By Matthew Grattan (ChE ’19)
The Cooper Union Joint Student Council ratified an entirely rewritten constitution on Tuesday, September 20. It replaced the previous constitution, which had not been revised since 1998. The document became effective immediately with 28 votes in
favor, six against, and two abstaining. The overhaul of the 1998 constitution occurred over the summer and the new document was written by the six-member Constitution Committee including Chris Curro (MEE ‘16), Daniel Galperin (ChE ‘18), Julian Mayfield (Art ‘18), Waseem Nafisi (Art ‘18), Celine Park (Arch ‘17), and Clara Zinky (Art ‘18). Initially, Vaughn Lewis (Arch ‘19) was involved but was later replaced by Mayfield, who also serves as student trustee.
The revision was prompted by the 1998 document’s ineffectiveness at outlining policies for voting or bringing forth resolutions—arguably the two main functions of JSC. In order to pass a resolution, the constitution mandates a 70% quorum and a 70% approval vote—that means a minimum of 14 of the 20 members must be present and 70% of those present must vote yes. In addition, the new constitution establishes a ballot system, rather than voting by a show of hands. A procedure for proposing resolutions is suggested, but intentionally leaves room for alternative methods.
The body of the Joint Student Council has been reduced in size to 10 engineering members, 5 architecture members, and 5 art members. The previous constitution established 15 architecture, 16 art, and 20 or 21 engineering representatives. The revised number of representatives was intended to facilitate discussion. Compared to the previous policy, “the committee felt that 10-5-5 was a more appropriate breakdown,” explained Curro. “We tried to make a much smaller body that could act more efficiently and be more effective.”
The proportion of council members from the Engineering School was increased to reflect the school’s population. The Art and Engineering Schools have an approximately equal ratio of council members to students, while on the other hand, the
Architecture School is slightly overrepresented so as not to have too few architects on the council.
The requirement of a 70% majority prevents the Engineering School from unilaterally outvoting the other two schools. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all,” said Jeremiah Pratt (EE ‘19) regarding the representation policy, “it would be near impossible for Engineering School to be the dominant voting bloc.” In addition, the constitution was amended such that if an entire school votes against a resolution, then that resolution would not pass. Although there are measures to prevent the Engineering School from dominating in terms of votes, the increased representation of the school does not rule out the possibility that engineers could dominate the dialogue in the Council.
“We tried to make a much smaller body
that could act more efficiently and be more effective.”
- Chris Curro (MEE ‘16)
The 10-5-5 representation policy proved to be a point of contention at the ratification meeting. “It essentially cuts the school in half,” commented Maya Krtic (Arch ‘17) on the possibility that the new composition of the Council might pit engineers against artists and architects. Krtic is a proponent of an equal number of council members from each school—or at least a compromise of 8-6-6. The variety of opinions expressed on the policy reflects the contrasting ideas on the role of Joint Student Council. Should the Council represent each of the three schools as separate entities, or should it represent the collective student body?
The new constitution outlines an enforceable attendance policy to address low levels of attendance in previous years. If a member is absent twice without delegating an alternate both times, then that member is “expelled from both the Council and their respective student council.” The policy was viewed by some as excessively harsh and even an overreach of JSC to be able to remove members from the student councils of the individual schools.
Notwithstanding, in order to have a functional student council, the attendance of the members is needed. The four mandatory meetings per semester are scheduled in advance (as required by the new constitution), and council members who may be absent have the discretion to appoint any alternate they deem fit. The constitution intentionally does not specify who may serve as an alternate and leaves the clause open to interpretation. “I understand the contention over the attendance policy,” said Pratt, “but it’s important for this new JSC to function well, because the accountability policies under the old constitution were ineffective.”
“Although, a few people were able to make the
time commitment over the summer,
that doesn’t mean that their
opinions or values are hierarchized
over those of the entire council.”
- Emily Adamo (Art‘17)
The writers of the constitution intended to allow council members more discretion while simultaneously increasing transparency. For example, vote tallies and how each member (or their alternate) voted on a resolution are made public. In addition, minutes from each JSC meeting will be published. “A member is not merely a mouthpiece,” explained Curro, “they are meant to be focal points—nodes with lots of connections.” The idea is that Council members will be well equipped to act in the “best interest” of their constituents because the they will have access to a wider body of information from their fellow students, their respective school councils, and Joint Student Council.
The rewriting of the JSC Constitution over the summer was put in motion at the end of this past school year. According to Daniel Galperin, it was agreed upon at the last meeting of last semester to vote on the new constitution at the first meeting of this semester. “It was good that the decision came in the first meeting,” commented Zhenia Dementyeva (Arch ‘20), “the three schools sometimes contended with each other, so it was better to push for a decision.”
Despite this agreement, some still felt that the timeline was rushed, especially since not all of those interested in the writing process were able to devote time over the summer. In addition, there appeared to be no contingency if the new constitution was not accepted at the first Council meeting. “I think generally that rewriting of the constitution was a good move, and I support most of what is written in the document, but the process by which it passed worries me,” said Krtic.
Should the Council represent each of the three schools
as separate entities, or should it
represent the collective student body?
The meeting itself had some tense moments, and the conversation felt “almost scripted” in the way that it was led, according to Dementyeva. “Although, a few people were able to make the time commitment over the summer, that doesn’t mean that their opinions or values are hierarchized over those of the entire council,” expressed Emily Adamo (Art ‘17). There appeared to be pressure to commit to the deadline agreed upon last semester and hold a vote, which ironically was a simple show of hands rather than a closed ballot as outlined in the new Constitution.
Although there is perhaps some uneasiness about the upcoming year for JSC, the Constitution also includes a clause establishing a yearly revision process. Ultimately, no amount of deliberation or planning can completely prepare JSC for potential issues, and throughout the coming year, the new Constitution will continued to be tried and tested. ◊