Another Sunday night, another four hour meeting. If you couldn’t make it to CCSC last night (and who can blame you), here are the pertinent details from the slogfest, courtesy of Monday meme Nadra Rahman.
Every spring we look forward to un-tarped lawns, eau de mulch in the air, and…constitutional review? This year, CCSC’s constitutional review was informed by concerns surrounding appropriate representation, resulting in the creation of four new representative positions (and the abolition of two) and a heated discussion over the ballot initiative process. Here’s the Constitution to read along, and keep in mind the various discussions on Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) this semester (four links).
The New Positions
A note: the newly-elected Sandwich Ambassador and Inclusion and Equity Rep will serve out their terms. The election for the new positions will take place next spring, during regular CCSC elections.
Goodbye Sandwich Ambassador, hello Financial Security & First Generation Rep. There were multiple proposals for reforming the Sandwich Ambassador on the table—the first renamed the position entirely and geared it towards addressing broader financial and food security concerns, and this was the one that passed. The second proposal combined this with aspects of community engagement at the core of the position, while also allowing the Sandbassador to use a different, more serious title when interacting with outside businesses; the third mostly retained the current job description but also added the use-name and some (brief) language on financial security, and the fourth was much the same but suggested changing the name altogether, to one of a series of proposed new names.
Throughout the discussion, members of CCSC seemed to be in agreement that there should be a representative devoted to financial security—they just weren’t sure what to do about the Sandbassador, a position created through a ballot initiative, and by an overwhelming majority, as pointed out by several members of CCSC. 2019 VP Adam Resheff, VP Finance Anuj Sharma, and VP Policy Abby Porter all voiced their support for retaining the position. Sharma thought that attempting to convert a “joke” position into a serious one was offensive to the students who would be served by the representative, while Resheff stressed the origins of the position, saying it was a clear sign from the student body that student council needs to take itself less seriously. Both supported retaining the Sandbassador position and creating a financial security representative in addition to that. Said Sharma: “I’m perfectly fine risking some redundancies so we don’t insult the issues here.”
One member from 2020 didn’t find Resheff’s argument compelling, saying: “I don’t think us taking ourselves too seriously is why people don’t like student council…I don’t think anyone in my class, or anyone in future classes, will care that [the position’s] gone.” 2018 President Ezra Gontownik agreed: “If we want to have a joke position, let’s call it the joke position. Responsibilities: none, period. Voting ability: none, period.” Overall, the people of CCSC seemed confused and irritated by the Sandbassador position, and sought to abolish it entirely in favor of a Financial Security Representative. The motion passed, though not unanimously. Later in the night, Inclusion and Equity Rep Lewit Bedada’s proposal for a first generation/low income representative was merged with the new position so that it became the Financial Security & First Generation Rep.
The other new positions were proposed by Bedada. Without much debate, Council voted to create a Disabilities Rep, a Race and Ethnicity Rep, and a Gender and Sexuality Rep to replace the Inclusion and Equity Rep. When answering questions, Bedada stressed that one person is unable to adequately serve all these groups simultaneously. She added, “We’re playing catch-up here—this isn’t anything new,” referring to similar rep positions in ESC and GSSC. Some members of CCSC raised concerns about these reps liaising with the same offices, to which Bedada made the comment that these positions inherently intersected; she envisioned collaboration even as the reps served their individual communities. Even so, Gontownik opposed the creation of these positions, claiming that over-specialization wouldn’t be productive. The vote still passed, but with a few changes: VP 2017 Brennon Mendez proposed adding language on serving feminist and women’s communities to the Gender & Sexuality Rep job description, while President Nicole Allicock added offices with which this position could liaise.
The discussion on altering the ballot initiative process was long but not particularly far-ranging, as the same points were made throughout the night. The current ballot initiative procedure allows for student groups to either (1) come to CCSC with a question, which can then be further edited or amended by CCSC and must achieve a majority approval to reach the ballot and (2) come to CCSC with a petition that has been signed by 15% of the CC student body. Student council can amend the resolution, but the original question goes to a vote if at least 15% of the CC student body signs onto a petition rejecting the proposed amendment. Even in the case of CCSC rejection, the question is automatically put to a vote by CC students.
There were two proposals for changing this process. The first removed CCSC from the process by not allowing it to amend the question and removing the first process (mentioned above) for bringing about a ballot initiative; it also added a section on CCSC itself proposing questions. The second proposal, drafted by USenators Josh Schenk and Jay Rappaport, kept both processes. It did, however, make the following change with regards to petitions: “The CCSC shall pass or reject the proposed resolution to adopt it as CCSC policy by a simple-majority vote. If the CCSC rejects the proposed resolution by a simple-majority vote, but at least 2/5 of the CCSC members vote in favor it, then the resolution is put on a ballot for a vote by CC students. Petitioner(s) may override a CCSC rejection vote that has 3/5 or more of the CCSC members voting to fail the resolution by collecting signatures from at least twenty-five percent of the Columbia College student body rejecting CCSC’s decision to fail the resolution and requiring that the resolution go directly to a vote by students.” Yeah, it sounds complicated.
