After multiple weeks of discussion and debate in Operations Committee and the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council, an amendment altering the process for determining the method for filling vacant positions passed Council with all but four in agreement, as the rest abstained from the vote. The amendment, authored by the Operations Committee, ostensibly transfers the power for deciding if an open position in student government may be filled by special election or appointment from the Council to the Board of Elections and Appointments (BOEA). This marks an additional degree of authority for the newly-created board, which will itself undergo a shift in leadership in the coming weeks due to the resignation of its chairman.
The amendment altered language within the VSA Bylaws that previously placed the brunt of the decision making regarding vacant positions in the hands of the Council. In the past, the BOEA determined the best course of action for filling vacant positions, but their findings were seen only as recommendations to Council. With the recommendation, the VSA Council was still required to vote on whether to use an election or an appointment. In order for any BOEA recommendation to come into effect, it required a majority vote by Council. Previously the responsibility of appointing a student to a vacant position fell to Operations Committee.
These decisions will almost exclusively be the responsibility of the BOEA—a group consisting of an appointed chairperson, two representatives from each class and two appointed VSA Council members. Under the conditions of the amendment the weight behind a BOEA recommendation has increased. The new regulation states, “The recommendations of the Board of Elections and Appointments shall be considered adopted unless an objection is raised by a member of the VSA Council or a member at large.”
The decision to redefine the relationship between the two groups occurred after this year’s first Council meeting. VP for Operations Ramy Abbady ’16 remarked, “Our first VSA Council meeting this year…was very disorganized and there wasn’t a very clear procedure for what BOEA had to follow and how they would relate to VSA Council.”
He continued, “We came to the conclusion that if we had elected these people specifically to be doing elections and appointments, then we should be trusting them to have the power to be making these decisions and not have the VSA standing in the way of what they decide.”
The increase in responsibility was not lost on Council members. VP for Finance Maximilien Moran ’16 said “This is a major shift in responsibilities and gives this new body, which is new this year, more authority.”
The entire BOEA is a new invention made at the end of last year, as Council members felt too much of its time was devoted to electoral decision-making. Abbady remarked, “I was on Operations Committee last year and we had a lot of projects that we wanted to work on and there were just a lot of resignations last year…it was hard to get anything else done.”
Abbady believes that the new rule will make Council meetings more efficient. He said, “I think that this is good for the VSA because we won’t be talking about that so much so we can be talking about actual student issues now, things on campus and we’ll have more time in our meetings for that sort of thing.”
The VP for Operations argues that the rule shows due respect to those best equipped to make these electoral decisions. Abbady explained, “I think it’s an insult to them that they will have these long discussions, they’re the ones that put in all the work and weigh the pros and cons and actually have a debate about it and then come to a decision, and then have it come to Council and just having Council say ‘no.’”
Another perceived benefit of this new amendment will be the inclusivity the distinctiveness of the two groups may bring. Current BOEA chairman Casey Hancock ’15 wrote in an emailed statement, “The primary benefit is a separation of power. Over the past years, there has been a trend toward appointments resulting in previously elected bodies selecting people they already know to be either their replacements or future colleagues.”
He continued, “The VSA is a body that is supposed to represent the entirety of the student body, but I don’t think it can if the sphere of people that can get into power, or even the sphere of people that think they should be in power, are all people that are already relatively close to that group.”
Despite Abbady’s arguments and the fact that more than two-thirds of Council eventually approved the amendment, it took weeks to pass and still leaves some concerned. The amendment remained under review for an extended period due to the extensive debate within the Council last week in regards to the BOEA’s recommendation to fill the vacant VP for Activities position through an election. Slated for a vote after this discussion, voting on the amendment was tabled for a week.
Upon reintroducing the topic on Oct. 5, discussion of the amendment lasted less than two minutes. The swift adoption served as one factor for Moran’s abstention. He said, “I just wanted there to be more discussion on it and I think that the circumstances surrounding the past couple of appointments and elections that we have had so far this year, which have been a large number, people were just exhausted and wanted to hand this off.”
Another concern raised was about how the VSA would be assenting to the decisions of the BOEA without any knowledge of the candidates, as the decisions would be presented as Consensus Agenda items. Moran said, “I have a problem with the process, and this is a process rule for fund apps and this new fund-app-like system, that essentially we are approving things we don’t have any understanding of…We are giving our approval to it even though we are not reading the bios anymore [for appointments].”
Moran warned students that this newly-adopted amendment should not be seen as an automatic solution. “I think that this is a step in the right direction, I just think a lot more needs to be done and there needs to be a lot more conversation about it. I am worried that that conversation isn’t going to come from Council anymore because we have this new independent body,” he explained.
Despite concerns, the rule has taken effect and students will likely feel the effects in the coming years. “I think that ultimately this will result in a tendency toward elections in most situations and that will make decisions regarding appointments more fair than was previously possible,” Hancock said. “This is because the members of BOEA are not on the VSA Council and were elected to represent students for the pure purpose of holding elections and appointments fairly.”