Are you sure you want to restart Student Government now?

Restart

When Charles Brown, vice president of Student Affairs, was hired early last semester, he called SG’s current constitution “probably one of the worst in the state.”

He was directed by FAU President Frank Brogan to change that. And in only six months, his department has brought in an SG consultant, organized two constitutional conventions, put together student task forces, held town hall meetings and is now ready to have the students vote on a new constitution.

On Monday and Tuesday the fate of SG lies in the hands of the students. They will vote to decide whether or not they approve of SG’s new constitution.

SG has been plagued by many constitutional problems in recent years. The latest was during its elections for student body president, which took three elections and more than 100 days to resolve.

“The elections were botched,” Student Body President Austin Shaw said. “We cannot have that repeated.”

Brown has referred to SG’s current constitution in the past as being “too convoluted,” and said he wants “a constitution that can be easily read and understood by the student body.”

SG’s ruling document is 28 pages, almost double the amount of pages of many SG constitutions around the state. SG leaders and students cut the new document down to 13 pages.

Although Brown wishes more students had been involved in the process, he says, “The students should be very proud of this document.”

Shaw says, “I am confident in the document,” adding that he’s 95 percent happy with it.

Administrators and Shaw hope that the document, which they say is clearer, easier to read and more understandable, will encourage more students to be involved.

“It’s more simple, more welcoming,” said Terry Mena, associate director of student development and activities for the Broward campuses. While Dean of Student Affairs Leslie Bates said, “It’s time to bring the constitution into this century.” In the end, it may not matter whether SG gets a new constitution or not. “Unfortunately, you will always have personalities,” Shaw said. “If they refuse to compromise and exist to oppose everyone, that’s a reality.”

Even so, Shaw says this major revision of the constitution is “a step in the right direction.” And he believes the new document will not allow SG leaders to “act as independently.”

Whether students decide to vote yes or no, Associate Dean of Student Affairs Lisa Bardill said, “I would love people to just vote.”

Vote Yes… or Beware

The question on everyone’s lips is, “What if students vote down the constitution?” But so far, no one has an answer. At least not a direct one.

During a recent meeting with administrators and SG leaders, someone asked if SG would be shut down if the constitution wasn’t approved.

After a long pause and some nervous glances, Student Body President Austin Shaw spoke up and said, “If the new constitution isn’t passed, we’ve failed. I’ve failed. There will probably be consequences.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown then added, “Anything is possible. I make the final recommendation to President [Frank] Brogan if it doesn’t pass.”

Administrators have offered varied answers to this question but have shied away from anything concrete. At least two SG leaders, however, say that they were told SG would be shut down if the constitution didn’t pass.

Boca Senator Andrew Dunkiel and Boca Gov. Rocky Joarder said that one administrator told them over winter break that SG would be shut down if the constitution failed. That was Joe Isadore, associate dean of Student Affairs for Jupiter.

However, Isadore denied it, saying, “That is not true. I never said that.” He added that the constitution would pass anyway. “I have faith in the student body of FAU.”

When Isadore was asked the same question at last week’s Boca Senate meeting, he said they would have “no choice but to go back to the drawing board.”

Although Dunkiel doesn’t think shutting down SG is very democratic, he says it may still be necessary. “They’re trying to repair a car with broken parts. If it gets shut down, and we get new parts, the car will work.”

But Associate Dean of Student Affairs Lisa Bardill thinks it’s too soon to worry about what might happen if students vote no. “I don’t think that’s a decision we need to make right now.”

The Big Changes

More student involvement through staggered elections One of the big changes to SG’s constitution will have FAU students going to the polls twice a year-once in the fall for the legislative branch (campus representatives and senators) and once in the spring for the executive branch (president and governors).

Administrators hope fall elections will provide an opportunity for freshmen to get involved more quickly. Austin Shaw, student body president, believes “having a turnover every six months,” will prevent “an imperial hold on the system.”

Currently one election is held every spring, and in previous years, it was easy for one party to sweep most of the positions. If vacancies occurred during the year, SG leaders had the power to elect whomever they liked to the open positions. Last spring there were more senators elected by other senators than by the students because of mid-term vacancies.

With the new constitution, the spring election will also include vacancies in the campus Houses. Changes to judicial branch give students a fair trialSG’s judicial branch has for years been obsolete, rarely functional, routinely manipulated and, as a result, constantly denied students’ their right to a fair trial.

But changes in the new constitution aim to fix that and finally provide SG with a workable third branch of government.

In past years student court cases have gone unheard or have been dismissed without ever reaching a trial.

Currently, the University Wide Council – a collection of SG’s top leaders – oversees student cases in the absence of a functional court. It was also the responsibility of the members of the UWC to appoint a chief justice and associate justices. If they failed to do so, and they routinely did, the court cases would fall under the jurisdiction of the UWC. In some cases, they did this deliberately so that the UWC would have judicial power.

