ISS proposed constitutional change reduces power of University students

Constitutions, or any governing document for that matter, take an exceedingly high amount of time and consideration to author or rework. Eight months ago, the Illinois Student Senate unveiled a new version of its constitution, but it failed to collect enough signatures from the student body to put it on the annual referendum in the spring.

Despite its failure, the senate is continuing its work on a new constitution. The latest working version of it still includes three significant, if not controversial, components: a change to the number of signatures required for referenda to appear on the ballot in the spring, a popularly elected student body president and a graduate leader position.

Fortunately, ISS continues to work on the constitution because it’s not something that should be rushed. And it’s not something we can endorse.

Last year, we strongly cautioned students from supporting the constitution specifically because of changes to the number of signatures required for students to implement policy changes at the University through referenda. The newest version of the constitution would require students to collect signatures from 10 percent of the student body (currently, it’s 7 percent), whereas members of ISS would need only 3 percent of the student body (currently, it’s 5 percent) and a two-thirds vote among themselves.

This version of the constitution requires at least 3 percent for senators — whereas the one last spring had no signature requirement — but it is still not fair to the students. The reduction of signatures required by the senate and the increase in signatures required by the student body serves only to circumvent students’ right to effect policy changes. The proposed signature requirements make it incredibly difficult for a student to propose a referendum on the ballot unless a student’s referendum is also endorsed by the senate.

Basically, the senate wants to make itself a more important institution on campus, but this is not the way to do it. In return for taking away this student right to fairly propose referenda, the ISS constitution would allow the student body to directly elect its president. Right now, the senators elect the president among themselves like a parliament.

But that’s not a fair trade.

We know that students pay too little attention to ISS elections to make an informed choice about the student body president. As is, the current system works, especially if a popular election would mean trading for a more difficult referendum petition process. It would be irresponsible for ISS not to recognize this, too.

Lastly, the new graduate leader position is a necessary addition to the constitution. The University does not have a student government for graduate students, who face vastly different issues than undergraduates, so the position would add some currently lacked representation. For all intents and purposes, the graduate leader position would act as a vice president, serving specifically graduate and professional students.

The constitution needs work, and we’re happy to see that ISS recognizes that. We won’t be satisfied with the constitution, however, if it unfairly usurps power from students as the proposed one does.