Bracing for change
Student Council’s recent bylaw reforms will help increase the organization’s productivity
The bylaw changes Student Council unanimously passed Tuesday evening are a promising sign for the body’s next term.
Council last updated its bylaws in September 2010. Incoming Council president Eric McDaniel, a third-year College student, said Tuesday’s bill was the most comprehensive set of bylaw reforms since 1979.
The bylaws lay out how Council structures its operations. Council requires flexibility and adaptability in responding to student concerns. Its old bylaws, Council leaders say, hampered the body’s procedures and introduced inefficiencies. That Council was able to overcome its propensity for hesitancy to pass the reforms with a unanimous vote is evidence that a bylaw overhaul was overdue.
The biggest change the bylaw reform introduces is splitting the representative body into subcommittees. Currently, Council’s representative body meets en masse Tuesday evenings in Newcomb Hall. With the reforms, representatives will alternate large biweekly sessions with small subcommittee meetings.
The new bylaws introduce four subcommittees for representatives. An internal affairs committee will review CIO oversight and management of Council meetings and records. An external affairs committee will consider Council’s web management, media relations and relations with other branches of student government and the University administration. An undergraduate affairs committee will work on constituent outreach through town halls, Speak Up UVA, and matters related to the undergraduate population’s welfare. Finally, a graduate affairs committee will do the same for graduate students.
Organizations such as the Honor Committee—which, by comparison, has updated its bylaws three times in the last three years—and the University Judiciary Committee dedicate themselves to specific functions: case processing and holding students accountable to the honor code and standards of conduct, respectively. In contrast, Council’s mission of serving students offers the organization great freedom but also introduces the potential for the body to become unmoored. The establishment of the subcommittees will help Council’s representatives focus on specific initiatives to improve student life.
Of the four committees, half are focused on Council itself. The danger with the internal and external affairs committees is that critical reflection will give way to navel-gazing. But participation in such groups may help representatives think carefully about the role Council can and should play in the University community.
The danger with the undergraduate and graduate affairs committee, in contrast, is broadness of scope. Council leadership should continue to think about ways to keep representatives on these committees focused on useful tasks. Council should also indicate on its website which subcommittee each representative serves on so students can direct concerns to appropriate Council members.
The University Board of Elections Friday will announce Council’s new vice presidents and representatives (the presidency will not be a surprise). With fresh leadership and newly polished bylaws, Council seems on the verge of evolving for the better. But its new bylaws will mean nothing unless Council sticks to them. We hope Council’s former difficulties in adhering to its own rules—in terms of attendance policy, for example—will become part of the past, crossed-out and deleted just like its rusty bylaws.