The UW-Milwaukee Student Association is moving “Upward and Onward,” Chair Nike Rettinger said after the organization’s new constitution was passed by students and signed by the chancellor on January 30.
The new Student Association constitution, with its rules taking effect May 1, was passed by the members of the Board of Trustees. They are currently the university’s substitute for the Student Association after a third party investigation deemed last year’s spring election results invalid. The board voted the constitution to pass 15-2 on January 19. The constitution was then taken to the Student Court and was unanimously passed by the Student Court’s sitting members.
The Board of Trustees started from scratch and took a blank slate approach as they drafted the constitution with the Student Court this summer.
Consequent to the new Student Association’s efforts to be more transparent and involving, the Board of Trustees made a point to have students participate in the making of the constitution as well, according to the Student Government Relations Director David Stockton.
In Fall 2013 the members of the Board of Trustees held open forums, took surveys and discussed issues with various student organizations as they composed a new constitution.
Once the new constitution was passed, the Board of Trustees set off a campaign that was promoted through Twitter, Facebook, fliers and emails encouraging students to vote whether the constitution should be passed. Voting opened at midnight on January 22 and closed at 8 p.m. January 26.
“I don’t think the Board could have physically done more to involve students,” Stockton said.
During that time, 301 students voted equaling 1% of the student body. Students that voted did so in favor of the constitution with 242 votes, while 59 students voted in opposition. Low voting turnout is typical in constitutional referendums according to both Rettinger and Stockton, although they would have liked to see a higher turnout.
Some opposition has been sighted in the new constitution and has presented challenges for the Board of Trustee’s. In mid-January two former Student Association members filed a complaint to the Milwaukee Circuit Court against the Board of Regents. The complaint was an appeal to the Board of Regents earlier decision to not recognize the Student Association student elections as valid in spring 2013. Consequently, the former SA members claimed then that the Board of Trustees and their new constitution were illegitimate. Their case was later dismissed by the court.
Students involved with the development and voting process also acted as minor setbacks in passing the constitution.
“I couldn’t vote for something that I didn’t completely agree with,” says Ryan Dresden Jr., one of the two Board of Trustees members who voted against the constitution. He would like to see better clarification in aspects of members’ pay and thinks that the GPA requirement is too low for Presidents and Vice-Presidents.
“Having strong leaders in the classroom leads to strong leaders outside the classroom,” Dresden said. According to Dresden this constitution is stronger than before, but there are some kinks that need to be worked out, and that should work out over time.
Student Court member Randall Ensign-Jones also had disagreements that he made sure were addressed.
“The constitution is good overall for the Student Association. I like that the first right given to members by the constitution is non-discrimination. That is something I really advocated for as we drafted it.”
After years of the reported Student Association scandals, members and staff involved with the Student Association are hopeful that this new constitution will bring about a more oral and honest form of UWM student governance for now and for the future.