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[SFS] The SFS Constitution - The Cover Story
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Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 01:48 pm
[SFS] The SFS Constitution

Preamble to Criticism of the Constitution: I wrote this largely for entertainment value, however, to the best of my knowledge everything in this document is true. I personally believe the current officers have done a fine job of ensuring the events and operations of the SFS have gone smoothly and with a minimum of stress for the rank and file membership of the club. That said...

Given the upcoming Special Elections for the SFS and recent attempts to remove President Adler from office, I thought I'd go over the SFS Constitution to see how these elections would go down. In doing so, I discovered a number of fascinating quirks about the Constitution.

  • The Header -- The first three lines of the constitution read:

    WPI Science Fiction Society Constitution. New constitution passed as of
    November 12, 1986. This constitution last amended or revised August 28,
    2007. This most recent revision has been approved by the club.


    This last sentence is incorrect -- this revision has not been approved by any significant portion of the current club membership. Article XII requires a 2/3 vote of all active members to revise the constitution, as well as a 2/3 vote of all permanent officers. So how did the 28 August revision occur?

    The Officers of the SFS at the time interpreted the behavior of membership to be discontinued at the end of the academic year, with the exception of the Officers, who would be the "first members" of a new year's roster. Being the only six members of the SFS, under their interpretation, they could easily revise the constitution with only four people, and even more conveniently, there would be no paper trail, or even proof that this mockery of a vote ever took place. Even so, was it legal to do so? Let's go to...

  • Active Membership -- Article III, Section I, defines what an active undergraduate or graduate student member is (this is important because only undergraduates or graduates can be active members, and only active members can vote (Article III, Section IIC and Article VI Section I respectively.) It documents membership (despite any renaming the officers choose to hang on it), as well as the criteria for obtaining it. Interestingly enough, there's no mention of termination of membership -- the only statement that hints at a membership-ending activity is

    All members must be currently enrolled
    undergraduate or graduate WPI students.


    Presuming that "All members" is carefully not chosen wording (it seems like it should be "All active members", otherwise Article III, Section II (Alumni Membership) is pretty much null and void,) once a member has paid their dues once, they are a member for as long as they remain a student at WPI. A good thing to remember for the current Freshman class who have already paid dues -- until this gets revised, you never have to pay dues again before your graduate (or stop being a student for other reasons).

    It seems that this revelation might draw the ire of some of the current officers, so before I have to go on the defensive, or even leave Article III Section I, let's look at the last line of the Section:

  • In addition, all officers are required to attend 75% of all meetings -- Adler. Pavis. I'm looking at you.

    In all fairness, there's no specification that the meetings in question need to be Article V meetings, what is generally agreed to be the primary meeting of the SFS. If we include the weekly Officer's meeting, Pavis might be in the green.

    Adler. I'm looking at you.

  • Membership Cards -- Section II being rendered null by a single missing word in Article I, we move to Section III, where we double back to the issue of Membership. This article is very simple:

    All who pay dues will be given membership cards, these cards to be signed by one officer.

    Bureaucratic Significance Cards, while cute, do not meet the constitutional requirement, given that their defining attribute is that they are not membership cards. The officers didn't have the ability to not issue membership cards. Demand your card today!

  • Eligibility for Office -- This is the section most extensively modified by the August 2007 update, but since we've established that update was illegal, this can largely be considered bunk.

  • Meetings-- Article V, Section III states that

    The President (or the Vice President in the President's absence) opens and closes the
    meeting.


    There's no line of succession here that passes to the Treasurer or Secretary. The President or the VP opens the meeting, and if you don't have a VP...

    Adler. Looking at you.

  • Impeachment -- Will all these inconsistencies and violations, it seems pretty clear that there's a case to remove the current officers from power. Fortunately, we have an Impeachment mechanic in the Constitution. Unfortunately, we only have an Impeachment mechanic.

