CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT Q&A
Why You Should Vote for the Amendment
Dear Fellow Graduate Student:
On Wednesday and Thursday, the GSC will ask you to vote on a constitutional amendment. This amendment was initiated by the Graduate Student Council and the graduate student members of the ASSU Senate, working with the undergraduate leadership of the ASSU. The GSC and the grad senators believe it is necessary to allow the GSC to continue to work successfully on improving graduate life.
Below is a description of the amendment and why it is important for graduate students. Please read it.
Harris Shapiro, Ph.D Candidate, Physics Graduate Student Council
The Goals of the Amendment
FAIRER USE OF GRAD STUDENT FEES & INCREASED GRADUATE PROGRAMMING
Historically, graduate students have paid the majority of ASSU Fees, but the undergraduate-oriented ASSU has spent the vast majority of these funds on undergraduate student groups, including the ASSU itself. Our estimates show that of the $33.83 paid by you in general fees each year, less than $7 ever reaches groups that serve graduate students. The new structure will put graduates in charge of grad Fee money, so that graduate money will be spent on groups that benefit graduate students. Furthermore, the new Graduate Student Council will offer a simplified, more fully accountable procedure for funding groups than the current ASSU. We want to encourage more graduate groups to provide programming. Funding for undergraduate groups would remain unchanged, but the undergraduates would pay for their fair share of the fees.
STRONGER GRADUATE STUDENT ADVOCACY
Over the past year, as an adjunct of the ASSU, the Graduate Student Council has:
- Convinced the university to commit to building 480 new on-campus apartments by January 2001. Half will be ready by Fall 2000.
- Organized last Spring's successful rally for more housing.
- Lobbied for minimum stipend increases of 8% and 7% during the last two years -- the largest ever, constituting over $1800 in additional salary per student. This was widely emulated by departments already paying higher than the minimum. We'd like to do it again next year :)
- Persuaded the provost to authorize expenditures for 500 subsidized off-campus housing units
- Created the first-ever FREE Thanksgiving dinner for over 600 grad students
- Initiated and sponsored Grad Nights at Flicks
- Initiated and sponsored Grad Nights at the CoHo
- Convinced Intuit to donate TurboTax and MacinTax FREE for every grad student who wants it (an $85 value per student)
- Initiated and sponsored an assortment of parties on campus
- Created online ratings of area dentists
- Organized Grad dinners with upper administrators
- Published the first-ever general graduate interest newsletter
- Kept the university from evicting grads from Cro-Mem in order to create dorm space for undergrads
- Mobilized a strong grad presence at Palo Alto City and Santa Clara County meetings in order to diffuse local community opposition to additional grad housing
The ASSU Senate has never addressed these graduate needs because of its undergraduate focus and its bureaucratic structure. The amendment will institutionalize the GSC's successes by making it the official representative body of all graduate students.
More information can be found at the GSC web site http://gsc.stanford.edu/
Remember to VOTE this Wednesday and Thursday, April 14-15 http://elections.stanford.edu
Questions And Answers Concerning The Daily's Editorial
Initially published in response to an editorial in The Stanford Daily
This past Tuesday, The daily ran an editorial urging students to vote against the proposed constitutional amendment, An ASSU For All Students. This set of questions & answers has been written to address the numerous factual errors in that editorial.
Doesn't The Daily make a valid point regarding the GSC By-Laws? Couldn't they just be changed by a 2/3 vote? Doesn't this mean that the new GSC would be unsafe?
The provisions for changing the GSC's By-Laws under the proposed constitutional amendment are identical to the provisions for changing the Senate's By-Laws under the current system: a 2/3 vote of the members present and voting. So this cannot be an valid objection to the amendment, as the amendment preserves this feature of the current system.
But The Daily also points out that the GSC relies on consensus, which could fail. Doesn't that mean that the proposed amendment is unsafe?
The Daily leaves out some important facts. Its editorial fails to mention that the GSC's consensus-based decision-making system has worked, without breaking down, for the entire 3 years of the GSC's history. By way of comparison, the current Senate, which relies heavily on the labyrinthine parliamentary procedure that The Daily implies is so effective, regularly violates its own rules. If anything, this indicates that the GSC's method of consensus is more robust than the current system, as it has worked for longer than any system the current Senate has ever used.
I'm still a bit troubled by consensus. What if a bunch of rogue graduate students tries to take over a meeting by getting a bunch of people there to "force" consensus?
This misunderstands the nature of consensus: it is not a shouting contest, but a very strong form of agreement. In the Senate under the current system, one could pass bills by margins of 16 to 15. Even though this indicates deep division within the Senate, the bill would still go into affect as if everyone had approved it. By way of contrast, consensus requires that everyone present at a meeting be satisfied with the decision that has been reached. This is a far stronger form of agreement than mere majority voting. It allows for much better accountability, as GSC decisions are then really GSC decisions, not just a majority of whichever senators happened to stick around until the end of the meeting. Finally, in the event that consensus breaks down, the GSC has provisions for reverting to a formal vote of the elected members, written into the rules in exactly the same way that the current Senate's voting provisions are written. So in the event that consensus does break down, the elected members of the GSC are guaranteed not to be forced to do anything that they don't want to do. Of course, this is a very hypothetical situation, as in the 3 years of the GSC's existence, consensus has never failed, despite the consideration of such controversial issues as last spring's housing rally.
