Problems with Yale-NUS Constitution Informed New Draft
story Regina Marie Lee, Managing Editor
The Yale-NUS College Student Constitution, drafted in November 2014, is being reviewed by the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) in preparation for the end of the first Student Government’s term in February 2016. Public commenting on the draft of the new Yale-NUS constitution began on Tuesday, Nov. 10.
The draft aims to address some issues raised about the previous one, such as manpower burnout, inefficiency due to a lack of hierarchy, and a lack of scrutiny on the government, interviewed government members said. It was drafted by the CRC over the last two months in meetings open to the student body. The CRC is composed of nine public representatives and two government representatives.
When public comments close, the CRC will vote on every amendment. The new draft will be finalized on Nov. 23. Thereafter, a ratification vote will be held on Nov. 25 and 26, where a minimum of half of matriculated students are needed for quorum. Two-thirds of those who vote must vote in favor of the new constitution for it to be ratified. Currently, students have the option to vote for the draft or the old constitution.
A lot of the changes in the drafted new constitution were based on feedback from current government members, CRC public representative Matthew Ware ’18 said. The draft proposes a president and vice-president, judiciary oversight and more elected representatives, for example.
The draft includes a major structural change in the government, with a president, vice-president and directors, as opposed to the current flat structure of eleven equal positions. After a council of government representatives are elected, the president and vice-president will be elected from this council by the student body. As head of government, the president will appoint directors from the council to be in charge of areas such as student life and academics.
All four government members interviewed said the lack of hierarchy in the current government has hampered its ability to respond quickly and effectively. “Without some form of hierarchy or institutional authority given to any individual, everything has to go through everyone, even where logistical implementation is concerned,” government member Jay Lusk ’18 said. He added that this has prevented the government from acting on policies that “were well-thought-out” and slowed down the government. The problem would be solved by giving individual government members authority to implement policies under their portfolio, he said.
The distribution of workload was also a problem without a leader to instruct and ensure things get done, government member Tee Zhuo ’18 said. “Everyone relies on the principle of goodwill…in the worst-case scenario nothing will get done,” he said. This was a problem in the second semester of the government’s one-year term, where commitment of some members dropped, he added. “There is no oversight so certain government members can choose not to turn up for meetings,” said Tee, who is also Convenor of the CRC.
Government member Ami Firdaus ’17 said that with no hierarchy, some members end up taking a disproportionate amount of work. “Admittedly there have been occasions where I have intentionally restrained myself from stepping up to the plate,” he said.
Government member Nyang Bing Lin ’18 said the lack of a head means no one is thinking of the big picture and long-term view. Without the foresight to predict problems, many projects felt reactive, she said. The draft constitution should resolve these issues if the president has foresight and is outward-looking, she added.
A judiciary to check on the government and ensure its actions follow the constitution also features in the draft, Ware said. It will have nine randomly selected student representatives, controlled for demographic representation, who will sit in on meetings and hold members to the code of conduct, said Tee.
Lusk said the judiciary’s check on the government’s actions and power will give them more confidence to act, as opposed to now where members debate the legitimacy and transparency of their own actions.
The draft constitution also proposes 23 elected representatives, more than double the current 11. Lusk said the current government lacked manpower to execute policies, especially as the student body grew. Tee said this led to burnout amongst representatives. “Most government members will not be running [for government] again, and that’s not very healthy because no knowledge is being passed on,” he added.
The new draft has not been able to address all issues raised, such as conflicts of interest affecting government members. Ware said representatives will often have conflicts of interests with major student organizations, given the small student body. “Ultimately it’s up to people to clear their own conflicts of interest, as there is only so much the constitution can do,” he said.
Public comments on the draft constitution can be submitted through an online or hardcopy form, or to any CRC member by Nov. 20.