Constitutional review: a dirty but necessary businesses. Get in the thick of it alongside Satow Room reporter Nadra Rahman and a few dedicated visitors from CUAD.
The Columbia College Student Council (CCSC) was knee-high in constitutional review last night, debating the elimination of current positions, the creation of new of new ones, and in general, a complete reordering of CCSC as we know it.
But first—Columbia University Apartheid Divest returned (again), this time to invite Council members to a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions 101 event. Before they did so, they took the time to bash CCSC (again) for their conduct and vote regarding CUAD’s proposed ballot initiative. Nadine Talaat (CC ‘17) put it this way: “You can’t pretend to be apolitical, so the only thing I think you can do is gauge the opinions of students [by coming to this event].”
After this interlude, the Council proceeded to consider a long, interwoven series of proposed constitutional amendments, made complicated by the fact that some contradicted or involved others. Voting will be next week, but the debate was not subdued. If you want to follow along, you can read the current constitution here.
New Reps, Old Reps
Inclusion and Equity Rep Lewit Bedada proposed language for the abolishment of her position, replacing it with a Disabilities Rep, Race and Ethnicity Rep, First Generation/Low Income Rep, and Gender and Sexuality Rep, in a move perhaps inspired by the restructuring of the Engineering Student Council (ESC). In her remarks, Bedada affirmed that having a single representative on CCSC for “all brown and black kids” was inefficient and unrealistic; the creation of new positions would help solve the problem. This proposal did not spark much debate as did the suggestion that the First Generation/Low Income Rep and newly proposed Financial Security Rep (described in the section below) be consolidated.
Another topic that evoked a response was the idea of doing away with class vice presidents and converting that role into an additional rep position so that each class has four reps; Council is also considering having reps run for specific CCSC committees when they stand for election, as an indication of their skill-set and perspective. In this case, the Campus Life rep might act as a pseudo-VP, taking the place of the president should they step down. These proposals raised two questions: Do we need class vice presidents? And what would be the effect of running for specific CCSC committees as a rep candidate?
Current class vice presidents—2019 VP Adam Resheff, 2017 VP Brennon Mendez, and 2020 VP James Ritchie articulated their support for vice president position. Resheff said having “two people at the helm” was productive, while Mendez noted that a candidate who runs for vice president makes an “informed choice to be a ‘jack-of-all-trades,’” which cannot necessarily be said of someone who runs as a rep for the Campus Life committee. As for this idea of running for specific committees, there was some confusion on the topic: what if no one ran for a particular committee? Would a committee choice be binding? (And if not, why would this section be included in the Constitution?) What would the elections look like—head-to-head elections for each committee, or do the three highest tallies win? In terms of inclusivity, does running for a committee exacerbate the perception of CCSC as an insiders-only club, as USenator Sean Ryan and others suggested? No consensus was reached, but the writers of the language will take the feedback into consideration before presenting a second draft at next week’s meeting.
Does history repeat itself, or does it really repeat itself? The Sandwich Ambassador role might be wrecked, renegotiated, or renamed, just as it was last year. The current job description for the Sandbassador is to “promote student affordability at local eateries,” working with Morningside businesses in the process. The proposed new language completely upends the current conception of the Sandwich Ambassador. It replaces the position with a more dignified-sounding Financial Security Rep who would be more focused on liaising with University institutions to reduce financial insecurity (of which food insecurity is a subset). A major focus of the change was to make the role more substantive and the name more serious—current Sandwich Ambassador Joseph Villafane said that businesses did not take him seriously with his current title (he also called the current description of the Sandwich Ambassador “memey” and a joke).
There were several objections to this. VP Policy Abby Porter brought up the uniquely dual nature of the Sandwich Ambassador: it is the only rep position to explicitly engage with the larger Morningside Heights community, a point which is lost in the current proposal for restructuring. She, along with other members, also pointed out that the position description, if not the actual substance of the role, provides some needed levity for a Council often mired in bureaucracy and procedure. As VP Finance Anuj Sharma said, “I’m afraid [this change] reinforces the perception that some people have of us, that we take ourselves too seriously and are at the same time a little out of touch.” 2020 Rep Grant Pace called this attitude “problematic”—why is it the position related to food insecurity, and not any other, that has to be reduced to a joke?
Council members also brought up the ballot initiative, conducted a few years ago, in which students voted overwhelmingly in favor of creating the Sandwich Ambassador position; changing the role dramatically might be seen as the actions of an unrepresentative body. Again, Pace had a response as far as the name of the role goes: “It honestly reminds me of when the Internet votes to name things.” Some members of Council did note that all the voters for the ballot initiative had already graduated or would graduate this year.
Next week, a few different proposals will be submitted: one for keeping the name and changing the substance of the role (but perhaps adding a use-name for interactions with outside businesses), one for changing the name but keeping the substance, and one for rehauling the role entirely, as initially proposed last night.
As we saw a few weeks ago, the ballot initiative process is somewhat of a mystery, partially due to ambiguous, vague phrasing in the Constitution. Last night, we saw two different proposals meant to rectify this. The first was more true to the current phrasing of the Constitution, but made big changes in removing CCSC from the process of crafting or amending the language of a question brought to them by a student group; the only avenue available to such student groups would be to submit a petition signed by at least 15% of CC students, a number which would go through a verification process. This first proposal also added a section on allowing CCSC to submit questions of its own to the ballot. The second proposal, drafted by USenators Josh Schenk and Jay Rappaport, was much longer, detailed, and included provisions that allow petitioners to veto a rejection of their question if they can gather more support. It maintained the two pathways for ballot initiatives: appealing to CCSC, and coming to CCSC with petition signatures.
Council members and members of CUAD in the audience critiqued the second proposal for its length and complexity, although Rappaport maintained it would better support the “little guy” (a term to which one CUAD member took offense).
Stay tuned for more ballot initiative talk next week.
- Should we have a Wellness Rep? Some members thought that a dedicated rep is necessary, while others believed that all reps work with wellness in some capacity, making it difficult to carve out a unique role.
- Ryan’s proposal to introduce roll-call voting for non-procedural votes was met with support; Council members thought it would introduce better accountability and transparency. However, confusion about appointment and closed votes lingered, and CUAD members brought up the fact that some CCSC members had been intimidated or harassed into voting against their consciences a few weeks ago. One audience member said, of ignoring the possibility of political coercion and publicizing the votes of people who may have been harassed: “That’s not transparency.”
- Again, related to CUAD: Council might change the language around “gathering and expressing student opinion” in the first paragraph in the constitution, as it is unclear whether this includes ballot initiatives like the one proposed by CUAD.
A Few Updates:
- Policy: Data for the tampon and pad distribution program has been collected and illustrated, but you can still take a survey here. Expect a report soon.
- Communications: Bribing students lounging on Low Steps with popsicles and cookies—a proven method for collecting likes on your Facebook page.
- Alumni Affairs: Columbia College Women is celebrating 30 years of coeducation with a conference, to take place this Saturday, April 22, from 9 am to 6 pm in Faculty House.
- Senate: Be on the lookout for the quality of life survey.
- 2017: The boat cruise is this Thursday, 6 to 10 pm.
- 2018: The boat cruise (a different one) is this Thursday, 8:00 to 10:30 pm.
Billz via Pixabay