Last week, students at the University of North Alabama were asked to vote on a constitutional amendment. Students were presented with two choices “yes” or “no.” While the answer choices were simple, the logic and debate behind the two sides was not.
There were two sections that warranted a student poll: The raising of the GPA requirement for the executive officers from a 2.25 to a 3.0, and changing the title of the University Programming Council Vice-President to “Director.”
Along with the UPC title change, the amendment stated that the Vice-President of UPC would no longer be a voting member within the Student Government Association executive council.
“In a perfect world, I would’ve liked to see the GPA change be a separate vote,” said SGA President Samuel Mashburn.
The two main focuses of the amendment were extremely unrelated. Many supported the GPA requirement change while the proposed changes to UPC were not so well received.
In order to amend the constitution, the proposed amendment must be presented to the student body for a vote. The polls for the amendment closed the evening of Feb. 26 and following an official vote count, the amendment failed to pass.
Judging by the vote, a majority of students on campus did not support at least one of the proposed changes.
“The code of laws are the intricate rules of what SGA does,” Mashburn said. “The constitution supersedes everything else and we (SGA) want to make sure it is not easily changed.”
Through opening the amendment up to support or opposition by the student body, this allows for a system of checks and balances between SGA and the students it represents.
The amendment process does not happen overnight, however. Getting to the voting stage is a rigorous and lengthy endeavor.
“The conversation started in November of 2019,” said Carson Brite, the rules and regulations committee chairman of SGA. “We decided on the final product over Christmas break and then added the GPA increase after Christmas break.”
In addition to the time line, eight hundred signatures must be collected in order to put an amendment onto the ballot for the next election. Furthermore, as Mashburn explained, the amendment must be passed by SGA Senate and be made public to the student body, through the polls.
Once the amendment was made public and students were presented with two possible choices, diverging opinions and opposing rationale flooded campus.
When asked if he believed there was a spread of misinformation about the amendment throughout campus, Linden White, the vice-president of the university programming council said “Yes and no.”
“I think both sides were giving out what they believed to be the right information,” White said. “But the information on how it would affect UPC years in advance was not correct. [UPC] would have eventually lost our voice in SGA as a whole.”
The amendment intended to remove UPC as a voting member from the executive council of SGA. While this may not have had a direct effect on the functionality of two of the branches of SGA, senate and UPC, no one knows what would have become of the relationship between UPC and executive council had the amendment passed.
“Students can see if the branches are arguing,” White said.
During the week that the polls were opened, student senators and UPC members posted fliers on social media aimed at convincing their followers to vote in with their side.
The fundamental ideas of the amendment may not have directly affected students in a way that they would notice, but the arguing and narrow viewpoints can affect voting tendencies.
“When students get confused, they don’t know who to believe so they just quit voting,” White said.
In order for UNA to function to its highest capacity, the student body must continue to exercise their right to vote. If they are presented with radically opposing opinions on their social media feeds, this could impact student voting participation.
“I think that there was a lot of hesitation by people in UPC by the motive behind these changes,” Mashburn said. “[UPC] did a good job at getting the word out. The senators behind the amendment did not do as good as a job explaining the reasoning behind the amendment.”
Brite said the amendment intended to clear up a lot of gray areas in UPC. Last year, the vice-president of UPC was an elected position voted on by the student body like SGA president, vice-president of senate, treasurer and secretary.
This year, however, the new vice-president of UPC was hired by the university, not elected by the students.
“People who are not elected cannot represent the student body ethically,” Brite said.
This was the UNA student senate's thought process behind changing the title of “vice-president” to “director.”
“I think there is a better compromise to give UPC a voice and senate what they feel is the best solution,” said Parker Leigh Flemming, the newly hired vice-president of UPC for the 2020-2021 academic year “It was not discussed as well with the student body. In the future I feel like there is a better way to communicate to students before they vote.”
The lack of communication and unity between student senate and UPC is a new issue at UNA.
“Senate and UPC used to be really close and then over the last year, we (UPC) decided we needed a change since we were one of the biggest UPC’s in the state of Alabama,” White said. “The separation of UPC from the office has made our relationship with student senate different. I hope that in the future, we can become one again and not argue over things that can be resolved just by sitting down.”
Many feel as though these proposed changes will resurface eventually.
“We’re looking at ways forward and looking at ways to implement these changes,” Brite said. “There is the option of putting it on the homecoming ballot of next year. I personally foresee these ideas to be on the ballot again, but we have to ask how do we control the conversation ahead of time and make sure it's effective.”
One idea that may address the lack of support for the vice-president of UPC change is the collection of student signatures, as pointed out both by Flemming and White.
In order to become a senator, one must collect two hundred and forty student signatures in order to be considered. If this was the same for the vice-president of UPC, it could still be a hired position, but the person awarded the position would have to receive student support.
One thing is clear, division among student leaders at UNA does not aid in future progress.
“From the outside looking in, there was some division and we had animosities,” Mashburn said. “It's just a part of the process of debating and figuring out the best move for our students. Everyone in SGA is out for the best interest of students. The difference is what everyone thinks is the best for students.”