That’s what happened over the summer when there was no student court, and the UWC had to decide whether or not to have a third election for student body president.

Another problem in the past has been that many of the court cases have been against members of the UWC, becoming a conflict of interest. Members would either not show up or vote to postpone the hearings.

In order to prevent the above situations from happening again, the constitution allows for the vice president of Student A ffairs to intervene and appoint a chief justice or associate justices if SG fails to do so.

Another check is that judicial appointments would last up to two years to prevent SG leaders from appointing their friends or political allies to the court.

Power shift: disbanding the UWC

SG’s most powerful body – the University Wide Council – has long been criticized as a concentration of too much power in too few hands.

The new constitution calls for its dissolution and replaces it with a smaller, less powerful body. This change will give more autonomy to the campuses and, as a result, free up money for more campus-based projects.

The UWC was supposed to bring the campuses together, hold university-wide events and oversee university-wide agencies. However, its odd mix of legislative, executive and judicial powers made it omnipotent with few checks and balances. “The UWC functioned as all three branches,” says Student Body President Austin Shaw. “They were made up of executives, made legislation and conducted court cases.”

“The new Senate is a legislative body, and they don’t have a budget,” he says.

However, Boca Senator Andrew Dunkiel wasn’t satisfied with the new Senate. “They didn’t really get rid of the UWC. There are sill no checks and balances.”

He wanted to see the campus Houses and the university-wide Senate pass legislation back and forth like the U.S. government. Instead, he says, “They are still independent of one another.”

Associate Director of Student Development and Activities for the Broward campuses, Terry Mena, disagrees. With the new constitution “you have a true separation of powers.”

The new Senate will consist of two elected representatives from FAU’s four largest campuses. Their powers will be limited to approving all of the student body president’s appointments, including a chief justice, proposing amendments to the constitution and enacting legislation that affects two or more campuses.

However, the constitution only sets up the framework of this body. Its duties and powers will not be defined until statutes are written. Administrators and SG leaders have suggested that the statutes will keep the new Senate’s budgetary responsibilities very limited.

SG Forced to Follow Stricter Rules

A regulation passed by administrators over the break has angered some SG leaders and left others without a job. Despite objections, SG leaders had no choice but to include the regulation in the new constitution.

One of the new requirements mandates SG leaders to have a minimum GPA of 2.25, up from 2.0. Another requirement no longer allows non-degree seeking students to serve in SG.

“The bar has been raised,” says Terry Mena, associate director of student development and activities for the Broward campuses.

Student Body President Austin Shaw and Mena believe these high standards will benefit all of the student body. “You will have students who are well prepared and better organized,” Mena says.

After FAU’s top leaders, the Board of Trustees, approved the regulation in January, it immediately took effect, and many SG leaders weren’t happy about it.

While many of them agreed with the higher standards, few of them agreed they should take place immediately. At the very least they said those already serving should be grandfathered in until the next election.

“I was against the regulations becoming effective this semester,” says Boca Gov. Rocky Joarder. Five out of seven of his cabinet members were affected by the new regulations. “I have people working and planning events,” he says, and if they are removed from their positions, many of the events he has planned may fall through.

Lisa Bardill, associate dean of Student Affairs, says, “No matter when the legislation would have gone into place, there would have been students affected.”

One such member in danger of being removed is James Henrich, director of Greek affairs. His grades are in good shape, but he says Student Affairs considers him a non-degree seeking student.

“I think non-degree seeking students should have the same opportunity,” says Boca Senator Andrew Dunkiel. He believes it may give those students a chance to become a part of the FAU community.

“I don’t understand why anyone is a non-degree seeking student,” says Student Body President Austin Shaw. “It’s appropriate for people to seek a degree at the university.”Bardill adds, “It is important for student leaders to remember academics should come first. The university needs to set standards to remind students what they are here for, and this is to graduate.” She says they added degree seeking students to the list of requirements because the administration believes these students are more committed.

Even though Henrich doesn’t have a major declared, he says, “I am a degree seeking student. Why else would I be going to school?”

Henrich has the opportunity to appeal the decision, but says he’s not going to. “My grades are fine. I’m a degree seeking student. I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Joarder and Henrich believe that having the regulations take effect immediately will cripple SG’s ability to serve the students this semester.

“I am sure Student Affairs would be more than willing to help,” says Bardill, who understands this transition may be hard.President Shaw said the reason the regulations went into effect immediately was simply because, “We need change and we need it now.”

But Joarder says the only thing they’ve changed is his attitude. “These regulations make me apathetic about Student Government this semester.”

As for Henrich, he says, “If they remove me because they consider me a non-degree seeking student, that would be sad.”

