Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) voted to ratify changes to its constitution at its Wednesday meeting. The vote was unanimous, except for one abstention. The proposed changes now require the assent of two-thirds of the student body, which will vote on them—and for BSG executive officer positions—this weekend.

According to BSG Vice President for Student Government Affairs Allen Wong Yu ’14, the changes were designed to be non-controversial and procedural. They seek to make the constitution a “document that will be useful for the future, and also make future assemblies’ lives easier,” said Wong Yu.

The first article of the constitution, which states the purpose and goals of the BSG, has been largely rewritten to include the College’s nondiscrimination policy and a new “Authority” section, which reinforces the BSG’s ability to change its own bylaws through a two-thirds majority vote of the assembly.

A new accountability section includes text stating that all documents, meeting times and minutes produced by BSG will be available to the public. Most of these documents already are. 

However, there are limits to the transparency that the proposed changes would require. BSG would still be able to hold closed executive sessions and to withold materials at its discretion.
When asked by Class of 2015 Representative Daniel Cohen what circumstances might require withholding documents to the public, BSG President Sarah Nelson ’14 struggled to remember many recent examples. She said the BSG Executive committee withheld documents of correspondence with Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster last summer over updating the College’s hazing policy.

BSG occasionally meets in closed executive sessions, usually when the anonymity of students is at issue, such as when it offered final approval of the Judicial Board (J-Board) nominations in February. Another notable example from last year was when BSG executives met with President Barry Mills for a closed-door meeting on the issue of fossil fuel divestment. No minutes were produced, and the Orient was not allowed to report on the conversation.

The rest of the constitutional amendments were not rewrites. Articles concerning the roles of BSG representatives, the student representatives on faculty and trustee committees, and BSG’s role approving J-Board nominations are to be taken out of the constitution, and added instead to the BSG bylaws.

Moving these articles to the bylaws makes editing them easier, according to Yu. Changes to the bylaws require the support of two-thirds of the BSG assembly. Constitutional amendments require a four-fifths majority of the BSG assembly and the approval of two-thirds of the student body. 

Yu said that moving the articles of the constitution to the bylaws was not streamlining procedure at the expense of transparency. 

“Our meetings are always open, and there’s a lot of access points, and we really want to hear from students,” he said. “We don’t hear nearly enough from them, and then after we make these types of changes we hear from them, and we wonder where they were in the deliberation process.” 
BSG voted to waive its own rule requiring a two-week interval between the introduction of a motion and a vote on it, so that the constitutional changes could be put on the ballot at the end of this week.

Cohen was the one assembly member who abstained from the vote on the amendments. He said that he did not disagree with the content of the amendments, only the method by which they were introduced. 

“Since I’ve been on BSG that suspending the two-week rule has been overused, and I think that especially with the student government constitution, it should be taken more seriously, and that we should have taken some more time to look at it as an assembly before we sent it to the student body,” he said.