University of Arizona students will vote on April 27 and 28 on whether or not to approve revisions to the constitution of their student government.
The senate of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona approved an amended version of its constitution by a vote of 9-1-0 which will eliminate provisions for a house of representatives. Before the changes become permanent, they must be approved by a simple majority of the student body in a special election.
The constitution linked on the ASUA website is not the current constitution but an older version approved in 2017. The current constitution, which was passed in 2020, was never uploaded to the ASUA website.
The primary author of the amended constitution, Administrative Vice President Kyle Kline, began revising the document in the middle of the fall 2021 semester. Kline said the two main objectives were to eliminate the house of representatives and simplify the constitution.
The amended constitution is indeed substantially shorter than the current constitution; the new constitution is only eight pages compared to the current one’s 23 pages. The project of condensing the document was helped by the elimination of the house of representatives.
The house of representatives was meant to become the second legislative chamber of ASUA with membership consisting of 29 members from student communities. Though it was approved by both the ASUA Senate and the student body in 2020, the house was never implemented.
The following 22 organizations would have nominated representatives to the house, who would be approved by ASUA’s executive branch:
- Adalberto and Ana Guerrero Student Center
- African American Student Affairs
- Asian Pacific American Student Affairs
- Disability Cultural Center
- First Cats
- Fostering Success
- Graduate and Professional Student Council
- Honors Student Council
- Immigrant Student Resource Center
- Interfraternity Council
- LGBTQ Affairs
- Native American Student Affairs
- Panhellenic Council
- Residence Hall Association
- Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
- Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
- Transfer Student Center
- United Sorority and Fraternity Council
- Veteran Education and Transition Services
- Wildcat Events Board
- Women and Gender Resource Center
Five additional representatives would be appointed by the executive branch to represent the student-parent, exchange, international, online and distance student populations. Finally, two more representatives would be appointed for the Tohono O’Odham and Pascua Yaqui nations.
The passage of legislation would have required approval from both the ASUA Senate and the house.
Kline said the decision to eliminate provisions for the house was made during the spring 2022 semester.
“I think we wanted to make sure that we could have the most inclusive and diverse ASUA as possible, and we realized that the house representatives wasn't related to that. It was just going to be extractive and a system that doesn't benefit traditionally disenfranchised students on campus,” Kline said.
Senator at-large Jordan Isaiah-Toyos added that there would likely be difficulties finding people for the positions, just as there is currently difficulty reaching out to people to run for senate seats.
“We have to think about outreach like you know how hard it will be for them — hopefully not — to find members for each center that will commit to these hours and to these responsibilities,” Toyos said. “If we still can't even fill two student body senator seats, you know what I mean? It's like, we have to get to a point where we want people to have multiple races and run against multiple people.”
Several ASUA representatives have labeled the house of representatives as an “extractive” institution.
“I think one of the main concerns of the house of reps as it stood for was that it would be extractive,” said Kaleb Nichols, the administrative vice president-elect, “and that's exactly what we're not going for. We're not going through diversity for diversity’s sake. We're not trying to be performative. We're trying to make an actual seat at the table for voices that aren't being heard.”
Nichols also expressed concern that the house would threaten the democratic legitimacy of ASUA.
“If you give political power equal to that of the senate to an unelected body, that starts concerns about democracy, and it's really important that we maintain democracy as well here on this campus. If we don't have that democracy, then how we're supposed to build any credibility with the student body,” Nichols said. “We saw that with the house of representatives as it currently stood, it was problematic in that sense, where you cannot give power to someone who's not elected in the same way that you get power as someone who's elected.”
Kline added that the addition of the house would have caused legislative deadlock.
“There's only one other college in the nation that has a house, and I think there's a good reason for that,” they said. “Having a house and a senate the way that the legislature currently functions would make ASUA almost inoperable.”
Kline estimated that it would take about a month and a half to implement any initiative because it would take time for the house and senate to review and approve proposals, in addition to any other administrative processes that are required.
The concept of the house of representatives will not be totally abandoned. Representatives from certain student communities will be appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council, though they will not have any voting power and won’t be part of the legislative branch but rather the executive branch.
ASUA doesn’t anticipate the student body voting against the new constitution.
“I hope we don't have to go down that path, but obviously it's not our decision,” Kline said. “If for whatever reason it didn't, I think next year's team — we need to look at why it didn't pass and then to adjust it, but I really think that all the changes benefit the student body and clarify things. We tried to make as little changes as possible, except the house.”
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