After spending last semester hashing out a new constitution, the Student Government Association is now back at the drawing board as university officials deemed it a “flawed document” that was not ready to be voted on by the Board of Regents this past summer.
Originally passed by the Senate on Feb. 18, the student body approved the proposed constitution during the spring election held on April 14 and 15 by a vote of 698-475.
The document was then scheduled to go before the Board of Regents for final approval July 21. However, Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba, under advice from members of his cabinet, recommended sending the constitution back to SGA.
“It was my recommendation, after reading the constitution, that there were significant amount of apparent contradictions within the document itself that lead to the problems we had in the ultimate election last spring,” said Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Sara Sidebottom. “It wasn’t ready to go to the Board of Regents.”
When SGA President Andy Hixson was elected this past April, the SGA Election Committee disputed the results with university officials, claiming Hixson did not meet eligibility requirements based on its interpretation of the current constitution. The administration had announced Hixson as the winner while the Election Committee said it would not recognize votes for Hixson and declared his opponent, Eric Fegan, as the next president.
According to Sidebottom, a well-written constitution can be understood by anyone without difficulty or question in interpretation. She noted that this was evidently not the case last semester.
Sidebottom said that because of all the publicity surrounding the spring election and all the problems that were “inherent” through it, Votruba chose to send the proposed constitution to her office for review.
“When the election became so muddled, it was clear that the document needed to be examined,” Sidebottom said.
Sen. Mike Tobergta, author of the first draft of the proposed constitution, wanted the Board of Regents to at least look at it, as the student body voiced its approval by passing it during the election.
“How can you put someone who was democratically elected, Andy Hixson, into office, and then deny democracy by saying, ‘we cannot even look at this constitution that was voted on by the students,’ – the same students that voted for Andy Hixson,” Tobergta said. “To me it was very hypocritical.”
“Even though it had been voted in by the students, that’s not automatic,” Sidebottom said. “The governing board, the Board of Regents, has to determine whether or not it’s appropriate.”
Sidebottom said that although many people saw the election scandal as an embarrassment to the university, she sees it as a good thing, as it will give SGA an opportunity to come out with a better document.
“They lived through this election,” she said. “They are, I think, aware of the inconsistencies and the contradictions, and I think they have enough sense to go back and fix the document.”
Hixson plans to do just that. He said producing a new constitution is one of his biggest priorities of the semester. He hopes to have a new document voted on by Senate and the student body by the end of the semester.
Tobergta said that he is OK with changes to the proposed constitution, so long as the heart of it is still in tact – the idea of “shared governance,” a policy of increased collaboration between SGA and other student organizations. The proposed constitution included the Activities Programming Board and the Residential Housing Association, and many critics of the document claimed that it gave SGA disproportionate control over these organizations.
“I don’t feel shared governance is including (APB and RHA) in our constitution and controlling them,” Hixson said.
Hixson has created a starting-point constitution for SGA that he claims is a “completely different” version from Tobergta’s version.
“I’ll fight for my constitution,” Tobergta said.
Sidebottom also sees a problem with both the current and proposed constitutions’ eligibility requirements for presidential candidates. The current constitution states that “each candidate for President and Executive Vice President must have served one semester on Student Senate or Judicial Council by the beginning of the fall semester following their election.” (Article VI, Sect. 1, B.9)
“Why do you have to have Senate experience to run for president? You exclusively eliminate all the rest of the population on campus,” Sidebottom said. “It effectively barred most of the student body from being able to run.
“It kept the power within certain elected people and only certain elected people could then run for the next job. This past election, a group of individuals challenged that, and that’s what brought it to light.”
Hixson said that his new version of the constitution will allow anyone to run for any office.
Sidebottom said that a governing document should protect the weakest member of the governing body, which in this case would be any student interested in running for SGA president. She said that the proposed constitution failed to do that and said that it “smacks of ‘crony-ism.'”
“Everything sort of tied in to keep the power of the government in the hands of a few,” she said.