A note from The Arbiter’s editorial team: The following opinion is a guest submission and does not represent the views of our organization. The Arbiter does not endorse any preference on the new proposed constitution or on the upcoming ASBSU election.
By Ethan LaHaug, Adam Jones, and Fenix Dietz
On April 3-4, Boise State students will receive a ballot in their email that, among other things, includes one simple question: Do you approve or oppose the new Student Government Constitution?
Well, maybe not so simple. Most students probably will have no idea how to respond. What is student government? We have a constitution? How is the new one different from the old one? If this sounds like you, you’re not alone.
The Associated Students of Boise State University, or ASBSU, is our student government. ASBSU was founded to advocate for the interests and needs of the student body, and it does so through the students who serve as elected and appointed officers. You can learn more about its structure and mission here.
Students often don’t know what ASBSU is or what it does, so engagement with student government has been low in recent years. In the 2022 student elections, just 10% of eligible voters cast a ballot – which was considered a record, up from the previous year’s total of 7%.
But in the upcoming election, we want students to be informed about their student government and to make their voices heard. As the authors of the new constitution we will be voting on, here are seven of the biggest changes and why we hope students will vote “YES!”
1. Changed from a complicated five-branch system to an easy-to-understand three-branch system
The new constitution, first and foremost, moves to a three-branch system, similar to how Idaho and the United States Government operate. It contains an Executive Branch, a Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch — think of this one like the Supreme Court, only it is made up of Boise State students. The old fourth branch, the Funding Board, has been moved under the Executive Branch. This is simply a cosmetic change so that the Funding Board and Executive Council can work more closely together. By combining the two branches, it will be easier for student organizations to get cash and do big things.
2. Removed the Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) as a branch of student government
You may be thinking to yourself, “Hey, what about that fifth branch?” The Inclusive Excellence Student Council, or IESC, has been removed as a branch of government. They will still exist as a student organization — as they did before being added to the constitution in 2018 — but will no longer have the same powers as before. This was one of the more controversial changes, so we want to explain it in depth.
There are two reasons why we believe that this change is necessary. First, the IESC was added haphazardly as an addition to student government in 2018. The architects of this branch, while they had good intentions, did not succeed in creating a balanced or easy-to-understand system. The powers of the branch are overbroad and confusing, and its election procedures and membership are not fair to the student body. In order to run to lead this branch, a student must be approved by the members of the IESC. This has led, in practice, to the council hand-picking a single candidate for two of the last three election cycles, leaving students with no real choices when voting for IESC officer positions.
Second, we believe that it is important to protect free speech and value all perspectives on campus in the finest tradition of universities across the country. The IESC takes a very restricted approach to achieving diversity and inclusion. Rather than sticking to one method, we believe there are better, more workable, and less divisive ways to achieve the goals of creating and maintaining an inclusive BSU.
It is important to address the concerns raised by opponents of this change. It has been claimed that this change will make it harder to include diverse perspectives in student government and that removing the IESC neglects the needs of students. This is not true. While we are removing this branch, we are not decentering our focus on fostering a strong and inclusive community at Boise State. It is well established in academic research that having more diverse perspectives improves outcomes, and diversity and inclusion will continue to be priorities of ASBSU.
Please know that we are not hampering efforts at inclusion – rather, we are changing how we go about it. Instead of a disjointed, separate branch, we can now approach inclusion from more angles. For example, we’ve empowered new leadership positions in the senate and assembly, and have also given all representatives the ability to create committees. That way, they can form groups to address a wide range of issues and get broad support from the rest of ASBSU. The vice president of inclusive excellence can also work more closely with the Executive Council to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion for ASBSU as a whole. We believe this is a healthier way to build community than to sequester, or fence off, all of our inclusion efforts into a mostly separate branch of student government.
3. Made the Academic Senate more representative
Under the old constitution, there are 18 senators, two for each of the nine colleges at Boise State. Currently, they are simply appointed to their position by a member of ASBSU. If you vote YES, ASBSU will now hold elections for these positions so that more students have a voice in the process.
