Referendum sparks controversy
October 23, 2009
The real power of a student referendum will soon be put to the test.
The referendum, voted on in last month’s Student Assembly election, asked students if they believed the
College of William and Mary Honor Council’s nominating committee should reach a unanimous decision before denying an applicant the right to run in an Honor Council election. 69.14 percent of the ballots cast said yes. 1,254 students voted.
Despite the referendum’s passage, changes to the Honor Council’s bylaws must be introduced and voted on
by the council itself. A vote by the Honor Council on whether or not to adopt the referendum will occur Sunday.
Currently, a candidate’s application to run in an Honor Council election can be denied if four of the five nominating committee members vote against the candidate. This committee is composed of Assistant Dean of Students for Judicial Affairs Dave Gilbert, a rotating professor, two non-returning Honor Council members and a rotating representative of the student body. According to Sen. Erik Houser ’10, the referendum was designed to protect the opinions of the committee’s at-large student representative.
“The at-large student does not get their voice heard because if they are the dissenting vote in a case, then it doesn’t matter because the other four voted over them,” Houser said.
The upcoming Honor Council vote pushed the SA policy committee to consider passing a resolution during its Thursday meeting that would urge the Honor Council to take into account the referendum’s strong student support. The discussion angered Will Perkins ’11, the Honor Council’s representative to the SA.
“The new [resolution] for the Honor Council is like beating a dead horse,” Perkins said to the policy committee. “The changes from the referendum will absolutely fail because of the way this was handled.”
Perkins’s words have led to the belief among some SA representatives that a vote by the Honor Council not to implement the referendum is a foregone conclusion.
“The Honor Council is holding student lives in their hands; to exclude student opinion is ridiculous,” SA Vice President Ryan Ruzic JD ’11 said. “This referendum is a vehicle by which the student will is enforced. I can’t imagine the Honor Council’s reasoning not to pass this bill into their bylaws.”
Honor Council Chair Bailey Thomson ’10 sees the matter differently. Thomson said the council takes student opinion into account, but she still felt the referendum was proposed and added to the ballot before a proper campus-wide discussion on the matter could occur.
Thomson also called into question the benefits of making the nominating committee’s vote unanimous.
“It’s not always going to be the at-large student against the other four,” she said. “Forcing unanimity means that the one person in disagreement, whoever they are, can essentially control the entire committee with their vote.”
Instead of unanimity, Thomson said the council would be in favor of considering an amendment to add a sixth member — preferably another at-large member of the student body — to the nominating committee.
Acceptance of a candidate, therefore, would require approval from five of six members. She said this compromise has yet to be discussed with the SA, although a meeting is going to be set up in the near future.
“Six people on the committee would be better than five,” Ruzic said when asked if he would support this change. “If they don’t make it unanimous, I hope they include another student.”