It’s no secret that the Student Union Assembly (SUA) at UC Santa Cruz has been fraught with conflict and controversy in recent memory.
Five years ago, the Assembly held the largest concert in UCSC history, which put the organization in a $37,000 deficit that took about three years to recover from.
Two years ago, President Ray Inoue quit mid-term, citing “fundamental cracks” in the organization that kept it from accomplishing its goals.
This year SUA spent almost $50,000 on fall quarter’s Sage the Gemini concert — $30,000 of which officers spent without consent from the rest of the Assembly.
Stephan Edgar, UCSC third-year and College Nine SUA representative, sees the constitution as a large part of the problem and as something he can fix. As a computer science major, he’s familiar with troubleshooting problems in code. He applies a similar approach to writing legislation.
“It can be as simple as applying a patch, but sometimes you have to take a look at the structure of the governing document itself,” Edgar said, “and see if the structure itself is what is making this institution prone to the problem it’s had.”
This year, with the help of SUA officers, assembly members and SUA’s Vision Committee, Edgar set out to address the root cause of SUA’s past problems with a whopping 162 individual amendments to the constitution.
Edgar released the first draft of the new constitution in early February to Emma Cunningham, chair of the Vision Committee, and David Miller Shevelev, Disability Student Union Representative to the SUA, for comment. He later released it to the rest of the SUA, students and student organizations before its sponsorship phase in mid-March.
SUA voted unanimously to place the amendment on the student elections ballot at its first meeting this spring. Students will vote on these changes during campus elections from May 13 to May 22.
“This needs to pass for the sake of accountability within the board space,” said Davon Thomas, SUA vice president of external affairs, in an email. “This is the change we all want in the space and I hope the student body can see that.”
Here’s a guide to some of the biggest changes this constitutional amendment tackles.
Many of the amendments to the constitution serve to make the document more accessible to students. It clarifies ambiguous clauses. For example, the new constitution would require that SUA officers be undergraduates, while the current constitution doesn’t specify.
New language in the document would also establish what summer quorum should be, closing loopholes that allowed SUA to misuse its funds last fall. Because there was no formal definition of summer quorum, SUA president Ayo Banjo defined it himself, which allowed the six officers to approve funding for fall quarter’s Sage the Gemini concert without representative consent.
The constitutional amendment clarifies the default summer quorum as “half plus one” of the elected representatives present during the summer. No decision or vote would be allowed without quorum present.
The SUA currently has no effective way to enforce the policies in its governing documents. The Constitutional Interpretation Commission is responsible for holding SUA accountable to the constitution, but is difficult to convene and lacks representation from all SUA members, being composed of just the six officers.
The Judicial Council would replace the Constitutional Interpretation Commission and enforce all its governing documents, not just the constitution.
The people on the Judicial Council would be chosen by the Student Committee on Committees, and chaired by the parliamentarian. It would be held to a system of checks and balances, and its recommendations would only be enacted if approved by the SUA voting membership.
UC student governments are not held to any laws that ensure accountability and transparency, whereas those at the California State Universities and community colleges are.
SUA’s new constitution, if adopted, would tie it to the Ralph M. Brown Act, the law that community college governments must adhere to. This act would require the SUA to have open and transparent meetings, allow any student to speak in public comment and prevent corruption.
The new constitution would formally recognize student organizations as important allies to the SUA. It also recognizes unregistered student organizations — any student-run organization would be eligible to apply to hold a voting seat in the SUA.
The new constitution also adds right of dissent, allowing student organizations and college governments to publicly disagree with any SUA decision through an official statement. As the official voice of the student body recognized by the UC Regents, this provides another level of accountability to the students SUA represents.
SUA members see this amendment to the constitution as a first step on the path to ensuring the SUA functions as an accountable and representative government of the students it serves. David Miller Shevelev, Disability Student Union Representative to the SUA, hopes the new constitution would be a base from which the Assembly can grow further.
“I hope we will all remember this amendment as a moment where SUA demonstrated it can do better and is trying to do better,” Miller Shevelev said in an email. “Hopefully this allows us to have a conversation about what an SUA that was funded and staffed at higher levels could do for the student body.”
The amendment needs a simple majority vote, with a 20 percent turnout rate from the undergraduate student body to pass.