By Eliyahu Solomon, Staff Writer
No one doubts the necessity of a student government. All across YU, no matter what morning program, major, or class standing a student is in, they have the opportunity to be actively involved in student life. In coordination with the administration, students can help create an experience dictated by the interests, wants, and needs of the student body. A student government ensures those who may not have the most popular interests, such as a niche club, will be represented and spoken for. Most importantly, a student government fosters a culture of leadership, responsibility, and self-advocacy, giving leaders of tomorrow the opportunity to step up when no one else will. They shoulder many responsibilities, but all for the greater good of the student population.
At the center of any functioning body are its governing documents. Our constitution is not here for us to pretend we are an actual government or to make us seem more “official;” It is a reference document that delineates in clear and precise language the goals and responsibilities of the student government. Anybody should be able to look at the YSU constitution and understand the various roles of each governing body in a way that is open and accessible, hiding nothing behind the scenes. The constitution should also provide checks and balances across the student government and in its partnership with the administration, ensuring that no one member or group has too much power or unilateral control. The student government should strive for its constitution to fulfill these goals, yet here at Wilf, this is far from the case.
There are a number of different issues with Wilf’s current student constitution, some more apparent and damaging than others. The first clear issue with the Wilf constitution is that power is concentrated in the hands of a very powerful few at the top. The Presidents of the four student councils; Yeshiva Student Union (YSU), Yeshiva College Student Council (YCSC), Sy Syms School of Business Student Council (SSSBSC), and Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY), each receive their own budgets over which they have unilateral control. The total money in this budget for the 22-23 year was $327,000. The YSU President on his own had unilateral control of $137,000. The problem here is readily apparent. No one student should ever have sole control and responsibility for this large sum of money, it lends itself to irresponsible spending at best and corruption at worst. Furthermore, the General Assembly (GA) consists of five members—the four elected presidents and one appointed member. According to the constitution, this body is responsible for appointing all committees, facilitating the entirety of Student Life, and being the body that communicates on behalf of the entire Wilf Campus student body. In reality, committees, which are opportunities for students to be involved, often don’t get formed, the random rules in the constitution are not followed, and there is no unified body of the GA.
The second issue with the YU student constitution is that it is lengthy and imprecise. Reading through the constitution is a beyond boring endeavor. It is filled with 27 pages of rules of eligibility to run for office, different positions, and lots of legislative comments that constitutions should avoid. A constitution is meant to state goals and purposes, being a guiding light, not legislating the minutiae of running the student government.
The last issue we can touch on is the Student Life Committee (SLC). The SLC should be one of the organizations at the heart of YU’s student body. The SLC, as it exists today, consists of a number of liaisons across different departments of YU such as Housekeeping, Dining, Athletics, Security, etc. These liaisons are meant to make themselves known to the student body and issues that arise within these areas are meant to be directed to these liaisons who should then take them to the heads of these departments. The SLC is headed by a Junior and Senior co-chair, the latter of which sits on the GA as their unelected member. This is not meant to knock the SLC. As an FTOC back in 2020-2021, I served on the SLC as the Counseling Center liaison and had firsthand experience with the SLC’s work. The issue I have is that the student constitution outlines no responsibilities or structure with how the SLC is required to function or what its purpose is. The Senior co-chair, who is appointed by the outgoing SLC Senior Co-Chair and confirmed by the outgoing GA, has a near-unilateral ability to shape the SLC in the way in which he desires with no oversight. He is not required to hold town halls or open meetings, and the only time the word is spread about the SLC is through posters lost in a sea of papers on a billboard or an email lost in the collective flood of emails we get on a daily basis.
The issues with the current student constitution (and there are more than the ones outlined) can only be solved by writing an entirely new document that would help reestablish the student government as one which works with and for the students. The first thing a new constitution must do is establish a student legislature. A student legislature would be an elected body of students representative of their given morning and afternoon programs—including seats saved for international students and incoming first-time on-campus (FTOC) students. These students would be responsible for the core of student governance, providing oversight and a balance of power from the few and distributing it more evenly. The legislature would have open meetings and sit on different committees spanning different areas and departments across YU. The legislature would also be responsible to confirm appointments from the student body president.
The second goal of this new constitution would be to shorten it. Cutting down the document from 27 pages to 4-5 pages would help drastically improve readability, force the document to be clear and precise, and be accessible for students to see and understand the goals and requirements of the student government. The extra information needed to clarify certain positions, processes, and qualifications would be placed in a document of bylaws which would complement the new constitution without the added confusion.
A massive advantage YU has over other universities across the east coast is our large involvement in student government. Simply in terms of voter turnout, YU gets nearly 60-70% turnout while other universities struggle to get over 15%. We have an interested and active student body, and with it comes lots of different needs and wants. Our current constitution does not meet the standards to address the many needs of the student body, and it is time to take an active role in writing a new one.