In anticipation of next week’s vote on a new constitution for the Associated Students of Madison, representatives from groups opposing and supporting the measure debated Wednesday over the power of the president, funding for student groups and the document’s effect on student activism.
Jeff Wright, the ASM Constitutional Committee chair, argued the structure would bring legitimacy back to the student government.
Chynna Haas, speaking on behalf of the Vote No Coalition, contested that claim, saying the new constitution would give too much power to one person and cut students out of the democratic process.
The main concern of the Vote No Coalition was the inclusion of a new presidential system. The coalition believes this addition would create a government without checks and balances.
The powers in question allow the president to veto legislation and budgets, and appoint members of the appropriations committee, which deals with funding for student groups, Haas said.
Haas added having the power to choose appropriations committee members would allow the president to elect individuals with a similar stance. This is crucial, as conference committees, which try to compromise on vetoed budgets, are comprised of members of the executive branch, Student Senate and appropriations.
“This new constitutional system will put funding in jeopardy for students because it is putting viewpoint neutrality in jeopardy,” Haas said. “If a funding stream is being altered or abolished, there is no constitutional protection for student organizations.”
Wright rebutted by stating the president would only have the power to veto entire budget packages and not individual student group budgets. He or she would also have to provide written justification with the veto package.
“Let’s be honest here — this leader is going to be much more scrutinized than our current chair when it comes to viewpoint neutrality,” Wright stated.
He also said there would be no major changes in how ASM handles funding processes through the finance committee and appropriations.
Wright added if any changes were to be made in the funding stream, those involved would receive three months notice.
According to Haas, the current system is effective, and minor changes within the structure should be ASM’s main focus.
Haas said the current structure reflects the passion these people represent in ASM’s grassroots committees. Because of that, activism coming from the bottom up — instead of from top-down with a presidential structure — works more effectively.
“We need to maintain grassroots committees and activist groups because that is where the power lies for student government,” Haas said. “With the new structure, the president has the most power, and that silences the voices of the students who need their voices to be heard the most.”
In contrast, Wright said the new system will function more effectively by giving students the chance to voice their opinions through a more thoughtful, organized government created to speed the process of change.
He added the president would have less power to negatively affect ASM than the current chair position and the addition of a presidential branch would spark greater student involvement.
Both parties encourage students to get to the polls. The election will take place by online vote Feb. 23 and 24.