The Student’s Association cabinet is not allowing student groups to debate at the SA budget meeting this semester.
The Student Congress’ official Rules of Order does not address students who attend open SA meetings but who are not members of SA. It does not say that they can take the floor, nor that they cannot take the floor. Yet come next Wednesday, it has been established that they will only be allowed to speak when asked a direct question by a member of Congress, a rule that has not been in place for at least the last four years.
The SA budget meeting has a reputation for being a “blood bath” or a Hunger Games-style affair between student organizations. If there is one SA meeting that students (other than SA members) attend or speak up at, it’s this one. Not just because it’s entertaining and intense, but also because it is their money that is being divvied out. Students pay a student fee in their tuition, which is eventually given in a lump sum of $90,000 to SA.
There was no rule added to the official Rules of Order and no amendment made to the constitution when SA President Rodney Johnson announced the rule change at Wednesday’s SA meeting. He told us this is how he is going to interpret the rules that exist. So let’s take a look at them.
The Student Congress Rules of Order, section III states:
A. Voting Members:
- Consists of all class, academic, and residential representatives.
- Voting members have the privilege of making motions, obtaining the floor, and voting on all motions.
B. Non-Voting members:
- Consists of the President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and the Administrative Officers.
- Non-Voting members shall have the privilege of making motions and obtaining the floor.
- They shall not have the privilege of voting under any circumstance.
- Non-Voting members may not sponsor legislation.
As we said, student groups or students that come to the meeting to represent their group are not mentioned here, or anywhere in the Rules of Order or constitution.
Johnson said, “Rules three and four discourage us (cabinet members) from taking the floor, only when it’s absolutely necessary in my interpretation.”
Yet rule B. No. 2 clearly states that Cabinet members have the “privilege of making motions and obtaining the floor.”
So if Johnson is saying that only voting members of Congress have the right to take the floor, and that even his own cabinet is discouraged from taking the floor, in order to justify taking away student speech on the floor, then we have a string of logical fallacies here. Starting with the fact that no one is discouraging him and his cabinet. At least Section B., No. 2 isn’t.
Perhaps Johnson is assuming that because he is not allowed to vote or sponsor legislation then he shouldn’t even be allowed to talk at all for fear of swaying votes. But that still doesn’t tell us why students shouldn’t be aloud to convince congress of their needs.
Maybe Johnson is taking a strictly textual interpretation of the rules. Maybe he’s insisting that since student speech isn’t mentioned anywhere, then it’s not allowed. Yet, SA doesn’t even have the historical documentation or knowledge to say when students first started taking the floor.
To get past all the technicalities, the bottom line is student groups are going to have no defense against voting members of Congress who are uninformed about the why groups are asking for money. Yes, they have a typed-out budget with numerical data sitting in front of them, but they don’t get to use that meeting space as a workspace to hammer out the budget with groups, like it has traditionally been done.
We applaud the movement to end student-on-student verbal abuse during meetings. And while we are appreciative that the SA cabinet is seeking to be more professional and efficient and make their meetings run smoother, we believe that it comes at the cost of student representation.
Johnson said students’ time to speak is in their private meeting with the executive treasurer, Andrew Tate, where they have to formally make their request weeks prior to Congress’ vote. But Congress isn’t in that meeting, and according to section III, at the end of the day they are the one deciding where our money goes.