Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Members of the Swarthmore Student Body,
The powers of the Student Council, and indeed that of any modern government, is defined by the principles and regulations codified in its constitution. Towards the end of last semester, the Student Council came together and decided that a change in its constitution was necessary. Since that time, we have not drafted – let alone ratified – a working constitution, leaving the protocols and procedures arbitrary and to the discretion of those in power. The SBC chair selection process revealed the perils of such a predicament, a failure in government structure that resulted in a violation of normal due process. As a member of the student body and of Student Council, I feel obligated to point out that this violation is not accidental: it is the direct result of Student Council not having a working constitution.
I want to make it clear that I am writing this piece not out of a grudge but with a non-personal approach so everyone can know the inherent problem and take steps to address it. I would like to ask you to be fair in your critique of all parties involved. The Student Council is currently in a period of transition away from our old constitution, attempting to accommodate the newer needs of the student body. However, we had very few guidelines as to how the transition would occur and have been trying to work through it without a working constitution. Our current operating procedure gives little direction to those with appointment authority, allowing them to decide on a whim which guidelines to follow. This is an ethical problem that has resulted from the constitutional predicament that we are in.
When the SBC Chair position was opened to applicants, I applied to the position before the first deadline along with several other students. However, the deadline was pushed back twice, and both times I was neither given the interview that the application implied would happen nor given any notification of my status as a candidate. In fact, the only notification I received came after the SBC chair was appointed. Throughout the entire process, I felt skeptical that I would be chosen, but the selection process made me think that I never had a chance. Given the lack of notifications, it seemed that I was being screened out and could not help but feel that favoritism was part of the equation. I’m sure others who applied felt similarly.
This entire selection process clearly shows the severe problems associated with the lack of a working constitution. Without a working constitution, the contract that all members of the Student Council metaphorically sign amongst ourselves and with the student body, it becomes all too likely that the tension and antagonism that accompanied the entire SBC chair selection process is the norm rather than the exception. If we had a constitution, one with clear and defined bylaws and guidelines overseen by a larger group of students, these problems could have been easily avoided. Thus, the best solution to this problem is that everyone supports the Student Council in its work for the rest of the semester to finish the draft and ratification of the constitution.
As a student who attends an institution that is dedicated to the education of social responsibility and justice, I believe that it is our collective responsibility to take immediate steps to advocate, draft, and ratify a working constitution. There are critical concerns and issues we must combat but how can we do this if our student government has such a serious flaw? Student government at best can be a legitimate, representative, and democratic organization that has the capacity to improve the student life of Swarthmore considerably, and I want to make this potential a reality.
David Ding ‘16