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May 23, 2016

Executive Slate Pushes for Uniform Graduate Council Elections

Student Government (SG)’s General Assembly will consider a change to SG’s Election Code tomorrow that would move toward centralized and standardized Graduate Council (GC) representative elections.

The move is related to a broader push by Executive Slate to bring the various methods used to select GC representatives into agreement with one another and with SG’s governing documents. Some GC representatives are objecting to the change, which they feel does not account for the individual needs of their various schools and divisions.

Though General Assembly’s bylaws require GC to be elected directly, GC’s 15 divisions and schools have in practice developed a wide range of methods for selecting representatives in the years since those bylaws were adopted.

Because the bylaws already lay out standard election rules, simply enforcing the existing rules would bring GC’s representative selection processes into line, according to a memo sent out by Executive Slate last Thursday. The only change the amendment proposes would define the number of signatures GC representative candidates would need to get on the ballot (30 signatures or signatures from 2.2 percent of enrolled students, whichever is lower). The memo reads, “we anticipate elections for Graduate Council representatives to take place in Fall 2016, alongside the election of College Council representatives.”

Some schools elect representatives through direct elections held separately from school-wide SG elections; others have their representatives appointed by local representative bodies that might themselves be elected or appointed by local deans, including some Dean’s Councils in the divisions. The tiny Institute for Molecular Engineering (if the amendment to the Election Code passes, a candidate for the IME would need two signatures to put their name on the ballot) simply has its representative appointed by its dean. Other much larger divisions have had no formal process, and have had spotty representation on GC.

“This isn’t a proposal. Our governing documents—as currently written—state that all Assembly members should be elected by their respective constituency. In that sense, this isn’t a proposal—it’s just the process that our governing documents provide for and that we will begin to follow,” fourth-year SG President Tyler Kissinger wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon.

If GC wanted to continue choosing representatives through a variety of methods, the bylaws would have to be amended, according to Max Freedman, chairman of SG’s Election and Rules Committee.

In its memo, Executive Slate said that centralized GC elections would improve graduate student engagement with SG as a whole. Though more graduate students have voted for Executive Slate and their liaison to the Board of Trustees in recent University-wide elections than in the past, they still participate at much lower rates than College students. Executive Slate also suggested that representatives elected through this process would be more accountable to their constituents and independent of administrators.

“I’ve been [on] many different sides of political debates at UChicago. But I never really thought I’d be arguing against folks who think that students shouldn’t be given the chance to elect their own representation in Student Government,” Kissinger said.

A variety of local methods is complicated to run and difficult for constituents to understand, Kissinger wrote in an e-mail. A centralized system, he said, would prevent schools and divisions from going periods without fixed representation.

Miriam Tripaldi, a graduate student in the Department of Music, became a representative of the Humanities Division this January. The current system, Tripaldi said, worked well for many of the schools and divisions represented on GC, but sometimes failed divisions, like Humanities, that lacked formal systems for selecting representatives and did not always have a representative at GC meetings. Tripaldi said that a system of organized elections that allowed for differences among divisions and schools could solve that problem.

In response to Executive Slate’s position, GC co-chair Elliott Balch, a student at the Harris School, said that a variety of methods for selecting GC representatives could serve the unique needs of different divisions and schools better than a centralized election system.

According to Balch, divisions or schools like Booth or Harris that have strong division- or school-level student governments are better off choosing GC representatives alongside those governments. Balch cited the strong turnout in some local student government elections, which sometimes exceeds turnout for University-wide SG elections. Divisions or schools that are split into many different departments can benefit from a rotation of different representatives from those departments, Balch said.

By Balch’s account, GC has recently increased participation from previously disengaged schools and divisions in part by allowing flexibility in the selection of representatives.

“There were many years, like a decade, where involvement in the Graduate Council was very minimal. And that’s changed in the last year or two, and it’s changed because we found a way to make Graduate Council and Student Government relevant at the local level. I think our point is that we need to find a way to make the rules make sense for the way human beings are behaving,” Balch said.

Balch also objected to being asked to consider GC elections rules on short notice, without a chance to create an alternative proposal or hold a GC meeting between the release of Executive Slate’s memo and Monday’s General Assembly meeting. For this reason, Balch said he hoped General Assembly would vote to table the amendment.

Kissinger wrote in an e-mail to The Maroon that the timing of the memo had been motivated by a desire to maintain and build on the strong graduate student turnout in the most recent SG elections. Since the problem had been evident for a long time, Kissinger said that GC could have chosen to address it at any point.

In its memo, Executive Slate cited a referendum put to graduate student voters in last year’s University-wide SG election. When graduate students were asked whether they’d prefer to elect representatives through a centralized process run by SG, an overwhelming majority of voters said they would.

Balch responded that since the poll only captured voters already participating in the centralized SG election, and did not offer any alternative arrangements, its results may have been skewed.

Tripaldi expressed confidence that General Assembly would reach a satisfying conclusion to the question.

“The sense I have is that whatever decision will come out will be for the best, I think, for students and for whatever students can accomplish,” she said.

Until a new SG election is held next fall, Executive Slate’s memo suggested that GC continue to operate with its current members.

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