The first sentence of the introduction to the Charter of the Associated Students of Minerva (ASM) states, “Minerva​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​a​ ​small​ ​enough​ ​student​ ​body​ ​where​ ​excessive​ ​bureaucracy​ ​is​ ​not necessary.”

Apparently, that has changed.

Yesterday, December 7, the six current representatives held an open meeting to discuss and vote on twenty amendments to the charter, found here. An early and important one was to extend the ASM term length from a semester to a year.

The meeting progressed for more than an hour amid lengthy discussions, including some around changes adopted having typos that could not be removed because representatives were unable to agree on whether it was acceptable to change the wording mishaps during the voting.

Formalization and complication are creeping in.

Members of the Class of 2019 wrote the current charter at the turn of 2016/2017 after lengthy iterative processes. The Class of 2020 quickly responded by attempting to draft their own student government constitution. They failed to do so in the short time given, and members of that class passed 2019’s charter in a referendum.

The charter is complex and probably has not been read by most students. Further, the representatives have not always been able to act in accordance with it perfectly.

Ironically, the process of amending this complexity is exactly what has not been enacted: originally, the ASM was supposed to vote on amendments suggested through its open inquiry form every two weeks. No amendment was introduced until the term length came up again on November 15, 2017, at which point the current ASM held a vote to end the biweekly practice and push the vote to a semesterly one occurring in the last month.

However, what was designed to stop bureaucracy from piling up led to representatives immediately becoming frustrated at the first ever major vote taken on amendments.

Amendments to the charter can be made in two ways: the ASM votes on them and needs to approve unanimously, or if they fail to find agreement, the student body votes on them in referenda during the elections, where a two-thirds-majority is needed to pass.

A new addition is that if 20% of any cohort write to support an amendment, they can force a student vote on it, bypassing the ASM.

Theoretically, this policy is supposed to stop bureaucracy and pointless voting that bores students. If the ASM can quickly pass amendments, there are fewer decision-making costs.

Nobody wants students to have to read through and reason about minor wording changes in internal ASM structures.

However, what was designed to stop bureaucracy from piling up led to representatives immediately becoming frustrated at the first ever major vote taken on amendments.

Unfortunately, some of the suggested amendments had spelling mistakes. For example, instead of approving that all amendment votes will be in the last month, they must now be ‘no later than four weeks before the semester ends,’ so, before the last month. When one representatives started live editing the amendment document to correct this, others stepped in and a discussion ensued on whether they could correct these spelling mistakes while in voting session with the proponent of the amendment present, or whether a new suggestion could be submitted while in session.  In the end, no decision was taken. There are now unintended typos in our charter. A future amendment to fix this process may be helpful.

Apart from these quarrels, the vote did bring about a major change in what student government at Minerva will look like: representatives will, from now on, serve one-year terms starting in January and ending in December. The change had previously been supported by 58% of the student body in the last election (held in September), but not the necessary two-thirds supermajority.

The ASM passed it unanimously, stating several immediate benefits. Firstly, one-year terms allow the time to work on more ambitious projects and make real change, which the current structure has not sufficiently allowed. Secondly, it provides clarity on who represents the student body over the summer months. Lastly, the spring elections correspond with the first-ever vote for first-year students, so they will be both less confused and represented.

The ASM was divided on whether to pass an additional amendment to demand ASM introductory sessions in Foundation Week for new students. The student body will decide on this in the next election.

Other changes include that elections will now be in week two and that campaigning can occur ‘before Election week,’ which may be interpreted rather freely. This  was also noted as an apparent typo that should be corrected in future.

With the quickly growing ASM size, functionality would help, both for the ASM to divide its operations, and for staff and administration to communicate efficiently with the ASM. However, future ASM representatives may work against each other.

The ASM also introduced more structure to its own operations, like a representative chair to organize their meetings, and a formal need to send the biweekly newsletter that was introduced this semester.

While Class of 2019 representative Alberto Martinez de Arenaza described this as guidance for future representatives, adding structure does not take away the semblance of bureaucracy that surrounded the meeting.

As a countermeasure, the representatives voted to reduce the need to come to monthly cross-class ASM meetings from all representatives to one per cohort. This relates to a larger upcoming issue that as the student body grows, the requirement for three representatives per cohort means that by January there will be 12 representatives (three for 2019, three for 2020, three for each of the two 2021 cohorts), and by next year this could go up to 18 or more depending on the number of cohorts in the Class of 2022, and so forth.

With this in mind, Class of 2020 representative Vinicius Miranda introduced the most controversial amendment: pairing ASM representatives with senior team members as unique points of contact. Currently, the ASM works as an open collective where representatives tackle the issues facing the student body that they care most about.

This can lead to “fragmented communication,” as Class of 2019 representatives Skye Hersh calls it, where several ASM representatives are contacting the same staff member. The change would reduce the complexity and move the ASM towards a division by more functional roles.

While the amendment voting showed that the ASM is sliding towards an overly formal path bogged down by specifics, it also offered needed change in the form of term-length expansion.

Most attendants “agree[d] with the spirit” of the change, as Shajara Roshdy put it, but pointed out that more thought needs to go into this change before formalizing it.

With the quickly growing ASM size, functionality would help, both for the ASM to divide its operations, and for staff and administration to communicate efficiently with the ASM. However, future ASM representatives may work against each other and this could undermine the ASM’s unified image with administration when there are specified points of contact. It may be ineffective to have, for example, a Student Affairs point of contact in Berlin when students in San Francisco urgently need to speak to that staff member. Another idea floated was to have this division within every cohort, but this has not been added as a proposal yet.

Miranda voted for his idea while all others disagreed, stating that he supports it as a “more transparent accountability mechanism,” and will thereby be including it on the student ballot in January to get a better image of their thoughts on his idea.

While the amendment voting showed that the ASM is sliding towards an overly formal path bogged down by specifics, it also offered needed change in the form of term-length expansion, and ideas for the future of the ASM that the student body has to take seriously if it wants to progress towards having more say in decision-making at our university.

On a side note, it was a pleasure to see the conviction of one attending student who was raising her hand during the first few votes in the genuine belief she was approving the amendments and had come to participate in an open deliberation about the future of her university. She was sad to receive confused looks and stopped when a representative pointed out to her that she could not actually vote. We leave it to the reader to make their own assumptions about what that says about awareness and understanding of ASM activities in the student body.


Correction 8 December 2017, 15:12 KST: A previous version of this article claimed that the November vote was held only to change the amendment voting from biweekly to semesterly. Vinicius Miranda, one of the three representatives for the Class of 2020, pointed out that the vote was prompted by a suggestion to change the term length, which was taken as an opportunity to also change the voting frequency.