The Daily claims that this amendment holds the GSC to different standards than the proposed Undergraduate Senate. is this true?
The Daily confuses the different structures of the two bodies with different standards of accountability. The safeguards and requirements imposed on the GSC to ensure accountability are just as stringent as those imposed on the Undergraduate Senate:
- The possibility of a Presidential veto of all legislation.
- The ability of the ASSU Financial Manager to block all suspect financial allocations.
- A requirement for detailed minutes to be kept and publicized among the members of the Association.
In fact, the GSC has additional levels of accountability imposed upon it by the amendment:
- All funding decisions, and the reasoning leading up to them, must be included in the widely-publicized GSC minutes.
- The elected members of the GSC have the ability to override funding decisions that were made by consensus at a previous meeting. Contrast this to the current Senate methods of allocating funds, where an unelected Program Board meets in closed session to decide on allocations, and does not keep records of the reasons for its funding decisions.
- The entire proposed budget of the GSC for a given year must be printed in the preceding year's Elections Handbook, which is distributed to all students. By way of contrast, when was the last time you ever saw a copy of the ASSU's budget?
So contrary to what The Daily claims, the GSC under the proposed amendment will actually be more accountable than the current system, due to its extensive publicity requirements.
But the structure of the GSC differs from that of the Undergraduate Senate under the proposed amendment. Why should that be the case?
The current structure of the ASSU has been proven not to work for graduate students. It is a historical fact that over the span of decades, the ASSU has never addressed graduate student issues and concerns. Over the past 3 years, the GSC has developed a structure that, for the first time in the history of the ASSU, effectively represents the graduate population. This structure is not the same as the proposed Undergraduate Senate, which was modeled after the current Senate. However, this is the point of the amendment: it is an empirical fact that the structure that works for undergraduates (the current Senate) fails miserably for graduate students. On the other hand, the GSC structure works extremely well. All that the amendment does is recognize this fairly obvious conclusion, and institutionalize it. The Daily may choose to criticize the amendment on these grounds. However, given that they have no suggestions for an aternative, and given that a working structure for graduate students has already been found, their criticism is rather meaningless, and amounts to arguing that students should wait for the sake of waiting.
The Daily claims that because "regular" GSC meetings are not mandated by the amendment to be at least once every two weeks, the GSC could effectively stop meeting. Is this true?
Once again, The Daily lies by omission. Admittedly, the current Constitution seems to state that the Senate must meet once every two weeks. However, the sentence following this "requirement" in the Constitution reads: "Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis by a two-thirds vote of the Senate." So the current system's "Constitutional requirement" for bi-weekly meetings is nonexistent: the Senate could, by a 2/3 vote, decide to meet only once each year. All the proposed amendment does is remove the misleading "requirement" language.
The Daily says that there hasn't been much publicity about the amendment. Isn't that a reason to hold off approving it?
This claim does not stand up under scrutiny. The Daily began covering the amendment process at the beginning of February, running a series of articles describing the text of the amendment and the status of it in the Senate. The entire text of the amendment has been available online since the start of the second week in February, at a location that The Daily itself listed. Supporting documents, like the 200+ pages of draft By-Laws, the draft Rules of Order, and the draft Standing Rules, were later added to that web site as they were developed. For The Daily to claim that there's been insufficient publicity for the amendment, after running two months of continuous coverage of it, is to ignore reality.
I still don't know: it seems like there's a lot of controversy surrounding this amendment, and that people aren't that well informed about it. Why don't we just wait until next year, when a perfect amendment can be passed?
The proposed amendment is as perfect as human hands can make it. Discussion about it began last summer, and continued throughout the fall, being regularly publicized among the members of the ASSU and, through an announcemens at the end of at least one fall Senate meeting, to the members of the Association. As this past Winter Quarter started, a series of meetings were scheduled to hammer out the text of the amendment, based on the previous months of discussions. Therefore, there has been extensive opportunity for commentary on the amendment. In fact, almost all of the complaints about the amendment come from those members of the ASSU who repeatedly ignored requests for their input. As for why we shouldn't wait, the reason is simple. There's no such thing a perfect amendment. Discussion of the present one began 9 months ago, and has by now involved on the order of one hundred people, who have spent thousands of hours discussing the amendment down to its finest details. People will always disagree about some minor detail or another. But the question one needs to ask is: how does the proposed amendment compare to the current system? And the answer to this is clear: the amendment would create an ASSU that is vastly improved over the current system, as it would finally represent the graduate population. More importantly, for each quarter that passes without such an amendment, graduate student continue to pay rents they can't afford, health care is left languishing on the back burner, and graduate Fee money continues to be predominantly spent on undergraduate programming. This is the result of the bulk of the representatives of the graduate population being bogged down by endless negotiations involving increasingly obscure bylaws. The immediacy of the problems facing the graduate population is why it is critical that this amendment be passed now. To argue that we should wait, that "[p]erhaps there is a new system of student government yet to be implemented..." that would somehow be better than the proposed amendment, is to say that until such a time as the Platonic Ideal of Student Government descends from the heavens, graduate students are to be denied a basic democratic right: the right of meaningful representation. This is inherently unfair. The proposed amendment is a vast improvement over the current system, and should be passed during this election.