Editor’s Note: News Editor Joe Klein is a member of MCSG and was not involved in the production of this story.
When Sam Doten ‘16 introduced a bill Tuesday night to create a task force to recommend changes on MCSG membership eligibility, for one moment it appeared a vote might take place without any debate. But while the bill ultimately passed, it nevertheless faced significant controversy.
An Early Division
Much of the debate centered on one specific clause. The bill’s original language stated in section 3D, “The [Task Force on Membership Requirements] shall operate with the understanding that MCSG is a sovereign self-governing body of students that is not necessarily compelled to agree with Macalester College’s existing institutional policy.”
Did not this language, Annie Gurvis ‘15 asked, fall outside of MCSG’s own constitution by declaring task force members could ignore the college’s policies?
Doten responded carefully, saying that, “No individuals will be exempted from college policy.”
Nevertheless, Doten stood by the sovereignty language in an interview after the meeting. “MCSG has the right and even an obligation to responsibly critique existing institutional policy,” he said. “We shouldn’t feel like we have to agree with the current rules and we should be able to suggest changes. And I think it’s kind of our role as representatives of students to advocate for changes as we see fit.”
Last semester, a series of MCSG members unwillingly resigned their positions because, in line with Macalester institutional policy, their academic or disciplinary probations forbade them from holding leadership positions in extracurricular organizations, including MCSG. Among those affected was Doten, whose participation in a sit-in at Weyerhaeuser last April left him on disciplinary probation for the fall semester. The resignations motivated Doten to introduce his bill.
MCSG meetings use Robert’s Rules of Order to facilitate proceedings, but the process can break down in a room full of college students.
First Joe Klein ‘16, himself affected by the policies on disciplinary probation as a participant in last April’s sit-in, moved to amend the bill by eliminating the entirety of section 3D.
After Klein moved to strike the MCSG sovereignty language from the bill, another representative, William Theriac ‘16, moved to amend Klein’s amendment. He suggested deleting only the language on sovereignty while still noting the task force could disagree with institutional policy.
“Point of clarification: I’m really confused,” MCSG President Kai Wilson ’14 said to laughter.
It was up to Ian Calaway ’16, MCSG’s Chief of Staff and parliamentarian, to make it clear what exactly was being discussed and voted upon at any given moment. At the end of the night, he recieved two rounds of applause for his work.
Theriac’s amendment struck a middle ground and passed. The final bill removed the language on MCSG sovereignty while retaining the instruction for task force members to feel free to make recommendations outside of Macalester institutional policy.
With the amendment out of the way, representatives moved on to the substance of the bill. Nevertheless, debate focused on procedure rather than any philosophical difference.
Several members argued that a task force was the wrong way to proceed on the issue.
“If a group of LB members would like to get together and write a bill that changes something, they should do that. I don’t think we need to put a committee together,” MCSG Vice President Rothin Datta ’16 said.
“This task force is… all about coming up with some kind of recommendation and solution,” Nandita Elijah ‘16 said. “We keep talking about this again and again, but if five people can sit together, put them onto this specifically, come up with a response and bring it back to us, I think that that would save everyone’s time.”
Others argued that a task force would be redundant, in light of previous discussions of the issue.
“To say that we have been unproductive and neglecting this issue is ridiculous. We’ve had a community forum, we’ve talked about it, everyone has all the information. And maybe there’s a reason nothing has been brought to us so far,” Wilson said. “We’ve had a good four or five months with this issue and nobody’s brought forth a bylaw or an amendment or anything, me included. It’s because we’ve been talking it through and it’s a hard subject, but also maybe because some people aren’t ready to make that step.”
“Yes, it’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be necessary, and it’s going to be bureaucratic, but I think it needs to happen,” Klein said. “We have been having discussions about membership and eligibility for the whole semester, and we haven’t gotten anywhere on it because it’s been… all of us just talking amongst ourselves.”
“Something needs to be done. To vote this down or say ‘no’ would be to just shut the door to anything else,” he said.
However, some feared that empowering an MCSG task force on the issue would exclude important viewpoints from the final legislation on the issue.
“My concern about bias is that we don’t have representation from non-MCSG people,” Matt Dehler ’14 said. “There are no people from non-student government involved in this task force, and I just think that it’s super unfair that we’re allowed to even recommend what we think our policies should be among our membership… In orgs I’ve been a part of that doesn’t happen, and as student government I don’t think we should be allowed to do that.”
The bill calls for the task force to consist of one representative from each class and a member of MCSG’s Executive Board. A recent report of MCSG’s Judicial Council, which has not yet been discussed by the entire LB, echoed Dehler’s concern.
“MCSG should consider if making membership requirements more or less permissive than those concerning other student orgs will send a message of superiority,” the report noted.
“Input from outside MCSG is normally extraordinarily refreshing and helpful, but… MCSG, the rules it follows, the relationships it starts, they are all extraordinarily complex and difficult to manage,” Theriac said. “An outsider would [lack] a necessarily large amount of institutional awareness of what MCSG is and does… With the short time-frame for action, outside input is not as helpful here as it is in every other MCSG action.”
At one point, the debate heated up a notch. Doten was delivering a wide-ranging defense of the bill and replied to critics who called for a bill rather than a task force to address the issue.
“Nothing’s come forward so far, but actually this has come forward. This is really a pretty solid way to deal with this issue, by getting some people to deeply study these issues. You know, Kai, you’re rolling your eyes at me” Doten said, referring to Wilson.
“That’s not policy,” Wilson shot back.
“And that makes me really uncomfortable,” Doten continued. “I wasn’t on this body last semester, I was kicked off. The reason I’m introducing this is because it is so personally important to me. Maybe nobody else wanted to introduce it, but I wanted to do something.”
The exchange prompted a call for a cool-down.
“The mood is getting pretty tense,” Konnor Fleming ’15 said. “Take a deep breath, everything’s going to be ok.”
Shortly after Doten and Wilson’s exchange, the bill was called to a vote. It passed 15-9. Wilson accepted the bill’s passage, despite his opposition.
“I didn’t necessarily agree with the fact that it had to be [a task force], but the sentiment is totally ok,” he said in a follow-up interview. “I think there will be a proposal. It’s going to be difficult to balance all of the different opinions because there will be strong voices on both sides.”
At the conclusion of each LB meeting, a water bottle is passed from member to member for general announcements. But on Tuesday, the water bottle took on a new meaning as many MCSG members’ comments focused on reconciliation after the tense debate.
“You may feel stressed, but leave this room and be happy,” said Maddie Arbisi ’14.