SG vs. Admin: Who’s Really Pulling the Strings?

Administrators say they were just trying to do their job as they took control of the constitutional rewrite, but along the way they’ve been called “forceful” and “underhanded.” One Student Government leader even went so far as to call the whole process a “farce.”

After months of blatant disregard and disrespect for the suggestions of administrators, SG’s powers have been reigned in. While the new direction comes as a reprieve for many SG leaders, some accuse administrators of going too far.

“It’s a farce, a mockery,” Boca Gov. Rocky Joarder says. “The way it’s been done is illegal in my eyes, and I am not going to be a part of something that’s been done wrong.”

He says administrators haven’t followed the correct process for amending SG’s constitution, which is set forth in the current ruling document. He plans to abstain from the upcoming vote in protest.

However, administrators see things differently. They say their orders came from FAU President Frank Brogan. “Our job was to lead and advise. We were told to redraft the constitution,” says Lisa Bardill, associate dean of Student Affairs.

Over winter break, Student Affairs did some rewriting of its own. They submitted a revised university regulation to FAU’s top leaders, the Board of Trustees, that details the university’s powers over SG, giving them more flexibility to act. Some of the new guidelines set forth, such as a new GPA requirement for SG leaders, were then put into the new constitution.

Jenna Sereni, Boca Senate parliamentarian, called the move “very underhanded,” because it was done over break when most students were away. And education major Jeff Clark, who was involved with both constitutional conventions, described Student Affairs’ approach as “too forceful” at times. However, Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown stressed, “This isn’t about Student Affairs taking control. We want the students to do it.” But he cautions, “If we don’t do it right, there are going to be consequences.”

Will Student Apathy Foil Vote?

In a series of town hall meetings held this month on each of FAU’s campuses, SG and Student Affairs had hoped to get students’ feedback on SG’s new constitution. The problem is students didn’t show up. At least not many of them.

A few Wednesdays ago, a group of FAU administrators and SG officials sat in a small room in the Heritage Park Tower dorms.

“Are there any questions?” asked Student Body President Austin Shaw as he glanced around the room. His question was met with blank stares from the three students in the room, one of whom used to be part of SG.

This was the scene at one of SG’s town hall meetings on the Boca campus. Only three students showed up. The earlier town hall meeting on the Boca campus didn’t fare much better with about 10 students attending. Vice President of Student Affairs Charles Brown says turnout for the Boca meetings was the worst, although Shaw says student turnout on the Port St. Lucie campus wasn’t good either. The most attended meeting was on the Jupiter campus and that had about 12 students.

“It’s discouraging,” Shaw said after the meeting Wednesday. He said the whole point of these town hall meetings was to rally support for the document, which students will vote to approve on Feb. 12 and 13.

Boca Senate Parliamentarian Jenna Sereni echoed Shaw. “The town hall meeting was a disappointment.”

But these meetings aren’t the only parts of the constitutional rewrite process garnering low student turnout. The earlier constitutional conventions, held last semester, didn’t attract as many students as SG and administrators had hoped. The first had about 50 participants, half of which were students. And the second constitutional convention had 18 people total.

Some say it’s student apathy at work, and others criticize that the meetings weren’t advertised enough. There are also those who feel that students just don’t care.

“It’s almost like the U.S. voting process,” Brown says. “Students complain, but they don’t show up.” He says that the whole idea of rewriting SG’s constitution is getting “total student involvement, not just a small segment of the student body.”

Brown says that they advertised the town hall meetings by sending out multiple e-mails to students’ FAU accounts, and there was also a link to the constitution on FAU’s Web site. The only problem is that many students don’t check their FAU e-mails. Even Shaw confessed that when he sees an announcement e-mail from FAU, he usually deletes it – as do many students.

The meeting times were “a pretty poor choice,” added education major Jeff Clark, who’s been involved with the constitutional rewrite from the beginning. “It’s lunchtime and other big events are going on, too.”

Brown also believes some students “have been turned off by some of the

[SG] leadership,” so they don’t want to get involved. However, he says students need to “because SGA controls all of student fees,” roughly $6.5 million a year. That’s about $10 per credit hour. “They need to know how SG spends their money.”

Associate Dean of Student Affairs Lisa Bardill says that while many students may not have come out to the town hall and constitutional convention meetings, a lot of students did participate in meetings with SG’s consultant last semester, and much of the constitution was based on that feedback. She is confident that students have had a large hand in reworking the document.

But will students come out and vote to approve it, especially with such low student participation thus far? “I hope so,” said Brown, Wednesday, crossing his arms with a smirk.

However, Dean of Student Affairs Leslie Bates wasn’t as optimistic. He predicts that turnout will be low, which he says isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “The people who will vote are the ones who are most knowledgeable about the document. They will make the best decision for the students.”