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Rutgers University Student Assembly votes on changes to constitution

The Rutgers University Student Assembly debated changes to their constitution, concluding a process they began roughly a month ago. The existing constitution has been in use for nearly a decade. – Photo by Nikhilesh De

The Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) spent hours discussing the overhaul of their constitution, starting late Thursday night and debating until midnight. If enacted, the decision would lead to changes in many of the document's amendments and a restructuring of the assembly's branches.

Up until this point, no major changes have been made to the constitution in nearly a decade.

The Constitutional Committee, a subsection of RUSA, drafted a new constitution to “bring the student government of Rutgers—New Brunswick in line with peers in the Big Ten Association,” according to the resolution.

RUSA Vice President Evan Covello said the current constitution is being revised because it is “part of an outdated system.” 

The University is restructuring, and RUSA aims to stay updated as well, the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy junior said.

The University no longer runs on a campus-oriented system, Covello said. Under the current system, students travel to multiple campuses to attend classes, so the system of electing representatives based on campus no longer reflects the values of the student body. 

“The current student government will not be based on the campus model. Before, there were representatives from each college, and each college had its own governing council. They operated for the most part independently,” Covello said. “Before, alumni attended Livingston College, or Cook College, if you were part of Cook College, you probably never left Cook campus."

One potential amendment proposes restructuring RUSA based on the schools, such as the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Covello said. If this method is approved, the assembly would likely be based on the population of each school.

The changes that would be included in this new version of the constitution encompass voting protocol, maintenance of the academic year system and timing of elections. 

In the new system, the vice president chair would cast the tie-breaking vote in an equally divided assembly.

Viktor Krapivin, the RUSA Internal Affairs chair and a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said senators are currently elected by students per population, but the proposal suggests that they be elected internally by School of Arts and Sciences representatives.

The biggest change that will occur in the constitution is the division of the current assembly into two distinct branches: Legislative and the executive. Currently, Covello said RUSA acts as one branch.

The committee said that after a study of student governments across the Big Ten, a two or three branch system is the most effective form of student government. 

The new format, according to the committee, embodies “fairness, checks and balances and efficiency and concentrates the student voice into effective policy and programming.”

Covello said a hotly-debated topic at the meeting was the possible addition of a judiciary branch.

According to the proposed constitution, the judiciary branch would be comprised of a five-member board appointed by the president and confirmed by the assembly. The board would exist to “adjudicate disputes between other branches,” and to interpret and challenge decisions related to constitution or university policies themselves. 

Anish Patel, a RUSA parliament member and School of Arts and Sciences senior, said the rules committee, which will now be called the internal affairs committee, is capable of fulfilling the roles of a hypothetical judiciary branch.

Another amendment to the constitution concerns the exclusivity of membership. The previous constitution did not specify in detail who could hold a position in RUSA.

Now, the language indicates that no member of any branch may hold a position in another branch and that no member of the assembly may have two votes.

The assembly, in the current constitution, allowed for legislation to pass as a single body and decided the executive committee could approve legislation that would be discussed by the assembly. With an amendment, the president could veto particular legislation even if the assembly passes it.

The change would still allow the assembly to re-approve the legislation by a two-thirds vote.

The committee said this new system will keep the power to pass legislation in the assembly but will still allow for executive input.

Bushra Hasan is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in cell biology and neuroscience. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @bushrafhasan for more.

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