Most of the debate centered around the second option’s section requiring that student groups garner signatures from 25% of the student body if they are initially rejected by CCSC. While Rappaport termed it a “win for student groups” that a resolution could be put on the ballot with just 40% of CCSC voting for it, the alternative of having to gather 25% of CC’s support seemed unrealistic to some members. Porter thought it made it much harder for there to ever be a ballot initiative and 2017 President Jordana Narin thought it would disincentivize student groups from appearing before student council in the first place. She especially stressed that any CCSC involvement in a resolution would just result in a “proxy debate,” as was the case with the CUAD debacle, and such incompetence on the part of CCSC would directly penalize student groups by forcing them to then get 25%. Sharma thought the second proposal would in fact codify such proxy debates: “If the goal is to distance us from polarizing political issues…the second proposal literally requires us to take a stance.”
Opposition to the first proposal largely centered on the lack of CCSC involvement (which its proponents took as a positive), as some members felt that public debate and discussion on proposed questions was necessary. Aryeh president Dore Feith, in the audience, took this stance, and suggested the first proposal would be unfairly biased to a CUAD resolution.
Concerns were also raised about the verification process, ambiguity of the language, and the prospect of changing the rules of the game on student groups in the process of gathering signatures. Towards the end, members of CCSC seemed eager to end the discussion—Student Services Rep Sam Safari seemed particularly ready to leave (“It’s ridiculous we’re here at 11:53, yo.”), though Porter admonished him for his semi-regular outbursts (she told him to “stop fucking talking over people”*). In the end, neither proposal passed, and the discussion was tabled.
Dispersal began immediately, and Rappaport attempted in vain to motion to amend the 25% in his proposal to a lower value. His peers had already left the room.
Roll Call Voting
USenator Sean Ryan introduced his proposal to start roll call voting for all non-procedural and non-appointment votes, which wouldn’t seem so controversial, except—members were split on whether a ⅔ vote or a simple majority would be required to hold a secret ballot. Proponents for ⅔ voiced their support for transparency, while those for a simple majority said a lower threshold would make it easier for members of CCSC to avoid coercion and intimidation; for the latter group, true transparency would entail having members vote their opinions. Resheff supported a ⅔ vote but said an adjudication process for claims of coercion would be a useful mechanism (though other members said this type of coercion left little proof to be adjudicated). At one point, a Senate staffer suggested that a student council member should be able to overcome any type of intimidation and vote their conscience, to which Sharma made an incredulous response.
Eventually, Council voted for the roll call voting language to mandate a simple majority for secret ballot votes, and then voted to approve roll call voting. (There was some controversy here: Ryan thought the first vote to change the language should have been by simple majority because it was not technically a constitutional amendment, but Allicock elected to use ⅔ because the language would go directly into the constitution in the next vote. Ryan called this “wrong” and “ridiculous.” After outbursts from multiple members throughout the meeting (on more than this issue), Porter said: “The amount of disrespect shown to Nicole this meeting has been horrendous.”)
Exam Rescheduling – ESC
SEAS USenator Izzet Kebudi came to CCSC with an ESC resolution that strongly recommends to the Registrar that students not be obliged to take more than two finals in 24 hours. The resolution cited the stress faced by students during finals and referenced peer institutions that have enacted similar policy. CCSC voted to endorse the resolution with very little debate.
More Constitutional Review
- The opening paragraph of the Constitution was changed so that CCSC is not charged with “gathering and expressing student opinion,” as it was deemed redundant and has lent itself to ambiguity. “Fostering cohesiveness and community among the entire undergraduate population” was also made a general aim of CCSC, not just in conjunction with planning events.
- USenators are now mandated to attend all CCSC general body meetings that do not conflict with mandatory Senate meetings; all three senators must also attend the meetings of the Policy Committee (this led to some debate).
- No discussion occurred on the proposed new language for the attendance policy or the creation of a rep for health and wellness. Maybe next time? Next year?
- Everyone’s events went great! Awesome!
- Academic Affairs did more work towards developing a faculty advising program. A survey on the Work Exemption Program is currently in the works.
- Paper Plate Awards are next week, but it won’t be all light-hearted/passive-aggressive self-aggrandizement if these discussions on constitutional review continue.
*corrected from “stop fucking people over”
Sandwich pic from Pixabay