Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Sunday, April 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

UCourt complaint alleges SA power grab, claims ballot inaccurately represented constitutional changes

New constitution removes turnout requirement, decreases approval threshold for future amendments

constitutional-amendment-william-liu
William Liu / Thresher

By Maria Morkas and Viola Hsia     3/5/24 10:55pm

The Student Association ballot inaccurately represented proposed constitutional changes that “consolidated power in the hands of fewer people,” an unnamed student alleged in a complaint filed with the University Court Feb. 22.

Specifically, the ballot failed to disclose the new constitution’s elimination of turnout thresholds for future amendments, the complaint said. The constitution was ratified Feb. 29 with 83.2% of students voting in favor; 1,639 students — 35.8% of the undergraduate body — voted on the ballot question.

“The complainant alleges that the Student Association acted improperly when they failed to mention on the official summary that the constitution was being amended to eliminate the need for a 2/3rds majority and 20% turnout in order to change the [constitution],” UCourt chair Hugo Gerbich Pais wrote in an email to the Thresher.



The unnamed complainant accused the SA of initiating a power grab with the new constitution.

“[The SA] misrepresented the content of the amendment in order to pass an amendment that consolidated power in the hands of fewer people,” the student wrote.

The complaint also noted that the summary of the changes said “amendments can be passed by a majority of students when in actuality it is a majority of responding students.”

The new constitution passed the Senate in November 2023. The amendments were brought to the student body for approval on the SA regular election ballot last week.

When students opened their ballots, the final question, titled “CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES,” listed a series of “major changes” and provided a link to a document where students could review all the changes.

A screenshot of the Student Association regular election ballot shows the constitutional changes approval question.


A previous complaint was filed in April 2023 about the legitimacy of a nearly identical series of constitutional amendments, which passed in an election that did not meet the approval and turnout requirements. In October 2023, UCourt ruled the ratification unconstitutional and unanimously overturned the amendment.

“The Student Association declared [in April 2023] that they had successfully amended the constitution, and the court found very clearly that this was not true,” Gerbich Pais, a Duncan College junior, wrote in his email to the Thresher. “The constitution says very clearly that they need a two-thirds majority and 20% voter turnout. They got neither of those.”

Since the complaint is not electoral in nature — that is, it does not dispute the legitimacy of the results but rather “alleges the Student Association acted improperly” — UCourt will conduct the investigation as opposed to the SA elections committee, Gerbich Pais said in the SA listserv notice.

Gerbich Pais said that they will host an investigative panel with UCourt officers and evaluate the evidence, like the text of the constitution and bylaws, as well as hear statements from the complainant and SA representatives. The committee will either dismiss the case or enact a full case hearing. 

The new constitution will remain in effect unless UCourt decides otherwise, Gerbich Pais added.

“Throughout this process we will consider the SA constitution in its entirety, and where the constitution does not provide us explicit black or white answers, we will consider the document’s foundational principles,” Gerbich Pais wrote.

According to Gerbich Pais, if UCourt finds the SA in violation, it will consider remedies or sanctions based on what the court finds.

Other amendments to the constitution included changes to the Blanket Tax. The new constitution stipulates that the Blanket Tax Committee will partake in an annual spring review of organizations to “ensure proper adherence” of the funds, and requires that the three treasurer-appointed members are SA senators. Further, $14.50 of each student’s Blanket Tax is now allocated to the Thresher to “maintain editorial integrity and independence.”

The new constitution additionally clarified the language about succession order among the SA executive committee and gave college senators and presidents more oversight in Student Association spending. Also, SA resolutions now need a simple majority vote in the Senate to pass instead of a two-thirds requirement.

Finally, the new constitution broadly implements “semantic changes and clarifications” in an effort to make the document easier to read.



More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 4/17/24 5:23pm
Jones wins men’s and women’s Beer Bike races, GSA snags alumni

Jones College won both the women’s and men’s Beer Bike 2024 races, while the Graduate Student Association claimed the alumni team win. Hanszen College bike teams were the runner-up in the alumni and men’s races, while Brown College was the runner-up in the women’s race. Martel and McMurtry Colleges did not bike in the alumni race, according to the Rice Program Council’s final report, and the GSA was disqualified from the men’s race for accidentally sending out two bikers simultaneously.


Comments

Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.