General Assembly Passes Constitutional Amendment on Election Cycle

NYU Abu Dhabi’s Student Government General Assembly passed a proposed amendment on Sept. 17 to change the election cycle for its executive board from ...

Sep 21, 2013

NYU Abu Dhabi’s Student Government General Assembly passed a proposed amendment on Sept. 17 to change the election cycle for its executive board from the calendar year to the fiscal year. After a lengthy discussion concerning the possibility of a transitional clause, the GA voted. The Student Government declared the amendment passed with 23 in favor, 1 opposed and 14 abstaining — of which nine ballots read “abstain,” 4 read “blank” and one had no writing at all.
The new amendment will shift the election cycle back one semester, starting in August 2014 — rather than in January — and continuing through May 2015. Students proposed this amendment so that the future executive boards would start their term alongside those of student governments in the UAE and in Washington Square. Furthermore, following the fiscal year places the executive board’s year-long term directly in line with the issuance of the organization’s budget at the beginning of the academic year.
The current executive board will complete its term as scheduled in December, at which time there will be a vote for a one-semester executive board to fill the gap between the old and new cycles, from January to May 2014. The GA voted to change the wording of the amendment before it was voted on, eliminating a clause that would have promoted the vice president of this short-term executive board to president of the Student Government in the following academic year. The clause was originally introduced to assist with the Student Government’s transition to the Saadiyat Island campus in the fall of 2014.
Following the vote, some questions were raised about amendments and correct voting procedure. According to article XII, subsection v of the Student Government’s constitution, “The amendment may be approved as is or with modifications by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly.” However, the section on amendment procedures does not specify whether or not the two-thirds includes abstentions. If the abstaining votes are excluded, the vote passes with a strong 23 in favour, 1 opposed. If, however, the abstentions are included in the overall tally, the number of votes not in favour of the vote rises to 15, enough to retract the necessary two-thirds majority.
"The vote was counted such that any abstention is a non-vote and excluded from the vote count in the consideration of the two-thirds majority," said Corey Meyer, the current vice president of Student Government.
Meyer cited article VII subsection b-viii of the Student Government’s constitution, which indicates under circumstances of regular voting procedure that an abstention is counted as a non-vote. The same clause of the constitution specifies that if a majority of the GA abstains, the issue will be brought to the student body as a referendum.
Senior Jorge Zárate was among the members of the GA who abstained in an attempt to bring the vote to a student referendum.
“I think this amendment proposed a pretty radical shift in the constitution,” Zárate said. “The people that are abroad now had absolutely zero say … so when they return, the governance system will be considerably different than the one they left behind.”
Lingliang Zhang, former class of 2016 representative for Student Government, expressed concern about excluding the abstaining votes of the GA. He said that the two-thirds majority required to pass amendments ought to have included the abstaining votes.
"The way we've always interpreted the constitution is that the two-thirds majority comes from the entire GA present," he said.
"In my experience, having served on both [former Student Government President Brett Bolton’s] government and [current President Leah Reynold’s] government, I've noticed on numerous incidents that the new Student Government interprets the constitution in a very different manner,” Zhang said.
Meyer maintained that the recent interpretation of the vote was consistent with procedure outlined in the current constitution and suggested that issues of procedure within the constitution ought to be addressed separately.
“Even if there are flaws in the constitution or flaws created by a combination of the constitution and Robert's Rules of Order, it does not necessarily mean that a vote will be discarded," he said.
Mohammed Omar, the first president of the Student Government, said that it would be difficult for him to evaluate the current constitution and procedure given how the relationship between the executive board and the general assembly has been restructured through subsequent amendments.
“During my term ... the dynamics of the GA were very different,” Omar said. “It would be difficult for me to interpret the current constitution especially because I haven't been up to date on how things are currently run.”
Omar was supportive of the change in the calendar, saying that “now that the constitution has had time to mature, the change was justified and I do see the sense in its implementation.”
However, he added that it would have been better to decide such a change with all of NYUAD’s student body.
“I think the way the decision was taken here warrants a deep search into understanding how to evaluate when issues should be taken to the whole school and when delegating that responsibility to the GA is sufficient,” said Omar.
Alistair Blacklock is editor-in-chief. Email him at
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