A group of Class of 2019 students have drafted a charter for a student government, the Associated Students of Minerva (ASM), and will put this charter to a vote on Friday, January 13 2017. The decision to approve this charter now lies in the hands of the student body.
It is an important decision to make, as the ASM would change the character of student and staff interaction at the university. Students from both classes have weighed in and several opinions on how to proceed have emerged.
Minerva is a young and developing university. Students change it through their feedback and the way they engage and interact with the institution, administration and staff every day. Since the start of this brave experiment, there have been issues that the students wanted to address with the administration where the processes for interaction were not clear. This has led to the formation of working groups on creating a charter for a student organization and government.
In Class of 2019, moves to create a student government started last year and have gone through several iterations of charters and governments to arrive at the current proposed charter. The will to create the ASM has emerged from urgent problems in communications and negotiations with the administration. The system to be put in place now through the charter is therefore designed for difficult periods to solve conflict and ensure students’ voices are heard. The mechanism would operate as a formal liaison between students and Minerva’s administration. This way, students can have their concerns addressed efficiently and seriously.
You can view this charter here.
It lays out a basic structure for student government with two representatives for each class who will take care of issues in the community on behalf of the classes that elected them. Every class will elect their representatives at the start of each semester through a system of single transferable vote after short election campaigns overseen by an election commission. The representatives will then rule on important decisions for the student body and present student opinions to the administration. Students can reach representatives through inquiries and forms demanding change in university proceedings or the charter itself. To counteract representatives’ action, the charter provides for referenda which pass with a simple student majority.
Students from Class of 2020 have raised concerns about the nature of this charter. Firstly, some feel a lack of accountability to the student body, especially to Class of 2020, who were not consulted in the creation of the charter. Secondly, they see a need to increase options to modify the charter for coming classes. In addition, they do not see legitimate procedures to solve major conflicts within the student body and between classes addressed adequately. Lastly, there are still doubts about the exact role of representatives and their interactions within the student body.
To ensure solutions to all of these issues, Class of 2020 student Josh Broomberg has led a team to propose that the charter be voted on provisionally and to create mechanisms to revise it with student input for a limited period. This revision period would be overseen by a provisional government to ensure that student voices are heard in the administration immediately. Broomberg suggests that in this time the student government’s charter would iterate rapidly, allowing for necessary time to incorporate both classes’ needs. Read their proposal here.
At the same time, students would work on accommodating everybody’s wishes in a revised and improved charter that would be put to vote at a later date. Opinions diverge again on how to work on improvement. Some argue for a constitutional committee-style leadership group to amend the charter with student feedback, while others favor working groups for interested students who care about certain issues. Most important, at this point, seems to be effective communication between all students and between classes.
As Colette Brown, Class of 2019, explains: “We want the exact the same thing and that is to have a seat at the table with the administration. The only difference is that at the end of this semester, we want to ensure both classes still have a government. If 2020 wants to make a working group to edit the current charter, awesome, but let’s make sure they have something to fall back on if it doesn’t pass. We need the permanent charter as a safety net.”
Voices from the Class of 2020 do not agree and prefer a provisional charter. Broomberg explains: “A provisional government is a compromise. It balances the urgent need for representation against the need to improve the charter before it becomes permanent. We believe that, as is, it is not good enough to be permanent.”
This Friday, Minerva students face one of the most important choices they, thus far, will make in shaping the college at which they study.