We’ve also added two seats to the senate for undeclared students who don’t fit into any of the nine colleges, bringing the total up to 20. This will make sure that even if you’re still finding your passion, you have a senator who can advocate for your needs.
4. Made the General Assembly more representative
Some of the best improvements have been in the General Assembly, which represents concentrated student populations such as first-year students, students with disabilities, or commuter students. We added six seats for “Under-served student populations,” and we increased the term of assembly members from one semester to one year – this will ensure that a more diverse array of students have a chance to apply and serve in student government.
We also added an important safeguard to prevent abuse of power by the president and vice president. Because the president is the one who appoints all assembly members, this gives them a lot of power over the legislative process. For example, the number of assembly members was so low last year that ASBSU was able to pass bills that took stances on polarizing political issues with minimal consultation or input from the student body. In an unprecedented move, the ASBSU assembly was forced to rescind one particular bill that condemned the state government for their stance on voter identification after they discovered that no policy addressing voter ID had actually been passed.
Student government should be focused on helping Boise State students through initiatives like the Campus Food Pantry and Student Emergency Fund, not wasting time antagonizing the state government. We set in stone the number of assembly members — 30 in total — and distributed the power to appoint them among several different executive officials so that this can never happen again.
5. Increased connections between student government and Greek life
When President Adam Jones was campaigning last year, one of his promises was to build bridges between student government and Boise State University’s Greek life. By adding the associate vice president of Greek affairs, we are delivering on that promise. Jones also promised to work on building a “Greek row,” but we’ve found that task to be much more difficult than anticipated. Having a dedicated position for Greek life will help us to address those issues that affect our fraternities and sororities, ensure their concerns are heard, and work to grow Greek involvement on campus in the years to come.
To be clear – this position has no authority over students in Greek life. Rather, think of them as a liaison between our Greek communities and student government so we can better address those needs.
Additionally, we’ve made sure to give the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) a seat in the ASBSU Assembly to include more diverse perspectives. Previously, the MGC had not been regularly included in student government.
6. Added the Review Board and replaced the ethics officer with the associate vice president of ethics affairs
As stated at the beginning, the Review Board is our Judicial Branch. It will handle complaints regarding code of conduct violations and code/constitutional violations – for example, if a piece of legislation is passed that discriminates against a particular group, they can strike it down.
We also reworked the ethics officer. Under the old system, the ethics officer could act as judge, jury, and executioner on any potential complaints against a member of ASBSU. This is obviously unfair, so we took away the power to decide on complaints and gave it to the Review Board. Currently, the outgoing president appoints the ethics officer for the upcoming year rather than the newly elected president, which has allowed them to sabotage their opponents. This is clearly unjust and does not serve the student body. The ethics officer position has been renamed the associate vice president of ethics affairs and will now be elected rather than appointed. The new associate vice president of ethics affairs will still have plenty to do though, including presenting and arguing complaints, reviewing code, attending ASBSU meetings, and proposing code changes. These changes make the position more effective and will help prevent any abuses of authority.
7. Fixed typos, errors, and disjointed language
Yep, you read that right. The current constitution contains numerous grammatical errors and typos. Parts of the constitution have the wrong words or reference sections that don’t exist. We fixed these mistakes so that our system will be more professional and less confusing.
While there are many more small things here and there, this covers all of the biggest changes. Of course, no document or proposal will be perfect, and there is an amendment process if we need to make changes in the future. But we believe that the new constitution is a solid step in the right direction towards a more effective student government, and consequently a better-served student body, because it will address prior abuses, increase representativeness, and make the whole thing easier to understand. On April 3-4, we will be voting “YES!” and we hope you’ll join us.
About the authors:
Ethan LaHaug is a junior studying at Boise State. In 2022, he joined ASBSU as a first-year representative, and he now serves as one of two Honors College senators in the Academic Senate.
Adam Jones a junior studying at Boise State. He is currently the student body president at Boise State. He previously served as an on-campus housing representative for ASBSU in 2021-22.
Fenix Dietz is a junior studying at Boise State. During the 2022 fall semester, he was appointed to be the student at-large delegate to the Constitutional Convention.