By now, most of you have hopefully heard about the current referendum vote regarding fundamental changes to the Undergraduate Assembly Constitution. With weekly coverage from the DP, circulating signature petitions and a general buzz all over campus, the importance of this vote is self-evident: Simply put, it’s a really big deal.
As Executive Board members of the Nominations and Elections Committee, we are in charge of objectively facilitating this referendum process. Thus, we’ve had a first-hand look into the hard work, dialogue and debate that has culminated in this week’s vote.
Students will vote on two issues: the initiation of a direct student election of the UA President (formerly UA chairman) and UA Vice President (formerly UA vice chairman for external affairs); and a sweeping revision of the UA Constitution that will allow for greater flexibility and influence in the day-to-day work of Penn Student Government.
This piece will tackle the fundamental importance of the UA chairman and vice chairman question. But first, a refresh: the Undergraduate Assembly is your representative and legislative branch within PSG. Penn’s undergraduates vote each spring for sophomore, junior and senior UA representatives.
Currently, the chairman and vice chairman for external affairs are elected internally by UA Representatives each spring. With this referendum, the UA President and Vice President would be elected via popular vote by the student body during spring elections.
Supporters of this reform assert that this change would place Penn in the company of other top universities that implement this system, as well as bolster the spirit of democracy through direct election.
Citing last year’s internal UA elections, supporters state that external student opinion was largely irrelevant, as non-UA members have neither an official vote nor any tangible influence on the internal election. Taking the power to elect a portion of the UA’s leadership out of the hands of the 33 UA members and placing it in the grasp of the Penn electorate, this referendum would allow for student groups and interests to play a dominant role in elections.
According to opposers of the referendum, this proposal would change the election for chairman and vice chairman for external affairs, the two most historically prominent positions on the UA Executive Board, into a popularity contest whereby the quality of leadership might suffer.
As the UA addresses many significant policy issues facing our campus, dissenters worry that those elected will lack a comprehensive grasp of the behind-the-scenes work, necessary contacts within the Penn administration and understanding of the UA’s standard operating protocols that are fundamental to serving as an effective chairman or vice chairman for external affairs.
So why should this all matter to you? As visible all throughout campus this past week, the NEC’s WTFPenn campaign summarized how these proposed changes could drastically affect your Penn experience. In the past, the UA has been the branch of PSG directly responsible for bringing you free copies of the NY Times, efficient UA Airport shuttles and expansive recycling and green efforts.
Moreover, the UA allocates the university’s budget for PSG and the greater student body. Ever wonder how SPEC gets the money to get Akon on Penn’s campus? How your student groups obtain SAC funds? How that SCUE Wine Preceptorial finds money to buy those delicious merlots? Yup — that’s the Undergraduate Assembly.
It is undeniable that this election has the potential to rewrite the pages of PSG’s rulebook, and your vote will affect countless aspects of your undergraduate experience. Agree or disagree with these changes? Vote online starting Dec. 7 at midnight at pennstudgov.com and let your voice be heard.
Rachel Levick and Patricia Liu are the chairwoman and vice-chairwoman, respectively, of the Nominations and Elections Committee.
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