The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) passed a resolution on Sunday night overruling a provision of its constitution in order to allow elections to take place before the end of this semester.
The WSA bylaws were rewritten last year to schedule elections at the beginning of the spring semester, as opposed to the end of the fall semester. The change was intended to allow students who are abroad in the fall to run for a spring term on the WSA. The changes to the elections process were not particularly controversial at the time, but according to WSA member Meherazade Sumariwalla ’12, who oversees WSA elections and proposed the resolution along with president Mike Pernick ’10, they presented problems down the line.
“The constitution itself is flawed; it’s conflicting with itself,” Sumariwalla said.
In particular, many WSA members were concerned because holding 10 elections, as the constitution states, would create a 40-member assembly. The constitution also states that the assembly will consist of 38 members. Sunday’s resolution, which passed with no opposition and two abstentions, stated that only eight candidates will be elected in the upcoming contests, but it also moved the election from the spring semester to the fall.
“I’m having one of the seniors who’s still on campus run my campaigning for me, but it’s much more difficult to run and to get in contact being here in London,” said Bradley Spahn ’11, a former WSA coordinator who is abroad this semester. “But as hard as it is for me, people in far-flung corners of the globe like Kenya or Ecuador who might want to run but don’t have regular access to the Internet would have a much harder time.”
Spahn sat on the WSA’s Constitutional Review Committee last semester and advocated for the change because in the past, several students were not reelected to seats they had held before going abroad. Gianna Palmer ’10, a former treasurer of the WSA, was one of them. She has since returned to the assembly [Full disclosure: Palmer is the co-editor of The Blargus, The Argus’s online counterpart].
“It was disappointing, though not surprising when I lost the election last winter,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “I think the fact that I received the most votes in the elections before and after last winter’s race probably speaks to the fact that running for a WSA position while abroad puts candidates at a clear disadvantage.”
WSA members contend that this change will allow the assembly to get more business done next semester.
“Having the election at the end of the fall certainly makes it more difficult for students who are abroad to campaign for a spring term, but we make our decisions based on what’s best for the student body, not what’s best for candidates’ schedules,” wrote Pernick in an e-mail to The Argus. “Last year’s coordinator, who introduced this revision, clearly didn’t consider the ramifications of delaying elections until the spring. The WSA will review this provision of the constitution in the spring and take steps to ensure this confusion never occurs again.”
WSA member Ben Firke ’12 highlighted the amount of time lost by holding springtime elections.
“There would be two weeks where we couldn’t have meetings because we wouldn’t have enough people for a quorum,” Firke said. “During the third week in the spring semester would be a internal meeting to get all the committees straight. Basically the WSA wouldn’t operate for a month. And I know there are some people who say it doesn’t matter because we don’t do anything anyway, but keep in mind, the SBC would be offline for two or three weeks. That’s unacceptable.”
Spahn countered by stating that the previous decision about spring elections was not controversial.
“That was one of the things we considered,” Spahn said. “But we thought on balance it was worth [it] because you get better participation from students who are abroad and better campaigning from candidates. Having elections at the beginning of the spring semester was very popular and non-controversial.”
Discussion of the resolution at the meeting mostly focused on the issue of how many elections would be held. Some WSA members who wished to remain anonymous told The Argus that they voted for the measure, but were not aware of the objections that had been raised to holding the elections in the spring. A proposal to consider the two issues separately was not considered.
Pernick also brought up inconsistencies that would arise if the elections were moved.
“It would be inconsistent to make a change to cater to candidates who are abroad in the fall when we are unable to do the same for candidates who are abroad in the spring,” he wrote.
Palmer is optimistic that middle ground can be found.
“I still think a compromise could be reached,” Palmer wrote. “I like the idea of having candidate petitions submitted at the end of first semester and holding elections at the very beginning of second semester. Though this idea doesn’t address the problems faced by students who go abroad second semester and want to run for the following school year, I think it would be a step in the right direction.”
Spahn remains unconvinced by the WSA leader’s rationale for changing the date of the election.
“That wasn’t enough to justify what the WSA has done here,” he said. “The constitution is very clear, and if our student leadership can’t conform to what the student body passes, and a student-approved constitution, then we really don’t have a system of student governance. I think the WSA’s actions in this matter really call into question whether they can reasonably represent the student body.”
When confronted with these charges, Firke was not perturbed.
“It’s really not a big deal,” Firke said.
Pernick and Sumariwalla contend that the WSA’s actions have been totally consistent with precedent.
“It is within the coordinators purview to interpret the constitution the way they see fit,” Sumariwalla said.
Indeed, Pernick argues that the WSA leadership is doing more than it has to observe the constitution.
“For years and years whenever there was a constitutional question the leadership of the assembly and the coordinator specifically did whatever they thought was best for the student body without consultation, including last year, when Bradley made executive decisions without this level of consultation,” Pernick wrote. “The end goal of having an assembly that can function smoothly and get the most done and deal with issues that matter would be achieved either way. But giving the assembly and the entire student body a say in the process was the simply the right thing to do.”