Student Court affirms independence of USAEC

On Tuesday evening, the Student Court heard a case brought by Student Association President and senior Haleema Murtaza to interpret a section of the SA Constitution.

The court ruled that the constitution does not afford the executive board the power to amend guidelines proposed by the Undergraduate Student Association Elections Committee.

At the final SA business meeting of the fall semester, sophomore Thomas Buneo, USAEC chair, proposed a series of changes to the USAEC guidelines pertaining to the provisions for candidates studying abroad as well as measures to ensure compliance of candidates to USAEC's guidelines and updates to reflect the technology updates since the guidelines were last drafted.

Although Buneo responded favorably to much of the feedback from those in attendance at the meeting and made changes accordingly, members of the SA executive board proposed amendments to the guidelines as it was brought up for a vote of approval. Buneo argued that the SA executive board does not have the option of amending the proposed guidelines, they may only pass or fail the reading in its entirety. The reading subsequently failed.

The portion of the constitution brought into question reads as follows: "The USAEC shall establish its own procedures with the approval of the Executive Committee." Murtaza said that the SA executive board interprets this wording to mean that the executive board may propose amendments, while Buneo interprets it to mean that the SA may only approve or disapprove what the USAEC presents to it.

In her presentation to the court, Murtaza said that the USAEC is a standing committee that is appointed and trusted by the present year SA executive board to handle affairs regarding the spring elections for the following year's SA executive board.

Junior Nick Kaasik, SA vice president, said that since the constitution charges the executive board to serve as both the executive and legislative branches of SA, the board has the authority to write legislation, including that which concerns USAEC.

In his rebuttal, Buneo emphasized that members of USAEC are expected to be "completely independent" of the executive board. He also cited a 1999 instance in which then-chair of the USAEC Paul Brown faced a comparable situation in which proposed USAEC guidelines were found to be problematic by the executive board. He said that the two parties eventually reached a compromise, but that ultimately, Brown and not the executive board, proposed the amendments.

The court voted 4-0 in favor of USAEC's interpretation of the constitution. "The only option that the SA Executive Committee has in relation to the USAEC guidelines is to either confirm or reject amendments that the USAEC has proposed to their own document," the court wrote in its decision, continuing that the USAEC is deliberately separate from the executive committee "to ensure a lack of bias and intentional or unintentional advantages of current or future SA elected members."

The case was particularly important as elections for next year's SA executive board must be completed before spring registration begins. Should the USAEC's efforts to change its guidelines be stalled by the executive board, the guidelines that were approved at the end of last semester will remain in effect.