Toward fairness and accountability

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Last Tuesday, College Council (CC) denied Williams Initiative for Israel’s (WIFI) request to become a registered student organization. CC members voted anonymously, and only three council members participated in the contentious debate, with none stating the reason for their decision. The minutes document did not include names of the guests and councilmembers who spoke, and the meeting was not livestreamed. 

We at the Record believe that elected officials should have to stand by their votes and that College constituents should be able to clearly understand the reasons why CC votes for or against a request or proposal. We understand that there are exceptional circumstances for withholding guest identities, such as from the April 23 meeting, where there were legitimate safety concerns, but we believe that councilmembers should be named and that their votes should be specified in the minutes document, which may be accessed by anyone with a Williams email account. We also encourage CC to develop a policy on granting anonymity to and omitting information about guests. We believe that such a step would make community members feel more comfortable attending meetings and sharing their thoughts with CC. 

Additionally, we believe there is a pressing need for CC to reevaluate its bylaws, whose complexity and discretionary nature allow for them to be selectively applied. The reasons for CC’s decisionmaking must also become more transparent. During the April 9 meeting, CC members questioned a Black Previews organizer at length as she requested $795 to fund programming for Black admitted students. They repeatedly asked whether the events would be exclusive, claiming that events not open to all would violate CC bylaws. CC initially rejected the request but funded it in full after additional questioning and reassurance that Black Previews would be open to all. The organizer later returned to the meeting, and she and another student expressed frustration that hers and other funding requests from Black student groups were subject to additional scrutiny compared to requests from other organizations. Data compiled by the Record affirm that, since 2016, “CC has debated 60.7 percent of requests from Black students, majority-Black groups or programming events focused on Black students; it has adopted 39.3 percent of requests without debate. For all other requests, only 26.7 percent were debated; 73.3 percent were adopted without any debate” (“CC pressed on racial bias in funding,” April 24, 2019). 

CC bylaws allow councilmembers to cite or enforce them unsystematically. Due to the sheer number of bylaws, many student groups violate minor bylaws by requesting retroactive funding, giving CC further discretionary power. One rule reads, “Organizations must be open to the campus, and events must be free, unless granted special permission by the council,” allowing CC to authorize subjective exceptions to its bylaws. At the April 9 meeting, one council member said, “We should be cognizant of how what has been written into our bylaws and procedures has perpetuated marginalizing groups that have been historically marginalized.” Yet several CC members cited the above bylaw, which they have the power to selectively ignore, when discussing the Black Previews funding request. The nature of the bylaws permit members to apply them inconsistently, allowing biases to influence procedural decisions. 

We call for simpler and clearer CC bylaws and more systematic standards for bylaw application. Indeed, MinCo representatives have cited the complexity of CC’s bylaws as an impediment to MinCo groups’ fund acquisition. This council has committed to attending anti-bias training, but changing the bylaws to reduce biased application will benefit future students. Clarifying requirements for clubs and funding, as well as establishing when requests will be subject to further deliberation, will make bylaw application more consistent and just.

Making these changes would allow CC to better serve the students it claims to represent.