Suspension of SGA constitution draws some criticism, some praise

More than two weeks passed since members of the House of Student Representatives voted April 10 to suspend the TCU Constitution of the Student Body by a two-thirds majority.

The suspension of the constitution had no precedent and the Student Government Association was in uncharted territory now that members of the House voted to suspend the constitution, Brett Phillips, student activities coordinator, said.

Members of the House needed to suspend the constitution, one of SGA’s governing documents, because it was inconsistent with the Student Body Code, according to a statement released by SGA on April 13. The statement, sent to members of Intercom, stated the inconsistencies could have cancelled recent and upcoming changes by the SGA.

Josh Simpson, SGA vice president for operations, said the constitution’s suspension would not affect student advocacy or any of SGA’s other functions.

“In order to fulfill our mission of serving students, we felt [suspending the constitution] was what we needed to do,” Simpson said.

John V. Roach Honors College Representative Trevor Melvin disagreed with the decision to suspend the constitution. Suspending the constitution was not the right way to address the inconsistencies between the constitution and the SBC, Melvin wrote in an e-mail.

Jansen Harrison, chair of the Elections and Regulations Committee, said some of the inconsistencies between the SBC and the constitution included the number of justices on the SGA Judicial Board and having members of theCrew, the programming branch of SGA, fail to take an oath. All members of SGA, which includes theCrew, need to take an oath.

Recent legislation that House members passed, like the April 17 bill that combined the Campus Advancement and Student Relations committees to make the Student Experience Committee, would not have been possible if the constitution had not been suspended, Harrison said.

Melvin would have suspended the unconstitutional guidelines in the House and followed the procedures in place for changing the constitution, he wrote. The suspension set a dangerous precedent for the House because there was already a procedure for changing the constitution, but the House Executive Council ignored the procedure.

By suspending the constitution without the proper process, SGA was not holding up its end of the contract with the student body and was damaging SGA’s integrity, he wrote.

Simpson said he did not believe that suspending the constitution would damage SGA’s integrity.

“I think students care about what they’re getting from SGA, not necessarily how it’s structured,” he said.

Phillips said the procedure for changing the constitution involved the Elections and Regulations Committee looking over and revising the constitution. The revised constitution would then be presented to the House and, if approved by a two-thirds majority, would then be presented to the student body.

Harrison said changing the constitution would have been a time-consuming process that would take place over a semester. Suspending the unconstitutional guidelines would have meant the House would have had to go back and look through past legislation to determine what was constitutional. 

“[Suspending the unconstitutional legislation] just wasn’t a viable option for an organization that’s moving forward and has goals for the future,” he said.

Melvin wrote that the time-consuming process for changing the constitution was preferable because rushing the process of change had gotten SGA into the situation it did. Suspending the unconstitutional guidelines would not have crippled the House.

Phillips said the guidelines and rules in the constitution, which were meant to be more broad and vague in comparison to the SBC, limited how SGA could grow and change.

“We just haven’t been able to get away from some of those policies of when it was set up originally,” Phillips said. “It just hinders SGA from being a group that advocates for the voice of the students, that funds different student organizations and funds different initiatives that are important to the students having a great experience.”

During the time the constitution would be suspended, students would not have to worry about House members increasing the student body fee, he said. There were several administrative steps that would need to occur before the student body could vote on an increase in the fee.

Harrison said suspending the constitution was something that needed to be done so SGA could continue to change in a way that helped the student body.

“I don’t believe that [the constitution and the SBC] should get in the way of us serving the student body and being the representatives that we’re elected and called to be,” he said.

If there were inconsistencies between the constitution and the SBC, the constitution was supposed to take precedence, Harrison said.

The inconsistencies between the constitution and the SBC probably resulted from revisions to the SBC that happened during the 2011 fall semester, he said. One of the changes to the SBC was increasing the number of justices on the Judicial Board from five to 15.

“I think [the inconsistency between the constitution and the SBC] was something in the back of our minds that we may have known, but we were so focused on moving forward in SGA that it wasn’t the main focus,” he said.

Members of the Elections and Regulations Committee would work on revising the constitution during the 99th House Session, which occurs during the 2012-2013 academic year.