    There seems to have been a bit of confusion by whoever first drafted this Constitution. It seems they didn't actually know what Impeachment means. Impeachment is the act of a voting body bringing charges against an officer. That's all it does -- it accuses the officer of doing something in violation of the laws that govern his or her office. Certainly, there's more than enough evidence to impeach Jon Adler. But impeaching him doesn't remove him from office. Nor is there any means within the constitution to do so. Result?

    THERE IS NO WAY UNDER THE CURRENT CONSTITUTION TO REMOVE AN OFFICER FROM POWER INVOLUNTARILY.

    Also, impeaching is in and of itself rather difficult. The impeachment vote calls for a 3/4 vote of all active members, not just those voting. Given that under Article V Section II there only need be 1/2 active members present for a quorum it is entirely possible (and arguably quite likely) that a meeting is unable to impeach an officer even if all present (including the subject) vote in favor.

    Should a successful impeachment vote passes, as mentioned, nothing actually happens. The officer's position doesn't vacate, and thus the special elections clause, having no position vacated, has nothing to do.

  • Fixing It-- Fixing the Constitution could prove a challenge, especially given that the document currently posted on the website masquerading as the Constitution is, but its own definitions, a fraud. Fortunately, elsewhere on the site is the last officially ratified Constitution, however, most of the more egregious errors remain. Similar to the Impeachment vote, changing the Constitution requires 2/3s of all active members, not just those voting. Remember that every student who ever paid dues and is still a student at WPI is an active member. Under that definition, I don't think there's even a roster of active members at this point.


So here's my challenge to the next Administration: Fix this mess. If for not other reason to than to be able to collect membership dues next year.

Tags: ,

28CommentReplyShare

petercooperjr
petercooperjr
Peter Cooper Jr.
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 07:37 pm (UTC)

Life. The biggest Nomic game of them all.


ReplyThread
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 07:41 pm (UTC)

I imagine (hope) that if someone actually manages to get impeached, s/he would have the integrity (and sense) to step down voluntarily.


ReplyThread
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 01:40 am (UTC)

Unfortunately, by the SFS Constitution, impeachment is removal from office. It's not actual impeachment.


ReplyThread Parent
ultimatepsi
ultimatepsi
Kate Nineteen
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)

More reasons for the tone we use when saying "totally-not-corrupt Adler".


ReplyThread
petercooperjr
petercooperjr
Peter Cooper Jr.
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)

If there's a dispute as to SFS Constitution interpretation, is there a governing body other than the SFS itself? I've tried looking through the SOA Organizations site, but it's not completely clear to me.


ReplyThread
elenuial
elenuial
A. Nakama
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC)

I imagine the SGA or SAO both have the authority to deal with such issues as they arise.


ReplyThread Parent
etherial
etherial
Gregory Pettigrew
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)

IIRC, the 2003 revision you mention was done in the same fashion as the 2007 revision for the same reasons.


ReplyThread
etherial
etherial
Gregory Pettigrew
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 08:02 pm (UTC)

by "you mention", I mean "in the document you link to, claiming it to be the last officially ratified constitution".


ReplyThread Parent
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 09:41 pm (UTC)

Perhaps I should've been more clear. The proposed constitution passed a general meeting with all amendments on November 26th, 2006. The header on the proposed revised constitution reflects the source document's revision, not the targets. Granted, vote counts nor member totals are available, so its impossible to say if the 67% threshold was attained, but at the time this was considered to have been approved by the membership of the club.


ReplyThread Parent
purly
purly
...
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 09:56 pm (UTC)

Since membership requires you to attend 75% of meetings, not attending them renders your membership null and void. So you only need 2/3 of all the people that have attended at least 3 out of the 4 terms worth of meetings.


ReplyThread
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 10:01 pm (UTC)

I fear I may have provided a confusing quote sequence here. The statement is the "In addition, all officers are required to attend 75% of all meetings". Previously, there is the statement "Active members have no responsibilities beyond adhering to club regulations and guidelines."

Also, no penalty is associated with not fulfilling your responsibilities.


ReplyThread Parent
purly
purly
...
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 10:04 pm (UTC)

Yeah, in that case I would go straight to student government. They are the ones have the power to create a club in the fist place.


