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USG considers shuffling senate seats

Proposed changes to Constitution would cap membership in senate at 45

Associate News Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 23, 2014 13:01

Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

A proposal to restructure how seats in the Undergraduate Student Government Senate are allocated was met amicably by the organization’s members at their Wednesday night caucus.

The USG Constitution outlines the electorate from which USG senators are elected. The Constitutional Review Committee proposed changes to the organization’s core document that rids the Senate of class standing seats – such as freshman class senator – and seats reserved for multicultural and diversity representatives.

The structure would be reworked to include two types of senators: academic senators who are elected by constituents within their academic college and senators elected by “Residential Zones.”

The Senate has traditionally reserved seats for residence halls, on-campus apartments and commuter students. However, because interest in running for USG has typically waned among upper classmen, many residences – particularly Hilltop Apartments – have had consistently empty seats. On the other hand, residence halls with a younger population typically saw competitive races with numerous candidates.

Within the proposed structure, the Residential Zones would encompass a number of dorms or apartments within a given area. For example, it may lump Hilltop Apartments in with the Hilltop dorms. Specifically what the zones consist of will be worked out in USG’s bylaws, and will be up for review every two years – though USG can amend its bylaws anytime by a 2/3 senate vote.

“The new system aims to keep the ideas of a community present in the Senate, rather than just specific residence halls,” said Constitutional Review Committee Chair Neel Rana.

The proposed constitution changes also require the zones to have one senate seat per 900 students within those zones, but the total number of Residential Zone seats cannot exceed 20. The senators also considered capping the number of seats per zone at three.

The caps proved to be a topic of debate among USG members, because some feared it would constrain the organization’s expansion while UConn continues to grow.

The Next Generation UConn funds, which were awarded to the university by the Connecticut General Assembly over the summer, will build new dormitories on campus and revamp the school’s science, technology, engineering and math programs – aiming to attract thousands more enrollees.

Student Body President Edward Courchaine said the constitutional changes would have to account for the projected population growth on-campus, and he warned they must also consider growth among the commuting population.

“We know there will be 800 more beds on campus,” Courchaine said. “But say there’s 4,000 more students. The commuter population will balloon, and they may only have three representatives.”

USG Vice President Kara Googins also sits on the Constitutional Review Committee and previously chaired the committee that investigated potential changes to how representation in USG in structured. Googins said the Senators don’t have to look too far into the future.

“We do a constitution review every four years, so (the cap) can be changed,” she said.

Likewise, the proposal included a cap of 25 on the number of academic seats. The idea of capping the entire legislative body at 45, Rana said, is to ensure the body doesn’t get too large to be functional and to eliminate the excess seats that have consistently remained empty.

Rana said USG’s current constitution provides for more than 60 seats, while just over 40 are currently filled.

The markup also included changes to USG’s internal structure, including granting the Senate the power to issue a vote of no confidence to the elected speaker, which would remove him or her from the position.

The proposed changes will go to a vote before the senate at their formal meeting on Jan. 29. If it’s approved, the changes will still need to pass a campus-wide vote – which would take place during the Spring election cycle in March. The document will also need approval from the university’s Board of Trustees.

To view the full markup of the USG Constitution as it was presented on Wednessday night, click here.

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