Student Senate hosting Constitutional Convention
by Tim Flowers '06
October 20, 2004
For Brett Gann, being the Assistant Director of Wabash’s version of "1776" was almost prophetic. After nearly a year spearheading the Student Senate’s attempt to write a new constitution, Gann worked daily on a theatrical interpretation of how the United States wrote its current, longstanding document. That familiarity affirmed his desire to leave the Wabash students a lasting document of their own.
"I was given the unique opportunity to experience the American political system at one of its finest moments," Gann, Chair of the Student Senate Constitutional Review Committee, said. "It was inspirational and provided me with renewed vigor in my determination to formalize our governance."
After months of diligent work within the Constitutional Review Committee, Gann and other committee members will present their proposed version at 2 p.m., Oct, 24, in the Goodrich Room in Lilly Library. Senate members will then debate and discuss the proposed guidelines and vote on a final document for ratification.
Gann decided to approach Student Senate President Brandon Hayes ’05 about the possibility of writing a new Constitution after the Habitat for Humanity controversy last semester. Student Senate allocated $20,000 for a philanthropic "Blitz Build," where students and faculty came together to build a home for a Crawfordsville family.
The allocation raised procedural questions concerning the appropriateness of the expenditure of student funds on a community project.
Gann believes students deserve a more active role in determining how Senate functions as a governing body.
"We live in a country in which we are guaranteed certain rights and are expected to participate in certain fashions. This is one of those ways. It is my hope that my fellow Wabash students will take from this experience a special pride and feeling of accomplishment in being part of this patriotic practice in self-governance," Gann said. "Also, I hope this experience will energize students and will express that energy through participation in national, state and local elections this November."
Gann studied the current constitution on a point-by-point basis. He evaluated operational guidelines to ensure the Constitutional Review Committee was not completely changing Senate governance. Gann and the committee wanted Senate to operate at its peak efficiency.
In the proposed changes, clubs and Senate committees are more accountable to the general Senate for their actions. The new rules would require them to provide detailed reports to the Senate concerning goals and achievements. Also, prominent clubs and organizations can petition Senate for ‘liaison membership’, which is a non-voting advisory role. The changes seek to include more students in the governing process.
Some students are waiting to pass judgment on the new constitution until it is formally presented. The fact a convention is being held causes some Wabash men to question how far the process needs to be taken.
"I don’t know anything about this new constitution. I will have to evaluate what Senate wants before I can make a final judgment," student Matthew Marett ’05 said. "As a voter, I want to make sure my living unit is well represented in the final document. I can say that I think it’s a little overboard to have a convention and everything."
Gann credits the current confusions concerning to new constitution timing.
"Outside of the Constitutional Review Committee’s membership, I have heard little response to the document. It was released to the Student Senate a few weeks ago and to the community population just prior to fall break," Gann said. "Since I have heard little commentary, I hope that the Student Body and any Wabash community member attend the convention of the Student Senate this weekend. It promises to be a momentous entry into the history of Wabash."
President Brandon Hayes thinks accolades should be given to Gann and his committee for their diligence and imagination throughout this process.
"I think a new constitution is something that needed to be done for a long time and it was a goal of mine to accomplish. The committee has done an extraordinary job of incorporating all aspects that needed to be taken into consideration so I don’t have any concerns at this time," Hayes said. "Students should expect a cut and dry explanation of how the Student Senate should be run — something that has never before existed."
As currently written within the proposed constitution, the document will be sent to the respective living-units after being passed by the convention. The document does not become valid until two-thirds of the living units vote to adopt the new governing rules.
Gann is optimistic about the document’s chances.
"While not perfect, this Constitution will set in motion a strong system of student government that will survive Wabash for a century to come," Gann said. "If the required two-thirds of the living unites ratify prior to the end of the semester, the Senate will commence its next year with strength and focus."
Flowers is the Board of Publications representative to the Senate and the body’s secretary. He also is editor of The Bachelor, Wabash’s student newspaper.