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UNC Undergraduate Senate passes first finished constitution since 2017

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Students walk by the Old Well on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.

As of this November, UNC's Undergraduate Senate passed a referendum creating the body's first finished constitution since the 2017 split between the undergraduate and graduate and professional student governments. 

Andrew Gary, speaker of the Undergraduate Senate, said the Undergraduate Student Government never completed writing their constitution after the division. 

“This means that for the past six years, we haven't had a finished undergraduate constitution, which has been a real problem because it means that we have been basically making up how student government works on an ad hoc basis,” he said

The referendum was part of the Nov. 3 fall general election ballot, which also featured elections of candidates running for the Undergraduate Senate, and it passed Nov. 5.

The objective of the new constitution, which had a 95 percent approval rate, is to slightly restructure how the student government operates, Callan Baruch, Ethics Committee chair of the Undergraduate Senate, said.

In the spring and summer of 2023, Gary and four other members of student government wrote a draft of the new constitution.

Since serving as Rules and Judiciary Committee chair last year, Gary has prioritized streamlining student government, Max Pollack, a current UNC undergraduate senator, said.

“Passing this new constitution was a big part of that,” he added.

Samuel Hendrix, a current UNC senator, said the constitution gives those in the Undergraduate Senate who wrote it more power, and that the referendum passed because no members wanted to “go out of their way to argue.”

“Nothing in the senate is an easy battle,” he said.

The new constitution also created a Transitional Council to help implement provisions in the document. Gary said the new council will ensure that the next Undergraduate Senate does not "inherit a catastrophe." 

“The reason we put into this constitution that there would be a Transitional Council was because of the experience that student government went through in 2017,” Gary said. “When student government split in 2017, there was no transition plan and it was really rushed — and that led to a series of problems that we’re honestly still coping with.”

He said members of the Undergraduate Senate have faced consistent debates over the responsibilities and powers of different positions since 2017.

“That just distracts us constantly from our actual job — which is doing advocacy,” Gary said.

Every chair serves on the Transitional Council except one — the Oversight and Advocacy Committee chair. Gary said this chair was not included in the council because they were not "super involved" in the process of drafting the document.

“The Oversight Advocacy Committee is mostly involved with government oversight, but most of what they do is related to general advocacy on behalf of the student body,” he said. Gary also said most of the changes in the constitution define how the systems of government function.

Baruch said it is less about giving power to specific positions and more about reaffirming.

Gary said the document is filled with checks and balances and requirements that make issues democratic and open to the public. He also said when he first joined student government, there were "constant power grabs and schemes" and meetings held in secret.

“My hope is that people don't try to take advantage of what it says for their own personal ends,” Gary said. “This is a document that was written explicitly to stop power grabbing and things like that.”

Hendrix said he hopes the student body will be more attentive to the Undergraduate Senate as they are currently “perpetuating the same type of, not scumbags, but dirty politics,” and that there has been limited action to change this

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