On Nov. 21, Yale-NUS students ratified their first constitution. But implementation of the document in earnest will not begin until the start of next semester, when students will elect their first student government.
The seven-article constitution, which was ratified by affirmative votes from 76.7 percent of the Yale-NUS student body, outlines procedures for putting together a representative system of student government, led by an elected body. The elected body will include representatives from each class and residential college, in addition to four “represtentatives-at-large” who do not have any particular affiliation. The constitution grants the elected body power to formally recognize student organizations and manage the budgets for college-wide events. It also details the elected body’s responsibilities, such as procedures for updating students.
“It will be helpful to have an organizing body to define who we are,” Anne Caroline Franklin YNUS ’17 said.
The writing of the document was led by the Elected Student Committee, a group formed at the end of last year. The ESC organized four open forums during which students put forward proposals for the document that were then voted on by the entire sudent body, said Franklin, who is a member of the ESC. Yale-NUS professor Bernard Bate said the new constitution was entirely student produced, from its drafting to its ratification, and that faculty had no involvement.
Students also consulted constitutions from Yale, the National University of Singapore and various liberal arts colleges for inspiration, Franklin said.
But Hrishi Olickel YNUS ’18, who co-wrote a proposal on the structure of the student government with Jacob Schneidewind YNUS ‘18 that was partially integrated into the constitution, said looking to these other documents was sometimes unhelpful because they were intended for colleges with much larger student bodies.
Franklin said Yale-NUS attempted to form a student government during its first academic year, which began in 2013, but the process was postponed because students did not express a strong desire to create a student government. This lack of enthusiasm was due to the school’s small size — only 150 students were enrolled. The small size enabled administrators to give attention to individual concerns voiced by students, leaving no need for a collective mouthpiece, Franklin said.
However, as Yale-NUS added its second class this year and will continue to grow, Franklin said the need for a student government has become much more apparent.
Yale-NUS Dean’s Fellow Daniel Gordon said he also thinks the administration will need a more centralized way of gathering student input as the Yale-NUS student body continues to grow.
“From the Dean of Students Office perspective, it can be hard to gauge what the overall feeling of the student body is when you have five people come in and tell you five things,” Gordon said. “It can be hard to get a mood for the entire student body and that was a large way we were getting student feedback before, so having a student constitution will help us understand how the student body feels about various issues as opposed to having to guess.”
But Franklin said even though 88 percent of the Yale-NUS student body voted on the constitution, there is still some uncertainty among students about whether instating a student government is necessary. She noted, however, that this uncertainty is more prominent among freshmen who are still new to the college. Sophomores, Franklin said, see more of a need for student government after having more experience with the school’s bureaucracy.
Schneidewind said he is hopeful the document will refine student interaction with the administration, which he described as currently “fuzzy.”
But Olickel emphasized that even though he is optimistic about the final document, he thinks it might require further adjusting. The document, he said, was intentionally left vague enough for future student governments to adjust policies based on student input.