An effort by the Undergraduate Government of Boston College Senate to amend its constitution fell short after the body was unable to vote to extend its meeting and hold a final vote. The senators, whose terms end on Monday and will not hold another meeting, have asked Paul Murphy, associate director for student programming in the Office of Student Involvement, to amend the constitution for them without a vote.
A motion to extend meetings past the one-hour limit, as required by the Senate rules, failed, ending any chance for the amendment to pass until after elections are held. In order for the extension motion to be successful, two-thirds of the 31 current members, or 21 senators, must vote in favor of the motion.
The alterations to the constitution, proposed by Dennis Wieboldt—a senator and MCAS ’23—included changes to the structure of the Senate, the second such move in as many years. With spring elections pushed back to Sept. 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no senators have been elected to fill the seats after the current term ends on Monday, the last day of study days.
After the meeting, some senators realized that they would not be able to reconvene until after the rescheduled elections and that waiting until after the election would delay any changes to the body’s structure for another full year. Murphy suggested to the Senate that he could alter the constitution without a vote, and the general consensus of the Senate was agreement with the idea.
UGBC could hold an emergency session to vote on the changes but will not due to the logistical hurdles of gathering 21 senators during study days, according to several senators at the meeting and an email Wieboldt sent to The Heights.
Murphy said in an email to The Heights that senators will work through the summer to develop a plan to restructure the Senate, after which they will determine the best way to make the changes, which he will take under consideration. Wieboldt told The Heights that he plans to coordinate discussions with other senators and present a plan to OSI for the changes over the summer.
The UGBC Constitution does not explicitly state that OSI can change the constitution or Senate standing rules, although changes to either must be approved by the office. Murphy could not be immediately reached for comment on OSI’s ability to edit the constitution.
The only vote of the night was an amendment reversing some of the structural changes in Wieboldt’s initial proposal. His resolution would cut the Senate from 33 members to 25 by eliminating at-large seats and unelected “policy coordinator” positions. “Policy coordinators” are both voting senators and members of the AHANA+ Leadership Council (ALC), GLBTQ+ Leadership Council (GLC), and the Council for Students with Disabilities (CSD), which operate under UGBC’s executive branch.
Wieboldt’s proposal would also have made current “special interest” seats—representing first-generation students, students in the Montserrat Coalition, and student-athletes—subject to Senate confirmation. These seats are appointed by the UGBC president. The seats representing transfer students and international students, which are currently filled by elections, would also change to become appointment-based and subject to confirmation.
“The purpose of this is to increase the competitiveness of getting into the Senate in the hopes that it will encourage people, once they’re in it, to work harder for their seats,” Wieboldt said at the meeting.
Wieboldt said during the meeting that the changes would serve to increase the responsiveness of the Senate by eliminating the unelected policy coordinator seats and the typically uncompetitive at-large seats. His unamended proposal would change the Senate from six unelected seats out of 33, or 18 percent, to five out of 25, or 20 percent.
While the proposal would increase the proportion of unelected senators, the removal of uncompetitive at-large seats and the inclusion of Senate confirmation for special interest seats would increase accountability, Wieboldt said in an email to The Heights.
In the 2019 Senate elections, not enough candidates ran to fill the Class of 2020 seats and the at-large seats. Exactly five candidates ran to fill the five Class of 2021 seats. Two of the 33 Senate seats are currently empty: the transfer student seat and a Class of 2022 seat, according to public UGBC voting records.
In its only vote of the night, the Senate passed an amendment to the proposal, restoring the policy coordinator seats but stripping an elected seat from each class. The amended proposal would make eight of 24 seats, or 33 percent of the Senate, unelected.
The amendment was nullified, however, as Wieboldt withdrew his resolution at the end of the meeting since it could not have been passed once the extension motion failed.
Supporters of the amendment had raised several concerns about the proposed elimination of the policy coordinator positions. Douglas Baker, a senator and MCAS ’22, voiced his fear that removing those seats could reduce the diversity of perspectives present in the body. He said that relying almost solely on elected students would leave accurate representation of all groups on campus up to chance.
Wieboldt responded that, in his unamended proposal, members of ALC, GLC, and CSD would be able to attend relevant committee meetings and votes to provide insight, which some senators supported.
“I agree with what was said earlier about it being better to advocate for a community that you’re more familiar with, but I think that we can do that if the policy coordinator stays on the [executive] side and comes to the intersectionality committee,” he said at the meeting. “I think that’s still providing advocacy without someone trying to teeter between the two roles.”
At the meeting, CSD policy coordinator Svea McNally, Lynch ’22, said that her responsibility to attend both the executive branch and legislative branch meetings helped her advocacy in the Senate.
Ultimately, the amendment to swap out the fifth elected seat for each class in favor of preserving the policy coordinators passed 14-6. The vote changed the text of Wieboldt’s proposal and did not actually change the constitution itself.
Wieboldt told The Heights that he continues to oppose the amendment to his proposal because the policy coordinators would operate within both branches of UGBC, limiting the attention that could be given to either branch. He added that, in practice, the policy coordinator seats have done little to increase advocacy—only the CSD coordinator introduced legislation this year, he said.
After the amendment passed, too few senators were available to continue past the hour to vote on further amendments to the proposal or alter the constitution itself.
Wieboldt’s proposal also included several other provisions that the senators discussed but did not amend or vote on. These provisions included a new process for passing resolutions, a mandate that UGBC publish Senate minutes and records for all substantial votes, and an amendment to the constitution that would allow the Senate to add or rescind parts of the UGBC election code.
Featured Image by Bridget Clark, 1/28/2020 / Heights Staff