Updated 3/27/2018 at 1:27 a.m.
The Engineering Student Council has proposed and approved several amendments to its constitution, including changes that make the impeachment process more clear and structured, in the wake of the recent removal of former president Aida Lu, SEAS ’19.
This past year, ESC has seen two executive board members step down following calls for impeachment. Former VP Finance Austen Paris, SEAS ’19, resigned last fall after a motion to impeach was proposed during a general body meeting, while Lu was removed last month after a weeklong investigation by a special committee.
Lu’s position has been filled by former VP of Student Life Ben Barton, SEAS ’18, whose position in turn was taken by Richa Gode SEAS ’19, former president of the class of 2019. Barton was appointed immediately after Lu vacated her seat, in accordance with the constitution, while Gode was voted in by the rest of the council the following week.
At Monday’s meeting, members approved several changes that had been proposed before spring break. One of these changes involves new language clarifying the grounds for impeachment from “two absences” to “two unexcused absences,” giving the executive board the authority to decide what constitutes an unexcused absence.
Members also proposed changing the criteria to motion for impeachment, suggesting that at least 10 council members must sign a petition before a call for impeachment can be officially recognized, a procedure that existed in an older version of the constitution.
Complaints about the constitution have been raised since Lu’s impeachment proceedings began, with council members highlighting the ambiguity and lack of detail for the criteria and protocol surrounding impeachment.
“I think these impeachment situations have tested the limits of our constitution. Our constitution is extremely vague, as I’ve said multiple times, so it really leaves a lot of it up to interpretation,” VP of Communications Julia Joern, who also sat on the special committee, said. “I imagine that when someone wrote this constitution no one had really been impeached, so this part of the constitution had never really been tested.”
Lu expressed similar concerns with the impeachment protocol, explaining that she felt uninformed on how the process would unfold and was subsequently at a disadvantage when she had to defend herself in front of the council.
However, the meeting adjourned without discussion on how to amend the bulk of impeachment and removal procedures, tabling that conversation for the following meeting. Barton stated that clarifying these sections of their constitution would be his main goal.
“If you read it right now, you will notice that this could mean one thing, this could mean a different thing,′ but we’re aiming for there to only be one way of interpreting it,” he said.
Members did vote to amend to other sections of the constitution, including reducing the percentage of students that had to vote on a referendum for it to be valid, allowing for outside parties to sit in on closed meetings, and adding bylaws for the newly created Columbia Elections Commission.
At ESC’s following general body meeting on March 26, council members voted to approve several amendments to the sections of the constitution that dealt with the impeachment and removal of fellow members.
These changes included the student motioning to impeach to present the relevant sections of the constitution that have been violated, as well as the provision that any non-executive board member would have to go through formal review, a process through which the executive board addresses unconstitutional behavior, before a motion to impeach could be made against them. The process to investigate impeached members was also formalized.
Members, however, voted down proposals that would require a larger portion of the general body, not just two students, to support the motion to impeach for it to pass, as well as other amendments that would have given an advanced notice to the impeached member.