Controversy brews over SGA presidential speaking rights

Photo by Scott Medway

Despite not being an elected member of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) legislative branch, the undergraduate student body president is granted speaking rights during meetings of the Undergraduate House of Representatives (UHR).

Within SGA’s bylaws, no mention is explicitly made of the president in reference to speaking rights during legislative meetings. The constitution of SGA does grant the president the power to introduce legislation before the legislature, but, again, does not explicitly grant speaking rights.

Another line of the bylaws describes that, “The rules contained in the most current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order shall govern the Undergraduate House of Representatives, in all cases in which they are consistent with the Constitution and Bylaws.” Matthew Daigle, parliamentarian of undergraduate SGA, cited this to argue that a provision in Robert’s Rules which reads, “If the ex-officio member of the board is not under the authority of the society, he has all the privileges of board membership, including the right to make motions and to vote, but none of the obligations … ”

In this case, the “board” refers to UHR, and the “ex-officio member” refers to the president. However, unlike the dean of students and speaker of the house of UHR, the president is never officially designated as an ex-officio member of the legislature in SGA’s bylaws or constitution. In addition, SGA’s constitution states (in Art. III, Sec. 4), “ … Only voting members of the Undergraduate House of Representatives, the Student Body President, may introduce legislation before the Undergraduate House of Representatives … ” Since the president is not defined as a voting member, the aforementioned passage of Robert’s Rules cannot be applicable due to the fact that it grants the ex-officio member the right to vote, which is inconsistent with the constitution.

“My preference would be that a representative raises his or her hand, and says to the speaker, ‘I defer my time to President Abrams,’ or, ‘I defer my time to Dean Stein,’” said John Stein, Tech’s dean of students, vice president of student life and unofficial faculty advisor to SGA. “That would be my preference, because then I think it really stays within a protocol. It seems right that someone has chosen to give up their speaking rights to someone else — the executive board member or myself — to make a statement.”

Stein did add that commentary from the president is often useful during meetings of UHR due to his or her innate specific knowledge about events or circumstances. However, he emphasized that it is important that SGA’s presidents let representatives discuss.

“It’s precedent to let the president speak,” said Laura Margaret Burbach, “In general, you don’t have presidents who speak on every bill unless they feel that it’s important. And ultimately, they were elected by the student body to represent their opinion.”

Contrarily, roughly 25 percent of the undergraduate student body voted in SGA’s 2015 presidential election.