Apr 30th, 2018, 05:43 PM

Senior Speaker Controversy Results in Reforms

By Gabriel Green
Marc Montheard, vice president and dean of student services, speaks during a discussion focusing on the disqualification of a senior speaker candidate earlier this semester. Image credit: Gabriel Green
SGA passes constitutional amendments relating to the Senior Speaker, disqualification of election candidates

Last week, during the final session of the academic year, the undergraduate student council voted to adopt several new amendments to the SGA constitution. The latest amendments primarily address procedures of the senior speaker elections and guidelines for the disqualification of any candidate for an elected student position. 

Following some controversy surrounding the disqualification of senior speaker candidate Eleanor Dickinson earlier in the semester, a committee was formed to take on the task of crafting a set of constitutional guidelines in the event of future disqualifications for all elected positions. Three students elected by the undergraduate student council, the SGA judiciary chair, USC and GSC vice presidents, along with administrators Marc Montheard and Kevin Fore were assigned to the committee. Those participating in the committee were also responsible for clarifying the senior speaker job description and election process. 

“I think it was a good collaborative exercise. People came in from the outside to talk as well. We really put everything on the table and looked at it from different angles. It took us a bit of time to figure out what we thought made the most sense but I’m happy with the outcome and the final language,” said Dean of student development Kevin Fore, who participated in the committee. 

A total of 11 constitutional amendments were proposed and subsequently approved during Wednesday’s Senate session, garnering no opposition by any Senate members. Several rules, which were not formally added to the constitution and therefore required no vote from the Senate, also were agreed upon. 

The first five amendments focus on the disqualification of candidates running for any elected student position at AUP. Included in these amendments is the Election Task Force’s ability to disqualify any candidate at any point during an election, including after voting has closed, if any election rules have been broken by said candidate. 

After a disqualification occurs, re-runs and validation of election results will now be decided upon using a simple majority vote by the Election Task Force. If a re-run does not take place, the Election Task Force will validate the results of the original vote, awarding the position to the candidate with the most votes. If that candidate has been disqualified, the runner up candidate may be awarded the position at the discretion of the Election Task Force. 

Additionally, once a candidate is disqualified, an announcement now must be sent to the student body as soon as possible and all feasible efforts must be made to remove the ability for votes to be cast for the disqualified candidate.  

“The idea was that whatever system, in terms of disqualification and what the process should be, could be backed for any election, any position. So, that’s the rationale,” said Marc Montheard, vice president and dean of student services. 

The remaining six constitutional amendments are centered around restructuring the election process and job description of the senior speaker position. “This semester’s experience highlighted how graduation speaker positions are different from SGA elected positions. The committee, therefore, felt a need to innovate to avoid potential issues in the future while keeping a balance between student input and institutional supervision. The proposed model formalizes support made available to graduation speakers,” the committee said in a collective statement following the release of a draft of the proposed constitutional amendments.

Outlined in the new rules, the senior speaker election will now take place in January instead of March, allowing more time for speakers to prepare and receive guidance and feedback on their final speech. Under a new rule, which was not added to the constitution, a 24-hour gap will now be implemented between speech night and when voting for the senior speaker opens. This time gap, however, is flexible and can be changed by SGA at any point.

“We thought that there would be an easy way, not affecting the constitution which is to give the executives and the Election Task Force a little bit more time. We felt like everything was rushed. So, we felt it would be a good thing if the vote will be open only 24 hours after speech night so if there are any specifics that happen during speech night it could at least be dealt with before the vote opens,” said Montheard.

“I really think that this is the best solution that we all came up with just because it allows us to have a wider scope into what’s happening and take our time and deal with everything properly,” said SGA judiciary chair Quinn Chesser.

Gender Sexuality and Society department representative Dhouha Djerbi, who was also on the amendment committee, weighed in on the new rule saying “it makes sense to me that we give at least 24 hours for us to absorb that we got during speech night and if there is any debate or any problems we can try to fix them, hopefully before voting starts.”

In future senior speaker elections, the top three candidates for both undergraduate and graduate speaker will advance into a secondary selection process. Following this selection, the three candidates from the undergraduate and graduate class will then participate in a workshop during which senior speaker candidates will receive training and feedback from a specially formed committee made up of students, faculty members and or staff. By mid-April, candidates will then present a draft of their speeches to the committee. After all drafts have been presented, the committee will select the senior speaker for each class. 

“Now there will be a selection that would be made after attending a workshop where everybody is told what to expect, how to prepare for your speech, but also give the support that the institution can have including access to a speech faculty and then having the possibility to reword their speech and then they would present to a committee,” said Montheard. 

“Before, the idea was that they had to present a draft, they were not selling themselves as a good potential speaker, they were practicing a short summary draft of their speech. Now people should be selling themselves and saying why potentially they would be a good speaker.”

The resolutions to pass these new rules and constitutional amendments place a peaceable punctuation mark on the conclusion of this semester’s round of SGA members and set a constructive tone for those to follow in the fall. 

“Over all the meetings that we’ve had with Marc and Kevin have been truly fruitful and I’m really hopeful in the new changes that we’ve made in the constitution. We truly tried to tackle a lot of the vulnerabilities that exist in our constitution and tried to improve it,” said Djerbi.