AUB student elections: Why are they always “hanging in the balance?”
Every fall it seems, one or several pieces are published in Outlook about the plight of student elections at AUB. These elections, which usually take place in November, always seem to be “hanging in the balance.” The recurring theme for three years now has been the electoral laws that dictate the election to the Student Representative Committees (SRCs) of each of the six faculties and to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC).
In most elected councils, electoral laws are not easy to amend so as not to allow any newly-elected simple majority to change the rules of the game in its favor once it reaches power. The bylaws of the SRC and USFC are no different and require, as a first step, a two-third vote by the respective committee for any bylaw amendment. So, why is it then that the AUB community has been having an “electoral law discussion” just before elections every year?
Student elections were held at AUB for the first time after the Civil War in January 1994. From 1994 until Fall 2011, AUB was witness to some nineteen student elections based on the following format. (1) Students elect representatives to their respective faculty SRC. (2) The elected SRC members of each faculty then elect, from amongst themselves, members to represent the respective Faculty in the USFC. For example, a Biology student would elect from their level one or several representatives to the SRC of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). The elected members of the FAS SRC (ranging in number between the 20s and the 30s over the years) would then elect from amongst them 5 members to the USFC. For more than eighteen years, student elections were held at AUB in this way without the pre-elections crises this generation of students has become accustomed to.
On October 10, 2012, the Dean of Student Affairs sent his annual email to the student body, announcing the details of 2012-13 student elections. The Dean stated:
To further improve the process and in the spirit of direct representation the elections this year will allow students to vote directly for their representatives in the University Student Faculty Committee simultaneously during the SRC elections.
This piece is not one where I will be giving my take on the best-suited electoral law for student elections at AUB. This piece is to shed light on why we are in a mess three years later in 2015.
In the fall of 2012, by sending this email, the Dean of Student Affairs took a unilateral decision to amend the USFC bylaws based on what he saw fit, given the circumstances. First, any amendment of the bylaws should have been proposed by an absolute majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Second, the proposed amendments should have been voted upon by a two-thirds majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Third, the amendments should have been subject to final approval by the University Senate and the president of the University (Article XIII, USFC bylaws). There is no evidence, neither in the meeting minutes of the USFC nor of the Senate, that this ever happened.
Elections were held almost a month later on November 13, 2012 based on a presumably illegal electoral law. Seventeen student members reached the USFC based on this law, two of them realizing it after joining the committee. These two student members worked with the Dean on a new draft for USFC bylaws to try to “fix” this breach.
In Fall 2013, this draft was presented to the Senate. Under the article on Composition of this draft was the following statement:
Sections 1 and 2 [determining the electoral law] of this article have been left undetermined intentionally for one USFC term for the 2013/2014 academic year only. The election format for this academic year will need to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the entire voting membership of the USFC. If an agreement is not reached by the required 2/3 USFC vote by Friday 11 October 2013 the Dean of Student Affairs can determine the electoral process for the 2013/2014 academic year only.
This statement was considered problematic by the Senate because it gave the Dean the right to decide (over actual elected USFC members) the composition of the USFC. It also included a specific date (“Friday 11 October 2013”) in the bylaws (bylaws are supposed to be timeless). The Senate, pressed for time before the elections, approved a motion to approve these amended bylaws for one year only until the article on Composition (the electoral law) is resolved, thus granting the Dean authority to decide the electoral process for one year only: 2013-14.
Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2014 and the article on Composition was yet to be resolved. The Senate, this time more reluctantly, approved the Dean’s motion to repeat the decision of the year before for another one year only: 2014-15. It is worth mentioning that the Dean took this as an opportunity to change the composition of the SRC of each of the six faculties that year in another unilateral, centralized act.
Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2015 and (you guessed it) the article on Composition is still not resolved. This time the USFC bylaws were not even placed as an agenda item for the University Senate meeting of October. Fearing for a postponement or a cancelation of student elections, one senator moved to place this item on the agenda during the meeting. The item was discussed and, breaking with the unfortunate trend of the previous two years, a motion was approved to push for elections before the end of November based on the last approved bylaws. I leave it to readers to decide whether the latest email sent by the Dean of Student Affairs on November 10, 2015 (pasted in the comments below) is in compliance with the “last approved bylaws.”
So, why have elections been “hanging in the balance” for the last three years? In a interview published last week by Outlook, the Dean believes that it is because “each [group] is fighting for their own little ’empire’.” Perhaps this is true, but maybe students would not be in this situation today had the Dean not been playing the role of emperor since 2012.