When 'No' Meant 'Yes'
Constitution Passes, But Voting Raises Controversy
More than two years of struggling for a new student government ended on a bittersweet note this week when a little more than half of the campus turned out for a referendum on the long-awaited constitution and 74.5 percent of those who voted approved.
The approval technically marked a victory for students who had committed themselves to shaping a centralized and funded council at the University
With faculty approval expected this May, the constitution's supporters appeared to have cleared the last major obstacle prior to the plan's implementation
But before the politicos could fully enjoy the overdue adoption of their constitution, students who opposed the new government began to protest
A Faculty-imposed provision requiring at least 51-percent participation in the two-thirds majority election for passage had resulted ironically in a constitution approved by those against it. If the 25 percent of undergraduate voters--932 students--who had cast ballots marked "no" had simply abstained from voting, the referendum would have failed to get the majority participation required.
The confusion over the strange implications of a "no" vote prompted one student to take action and, in less than a day he had collected more than 100 signatures of people charging that the referendum was "not consistent" with good elections procedures Failure to publicize the 50 percent turnout threshold had split the opposition some students were aware of the potential problem with voting "no." While others were not charged I Gerome Smith '84, who collected the signatures.
"I only found out about the 50 percent clause after I voted I tried to retract my vote but couldn't," he said Thursday, adding, "I'm hoping that a new election is called or at least the next time an election is held all rules will be put down so that people won't be railroaded.
There has been no formal response from the Faculty, which insisted on the threshold turnout level when agreeing to change the ratification requirements. The original plan had called for approval by an absolute majority of under graduates, but student leaders believed student apathy would prevent ratified from The three member Faculty committee on the constitution will discuss the vote next week.
But a number of officials have expressed concern over the issue, which John B. Fox Jr., dean of the College, yesterday called "a serious complaint not a frivolous objection."
Some believe the election quick raises questions about the legitimacy of the mandate given to the new Undergraduate Council, and say the vote could hamper the group's initial effectiveness Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III said yesterday resentment on the part of some students who had voted "no" could carry over to next fall when the new government's first elections will take place
And students also have questioned the propriety of establishing a government which despite three-fourths approval from voters only received a go-ahead from less-than-half 43 percent of the student body.
But many students responsible for guiding the plan believe the mandate is decisive and blame the Faculty for the confusion which arose among students against the constitution.
"Seventy-five percent approval and that kind of turnout in that short a time passed clearly shows students want a new government," said Leonard T. Mendonca '83, chairman of the convention that drafted the constitution "Had it (the referendum) been left open for a long period, we would have gotten" an even larger mandate, she said.
Mendonca said the Faculty should have publicized the turnout clause because faculty members were responsible for including the restriction "I think it was probably a mistake not to put it (the turnout threshold) out more, but no one consciously decided not to publicize it. It wasn't like we were trying to hide anything, he added.
Students and officials said that the new structure of the Undergraduate Council will allow it to avoid a late similar to the Student Assembly, which despite 85 percent voter turnout four years ago rapidly lost much of its support on campus, prompting the process which divised the government for next fall.
Students and Faculty members who worked to form the government believe the Undergraduate Council will be the central source of student representation in a way unprecedented on campus Representatives to student Faculty committees will come from and report to the Council, centralizing student government by uniting the previously separated assembly members and representatives to committees with input to the Faculty.
The proponents also believe funding of the government via a $10 term bill fee will also increase the government's effectiveness Distribution of most of the funds to campus organizations and the ability to publicize will strengthen support for the council, advocates say.
Although student voters and apparently the Faculty approve of the funded, centralized structure, the "no" voters questioning the new government's legitimacy may shorten the already-small amount of patience students have in the past demonstrated with the performance of their elected representatives.
"I don't think they're going to care very much about how fair the process was Although that's something that they should be considering. I don't think it will be," said Vincent T. Chang '84, a member of the Third World Student Alliance which encouraged people to oppose the plan because it lacked guaranteed minority representation, opposed by the Faculty.
"It's up to them to prove they can do the job," he said.