By JONATHAN POLSON
Student Senator Benjamin Hermerding spoke with the University of Mary Washington’s Student Government Association Executive Cabinet on Monday night about violations and a lack of adherence to the SGA constitution.
Hermerding, a senior political science major and the newly elected chairman of the Senate’s Constitutional Review Committee, presented the Executive Cabinet with a copy of the constitution highlighted and annotated in areas that he believes are not correctly followed.
“To say that I like law and order is a serious understatement,” Hermerding said in the opening of his presentation.
He also presented a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, the rules under which both the Executive Cabinet and the Student Senate run their meetings. Hermerding presented a quote from Henry Robert’s account, stating, “Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of liberty.”
“I think what we have going on here is what Mr. Robert would call the least of real liberty,” Hermerding said. “The most of real liberty is having a constitution that is agreed upon by our people-that is the student body-and then followed faithfully, which gives us legitimacy. And followed transparently.”
Hermerding addressed various representatives on the Executive Cabinet in regards to their committee’s requirements under the constitution. His list of violations included the lack of a secretary and press secretary on the Legislative Action Committee, the lack of a vice chairperson on the Academic Affairs Committee, the absence of the Commuter Student Association’s bylaws in the SGA constitution and the failure to update the the SGA website with the current Executive Cabinet members, among others.
Hermerding encouraged board members to read through their sections and bring forth necessary changes, as he, Senate President Nate Levine and Senate Vice President Alex Obolensky are currently work to update the constitution.
“We are working to change stuff in the constitution, so if you guys read through your sections, as I recommend you do, let us know if there’s a problem and we will be adjusting it,” Hermerding said. “I know a lot of this is tedious, a lot of this is not fun. It’s difficult to find these things, but these are the rules that we run under, and we need to do them right.”
Levine, who as Senate president also serves as vice president of the SGA Executive Cabinet, noted the ongoing efforts to change the constitution in order to make it more practical to the university’s current standing. He mentioned that he has been working with administration officials such as Cedric Rucker, associate vice president and dean of student life, to find and amend “archaic” aspects of the current constitution.
“These are the things that I have been aware of, that we’re not following the constitution as strictly as we could be. Sometimes I’ll mention it, especially in my report [to the Executive Cabinet],” Levine said.
One of the biggest conflicts Hermerding presented was student elections to the Senate and a failure of fair representation of the student body. Additionally, “each residence hall shall have at least one senator notwithstanding the number of residents in said residence hall.” Currently, the Senate does not have a representative from each hall.
The constitution allows for as many senators as “a total number of voting members equal to the College student population divided by fifty,” and student senators are elected by gaining 50 student signatures, and then the senator is approved by the majority of sitting senators. The constitution also states that “The Association of Residence Halls (ARH) shall conduct elections for residence hall Senate representatives concurrent with the elections for senators at large.”
Levine stated that this is the problem he has been working most closely on fixing, but for the time being he believed it was important to continue with the 50 signature rule while working to fix the constitution. He said his goal by the time he leaves office is to “ensure that my successor has an updated constitution with the changes we want to make, all the constitutional things that are currently not being fulfilled as being fulfilled… and an updated system for electing student senate that ensures that it’s representative of the student body.”
“I believe that the current system, although it used to be representative, falls short and is at this point archaic,” Levine said. “That’s the crux of the problem…I just want to ensure that the system is up to date with what makes the most sense now because the university’s constantly changing.”
Levine also acknowledged that it is important to inform and include students in the process.
“It’s not just changing current things that are broken, it’s also informing students of things that aren’t being fulfilled,” Levine said. “And why not start now? I mean I agree with you that it’s important.”
Hermerding acknowledged the efforts being made, but argued that his biggest problem is the violations to the constitution that currently sits.
“Every group, whether it be the United States government or the UMW SGA, there is a set of rules under which they need to follow. Whether or not they are changing those rules, they need to abide by them,” said Hermerding after the meeting. “And to not abide by them is to violate the trust that students give to them.”
The conversation remained civil, and the board allowed Hermerding to speak for close to 20 minutes on the subject. Following the meeting SGA President Samantha Worman said she agreed that re-evaluating the constitution is definitely in order so that it can “adhere to the culture of campus” today.
“I completely agree that we need to really re-look and revamp what’s going on and adhere it to our current standards,” Worman said.
Worman also explained that any student can bring a proposed change to the Senate’s constitutional committee. Following the committee’s work, the proposed changes will all go to the Judicial Review Board for review. Hermerding mentioned during the meeting that JRB has all interpretational authority in regards to the SGA constitution.
“Technically the administration doesn’t get to say anything about the constitution,” Hermerding said.
Hermerding explained that the by-laws state any question on constitutional interpretation must be submitted to JRB in a formal letter and “at least five JRB members have to be sitting in on the interpretation, and then they’ll offer their ruling on it.”
“I wish more students were here with you because these are all very important issues that you’re highlighting,” Levine said.