Student Senate has completed the overhaul of its constitution and bylaws after ratification by the General Assembly and endorsement from faculty and administration (via the Student Life Committee). Here’s what it means for next year’s Senate.
The major change has been to the representational structure, in which senators will be elected by classes instead of geographical districts, according to senior Senate President Sam Claypool and senior Vice President David Barton. But given the degree to which the governing documents have been changed, little will be different about the day-to-day functioning of Senate.
“Our old constitution got bogged down in legislating practice,” Claypool said. “Practice should be able to change and be fluid over the years.”
They explained how constitutional amendments were required whenever Senate wanted to change a practice and that the document should be vague and open to interpretation, as the new ones have been written. The impetus for this overhaul, they said, was born of discontent in Senate with “legislating practice.”
“I think everyone at the beginning of the year was frustrated,” said Barton, who was also chair of the Special Committee on Rules (SCOR) which drafted the new governing documents.
“I took a look at our governing documents, and [they didn’t] make sense to me. I don’t know how it made sense to the president; I don’t know how it made sense to the person I was sitting next to,” Barton said.
Despite the vague quality of the new documents, they maintain the general structure of Senate as it is now. Among the major changes is the fact that representatives will be grouped and elected by expected date of graduation (rather the current system of geographical district representation).
“[This] will make the senators feel like they’re a part of who they represent,” Claypool said.
Barton explained that a part of SCOR’s work was to survey student governing organizations at otsimilar schools to determine whether Knox should adopt class-based representation.
“I don’t necessarily feel that we have that kind of niche community spirit,” Barton said, explaining the move away from district representation. “Certainly we have community spirit as a whole, but we’re not so connected to the people in our suite, let alone three floors above us, let alone a building over.”
He continued to explain how the geographical districts have become less definable as the campus has grown to include more houses.
“This opens the doors a bit more,” Barton said. “Before, there was kind of de facto representation by class by dividing up [campus] a certain way. … This makes it more explicit, ensuring fair distribution among the classes.”
Claypool agreed, saying that senators in the future “will feel more tied to someone from their class than to someone they randomly live next to.”
The new constitution also includes some new voting rules: only the president, vice president, treasurer and secretary will have a vote on the Executive Board (Exec) and they will no longer have a vote in the General Assembly. The standing committee chairs will be considered non-voting, ex-officio members of Exec, but they will still vote in the General Assembly.In the current system, both officers and committee chairs have a vote in both governing bodies.
In a more general sense, Barton was excited that there was buy-in and involvement in this process from most of Senate.
“In other years, these documents were either overlooked completely or people just accepted it as it was, even if it was not the most equitable or fair [system],” Barton said.
Claypool lauded the democratic and transparent nature of the process, which provided a model for current members who may be looking to run for Senate again.
“It was great for new senators, and, in particular, first years, to feel like they understand their ruling documents now,” Claypool said. “They will have that ownership and that knowledge that you can change things.”