“It would not be in my best interest to give up any type of self-governance ability, and I don’t really think this is in any way constraining our self-governance,” he said.

College sophomore and College Council (CC) Budget Chair Reuben Lack said this amendment is the most problematic.

“My concern is that if [the University Senate] can actually veto internal process changes … [it] gives the University’s authority too much power over something that should only be students’ domain,” Lack said.

Lack added that we should not unnecessarily limit the students’ power to change the Constitution. He also said, if the amendment passes, it would be extremely difficult to overturn it because the student body would have to get the University Senate’s approval to remove itself from the process.

“Right now, I think it might be harmless in the short-term,” he said. “I’m just concerned that the dialogue hasn’t been there, over what I do think is a significant change.”


SGA’s Impeachment Power


The amendment to Article Four gives the legislature the power “to expel any member of the Legislature and remove all other individuals from office, including student organizations.”

This means SGA can impeach any legislator or divisional council officer, as well as officers from student organizations.

Some people like College junior Zach Youngblood are critical of this amendment because it extends SGA’s impeachment power to student organizations.

SGA currently has the constitutional power to impeach SGA members of the executive and legislative branch, but the power to expel student organization officers did not previously exist in the Constitution.

However, Patel said divisional councils and SGA have always had this power in the chartering bylaws, but they have never been enumerated in the Constitution. Under the analogy comparing the SGA Constitution to the U.S. Constitution, the chartering bylaws are similar to U.S. federal laws.

Under chartering bylaws, SGA has the power to revoke a club’s charter. Patel said if club officers fail to meet their duties under the chartering bylaws, they qualify for impeachment by SGA or the divisional council under which the club is chartered.

He added that all students are guaranteed due process through the Constitution and, in the case of impeachment, the Legislature would have to adequately prove an egregious enough violation to warrant removal.

For example, according to Patel, a legislator that misses more than four legislative sessions technically qualifies for impeachment, but the legislature decides whether a violation warrants calling someone into question.


Other Amendments


Other amendments to the Constitution include changing the number of Constitutional Council justices, which is currently seven, to be the same as the number of academic deans, which is currently nine. This amends Article Six of the Constitution.

Article Five’s amendment removes the Chief of Staff from the cabinet of SGA because the executive cabinet is meant to be made up of University-wide positions. The Chief of Staff is not, because the role pertains only to the SGA executive board and the SGA president.

The amendment to Article One recognizes that former University President Sanford S. Atwood, who was president at the time of the conception of the Constitution, and the University Senate at that time approved and supported the Constitution.

Patel said this was necessary in order to establish the supremacy of the Constitution.

The amendment to Article Eight gives other executive members of SGA and other branches, such as the Constitutional Council, the ability to appoint officers outside of SGA. That power originally solely belonged to the President.

Patel cited the example that the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Council may now appoint people to the Board of Elections. Patel said these changes would limit the powers of president.

The amendment to Article Seven establishes the Secretary of SGA, whose job it is to update the SGA bylaws. The Legislature has already approved the creation of the Office of the Secretary position; the amendment simply codifies it into the Constitution.

Article Nine’s amendment does not significantly change the powers of the divisional councils but simply updates its terminology to be consistent with current practice and the language in the bylaws.

Raj said the questions that will appear on the ballot and the amendments will be emailed to all students before the elections.


The Process


Lack, who is also an SGA executive vice presidential candidate, emphasized his position during the Wheel debates. He encourages students to vote against the amendments because some believe SGA rushed through the process.

Others candidates at the debate, such as SGA vice presidential candidate Andrew Chang, were critical that SGA was trying to pass too many amendments at once.

However, Patel said all amendments should be passed at once because the wording needed to be uniform. In the past, different SGA presidents changed various parts of the Constitution, which Patel said was not uniform.

“I know [the amendment document] is longer than ideally you would like it to be,” Raj said.

Patel added that many of these amendments have been discussed as far back as when he was an SGA legislator last year.

Both SGA presidential candidates, College sophomore and SGA Speaker of the House Kim Varadi and College sophomore and SGA Vice President for Communications Jon Darby, said they advise that students vote against the referendum.

“I do not believe that the legislators knew the details of the changes to the constitution when they voted,” Varadi wrote in a statement to the Wheel. “There needs to be more debate about the extent of the amendments before they are implemented. I believe in furthering the discussion on the referendum.”

Some students were also unaware of the referendum until Lack’s editorial published in the March 25 issue of the Wheel and before they were discussed at the Wheel candidate debates.

“I don’t think two weeks or me running an editorial is sufficient for us to have that dialogue,” Lack said. “It gives the impression that [SGA] wanted to ram this through in the last few weeks.”​

– By  Rupsha Basu 

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The Emory Wheel was founded in 1919 and is currently the only independent, student-run newspaper of Emory University. The Wheel publishes weekly on Wednesdays during the academic year, except during University holidays and scheduled publication intermissions.

The Wheel is financially and editorially independent from the University. All of its content is generated by the Wheel’s more than 100 student staff members and contributing writers, and its printing costs are covered by profits from self-generated advertising sales.