Last week, the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) amended its election procedures, a decision covered by the Orient in the article “BSG Votes to Amend Election Procedures.” While we support this action, we write to clarify the Judicial Board’s relationship to BSG and its role in the student disciplinary process.
According to the September 2019 BSG Bylaws, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board are “members” of BSG Elections Commission (see Article V, Section D(ii)). When BSG amended its bylaws to include ranked-choice voting, it gave additional responsibilities to the Board in this process. To our knowledge, neither the Board nor the College had any role in the writing of these bylaws, nor was the Board consulted. In fact, the Board was unaware of this additional role until relatively recently.
During a meeting with BSG leadership last semester, we pointed out that the Board’s role in elections could be seen to compromise its independence. At that time, we invited BSG to remove the Board entirely from its bylaws. BSG is a self-governing student organization, and it should be autonomous from the administration. The Board is a College committee, convened by the administration to hear alleged disciplinary matters. Granting the Board a role in election oversight gives the appearance that BSG is not autonomous. Moreover, the Board has no interest in playing a role in student-run government.
Last week’s amendment removes the Board from BSG’s ranked-choice voting process (see BSG Minutes February 5, 2020, page 3 and BSG Bylaws, Article V, Section D(ii)(a)). However, this action does not fully remove the Board chairs from the Elections Commission. We extend our invitation to remove the Board from this oversight role once more.
In last week’s article, BSG leadership is quoted by the Orient as saying, “Theoretically, how the bylaws are now, if the Board were to have some kind of complaint about the election process, it would hold up the entire thing. We can’t give a college body that kind of authority.”
This is not true. The Board has never had the “authority” to “hold up” a BSG election, nor is this our role on campus.
To be clear, the Board is a College committee tasked with hearing cases of alleged violations of the Academic Honor and Social Code. Thus, an irregularity in the elections of an autonomous student organization lies soundly beyond our purview.
Is it possible that election tampering might be so significant that it rises to a violation of the Social Code? Perhaps. But the Board does not determine which cases come before it, nor do we, as members, report suspected violations of College policy to the administration. The suggestion that the Board would generate and pursue a “complaint” in the oversight of an election misstates the Board’s role and reach.
As you all heard us say at Matriculation, the Board is not the student version of security. Our function is to hear matters of alleged misconduct brought to us by the administration and make an independent determination of responsibility. If a student is found responsible for violating the Honor Code or another policy, we recommend a sanction to the Office of the Dean of Students. While our independent finding of responsibility is final, the sanctions are determined by the dean who hears the case.
The Board is not a branch of student government. It serves a distinctively different function from BSG. Within the disciplinary process, the Board gives students an opportunity to be heard by their peers. As students, we believe in the values and community standards that ensure Bowdoin remains a safe learning and living environment for everyone. As Board members, we seek to maintain, protect and advocate for these values.
Grace Fenwick and Emma Kellogg are members of the Class of 2020.