By Samip Delhiwala
Published: February 14th, 2018
Members of the Governmental Operations Committee (GOC) within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) student government have started an initiative to dismantle the CLAS Student Judiciary and allocate its constitutional powers to other branches and components of the student government.
Article III in the CLAS Constitution states that the judiciary’s role is to “deal with conflicts and disciplinary action involving all the combinations of student, student organizations, and Student Government,” which essentially means that student justices act as a third party when working with internal student government affairs.
Ethan Milich, a member of the committee who is spearheading the campaign with the help of the chair of the GOC, Zain Qureshi, is working on proposing a constitutional amendment or referendum that can dispose of it.
Milich believes that a student government judicial branch is “pointless and obsolete,” especially in an urban public university such as the City University of New York (CUNY). He was not aware of the judiciary’s role until last semester, when the GOC was assigned to assist the judiciary. But he found that most of its roles were already being allocated to other divisions within student government.
“I’ve looked up and researched student judiciaries in schools across the country, and most of these schools have large campuses and student bodies,” he said. “They [judiciaries] are useless in smaller schools, and they don’t even have binding powers in bigger schools. When students have legitimate issues, they go to the college’s administrative officials.
Therefore, he believes an executive and legislative branch should be enough to fulfill the duties of student government.
“There are countless examples of student governments that have only two governmental bodies,” Milich explained. “This makes sense, as student governments mostly operate in the form of non-profits and only need to make executive and legislative decisions.”
According to Milich and Qureshi, CLAS swore in three student justices towards the end of last semester to form the CLAS Student Judiciary. But these justices have not done any official actions as defined by the student government constitution and have only attended mandatory meetings. In addition to the “vague” role of the judiciary as defined by Article III in the constitution, it doesn’t list any specific binding powers when compared to Articles I and II, which define the legislative and executive branches, respectively.
“It isn’t their [the justices] fault; they just haven’t been assigned any tasks by student government,” Qureshi clarified.
The judiciary’s inactiveness is why Milich believes its dismantlement won’t have a significant effect on student government operations.
“Most conflicts within student government have historically been easily resolved through power play with the speaker and president and mediation with BC leaders,” he said.
Qureshi shared a similar sentiment, and both of them believe that it is more practical to use the pool of students interested in joining CLAS to fill assembly vacancies, a position they see as more valuable to student government effectiveness.
However, CLAS President Nissim Said disagrees with Milich and Qureshi, and stressed the significance of having a third party entity such as a proper student judiciary.
“You fall into dangerous situations without an intermediate party,” he said. “What happens when a student government member isn’t doing their assigned work? It’s not good for the speaker or president to have the full power to dismiss them.”
The CLAS President also has the power to confirm or deny the constitutions of new student organizations, and suspend current ones. But Said believes that this is another situation where a third party should intervene, because “one person should not have that power.”
In Milich and Qureshi’s student government model, the judiciary’s powers would be allocated to ad hoc committees and government operations committees within the assembly, which would then vote on whether a student government member should be “fired” for certain offenses. But Said claims that this is impractical and absurd; elected student government members essentially act as judges that have ran for office and campaigned instead of being appointed, and could possibly be friends with the accused, rendering the entire process ineffective.
“No systems should have internal firings,” Said said. “There should always be a third party, otherwise that’s not justice.”
Said has been pushing to redesign CLAS positions in order to attract more students. He sees the judiciary as a position that can potentially be of interest to students of all departments and majors and can play a major role on campus issues, which he believes is another advantage and reason to keep it.
“For example, a committee of justices isn’t legally allowed to deal with sexual harassment cases, but they can assist someone like Patricio Jimenez [the BC Title IX Coordinator], who is currently understaffed,” Said explained.
According to Milich and Qureshi, CLAS has not spoken to BC administration about their proposal.
“We’re still talking about it, strategizing, and figuring out how to officially do it,” Milich said. “We still have to create a schedule and determine a method.”
But without the CLAS president’s support, they may not see their vision in practice.
“I completely understand where they are coming from,” Said said. “But I would battle their plan pretty hard.”