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May 24, 2016

No Standard Rules for Graduate Council Elections

By Pete Grieve    and Adam Thorp   

Graduate Council can keep its medley of methods for selecting representatives, General Assembly decided yesterday, rejecting an attempt by Executive Slate to bring them into line.

Last night, Student Government (SG) General Assembly, which is comprised of College Council (CC) and Graduate Council (GC), approved an amendment to its bylaws by a vote of 20–7–5 that will allow GC to determine the electoral processes of its members on a division- or school-specific basis.

The amendment was introduced after Executive Slate and the Elections and Rules (E&R) committee made clear their intentions to standardize and centralize GC elections, bringing the various methods used to select GC representatives into agreement with one another and with SG’s governing documents.

Executive Slate argued that the representative selection processes were inconsistent and in some cases undemocratic, but GC representatives claim that diverse processes suit the unique needs of the various divisions and schools.

Though the 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, including direct elections and appointment by school- or division-level student government and deans.

Section 12(f) of Article II of the new bylaws will allow GC to “certify alternate electoral processes outside of the [E&R] framework for running elections on a division-specific basis by a two-thirds vote of that body.” The Chair of GC will be required to compile and maintain a list of exemptions to the E&R framework, but the processes “must involve direct election of a representative by the students or a divisional council.”

The amended section states that the GC representative selection processes “may not obfuscate the will of the voters by permitting area deans to appoint representatives unilaterally.”

The new selection processes will have to be submitted as “Divisional Election Codes” to the Chair of E&R by spring quarter, and any divisions that do not do so will have their representatives elected under the standard E&R framework. Under the new election processes, GC representatives’ term dates and lengths will be able to vary by division.

Earlier in the meeting, E&R passed by a vote of 21–1–10 a minor amendment to the election code that specifies the number of signatures that graduate students will need to obtain within their division to get on the ballot if their elections are conducted under the E&R framework. Candidates will need 30 signatures or signatures from 2.2 percent of enrolled students by the registrar’s count, whichever is lower.

During discussion on that amendment, GC representatives asked what would happen to recently elected or appointed members if the bylaws were fully enforced and the signature amendment passed. One GC member said that his school’s election was coming up in a week, and asked what would happen to its GC seat.

E&R member Joshua Savitt said GC representatives currently are technically not legitimately elected members under the SG bylaws. Graduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees Katie Perri and Biological Sciences representative Haley Stinnett questioned how they could vote if they aren’t legitimate members. Kissinger clarified that rules would go into effect after fall SG elections.

Kissinger added that the conditions for implementation are not ideal, but that he thought now would be the best time because divisions would have five months to adjust before elections in the fall. Stinnett said that some GC members would prefer to have the changes implemented next spring.

GC co-chair Elliott Balch said he “embrace[s] the goal of direct elections,” but criticized enforcement of the E&R framework across the board on the grounds that it would reduce turnout in some divisions relative to current election processes.

“The thing is that elections that happen locally tend to be more salient in the divisions and schools, and you can see that by the turnout,” he said. “At Harris for example, the last SG election this quarter had a 29 percent turnout, but our local election, also this quarter, had a 51 percent turnout. At Booth, it was a 21 percent SG turnout; the local turnout was more like 60–70 percent in the local divisional election. So if we want to encourage participation, the representation on the grad council needs to be salient to the people who are voting.”

The electoral amendment to the bylaws was introduced two and a half hours into the meeting. Fourth-year CC representative Clark Halpern argued that the amendment should be tabled to allow Assembly members to have more time to review it. “The mere fact that [Balch] proposed this at 6:52 [p.m.] while we are already in session is kind of crazy to me,” he said. “This is a very important thing where we are shifting power away from a centralized [SG].”

CC representative second-year Calvin Cottrell pointed out that the Assembly has voted on important issues on short notice in the past. He added that everyone was operating on an accelerated timeline as the signatures amendment was proposed on Thursday and this was the last meeting of the year. Cottrell also encouraged CC representatives to listen to GC members.

“These processes will not obfuscate the will of the voters by permitting area deans to appoint representatives unilaterally,” he said. “I think that goes to a lot of the democracy problems that we had before. I think we should listen to the grad students and what’s best for them.”

Second-year CC representative Cosmo Albrecht expressed concern that the GC electoral processes would be under the discretion of GC and not the Assembly. Stinnett said that the amendment would strike a balance between E&R and GC authority, because divisions would be able to use the E&R framework if they needed it.

Editor’s Note: This article includes sections from another article that ran online Sunday night previewing Executive Slate’s plan to enforce the Assembly bylaws in GC elections.

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