ReplyThread Parent
purly
purly
...
Thu, Oct. 11th, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)

With enough signatures on a petition, you could also appeal to student government to overturn the constitution and initiate new elections. Especially if all the signatures are SFS members.


ReplyThread
cykotek
cykotek
John
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 01:29 am (UTC)

I might point out that, as I recall, you re-enroll each semester. So, technically, once the semester ends, so does current enrollment. As long as the date they voted was past open enrollment and they paid their dues, they *were* the only members.

I agree with you on some of the officer stuff, though. I'd want to see the specific section regarding dues before I argue that based on my first point.


ReplyThread
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 01:43 am (UTC)

This is exactly how the most recent amendment was passed. Only the five* officers were members at the time of its institution.

*I say five because the amendment dealt with how officer terms were defined, changing it from "undergraduate" to "within four years" or some such (I do not have the exact wording here). By the old constitution, Jon would be ineligible for President for 2007, while I would still be eligible for office in 2009 (I will be a five-year student)


ReplyThread Parent
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:08 am (UTC)

[PART 1]

I would like to address the original post, and will be going through it to try to explain what's going on.

"The Header -- The first three lines of the constitution read:

WPI Science Fiction Society Constitution. New constitution passed as of
November 12, 1986. This constitution last amended or revised August 28,
2007. This most recent revision has been approved by the club.

This last sentence is incorrect -- this revision has not been approved by any significant portion of the current club membership. Article XII requires a 2/3 vote of all active members to revise the constitution, as well as a 2/3 vote of all permanent officers. So how did the 28 August revision occur?

The Officers of the SFS at the time interpreted the behavior of membership to be discontinued at the end of the academic year, with the exception of the Officers, who would be the "first members" of a new year's roster. Being the only six members of the SFS, under their interpretation, they could easily revise the constitution with only four people, and even more conveniently, there would be no paper trail, or even proof that this mockery of a vote ever took place. Even so, was it legal to do so? Let's go to..."


On August 28, 2007, there were exactly five members of the Science Fiction Society. Those were the five officers other than Jon, because the constitution amendment involved the eligibility of students for officership, changing it from "undergraduate" (which would allow a five-, six-, or even ten-year student to be an officer) to "within their first four years" (which would allow a BS/MS student to be an officer in their fourth year). This was a particularly vital amendment that would have been an logistical nightmare to organize once the general membership was opened.

"Active Membership -- Article III, Section I, defines what an active undergraduate or graduate student member is (this is important because only undergraduates or graduates can be active members, and only active members can vote (Article III, Section IIC and Article VI Section I respectively.) It documents membership (despite any renaming the officers choose to hang on it), as well as the criteria for obtaining it. Interestingly enough, there's no mention of termination of membership -- the only statement that hints at a membership-ending activity is

All members must be currently enrolled
undergraduate or graduate WPI students.

Presuming that "All members" is carefully not chosen wording (it seems like it should be "All active members", otherwise Article III, Section II (Alumni Membership) is pretty much null and void,) once a member has paid their dues once, they are a member for as long as they remain a student at WPI. A good thing to remember for the current Freshman class who have already paid dues -- until this gets revised, you never have to pay dues again before your graduate (or stop being a student for other reasons).

It seems that this revelation might draw the ire of some of the current officers, so before I have to go on the defensive, or even leave Article III Section I, let's look at the last line of the Section:

In addition, all officers are required to attend 75% of all meetings -- Adler. Pavis. I'm looking at you.

In all fairness, there's no specification that the meetings in question need to be Article V meetings, what is generally agreed to be the primary meeting of the SFS. If we include the weekly Officer's meeting, Pavis might be in the green.

Adler. I'm looking at you."


I've been meaning to scan the Constitution since all of this is coming up, and did not notice we had no mention of termination of memberships. I will draft an amendment in the near future to define the end of the term of membership (either a hard date like May 15, or "the last official day of scheduled classes"). Thank you for addressing this.

It is true that Jon will not have attended 75% of all general meetings.


ReplyThread
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:08 pm (UTC)

On August 28, 2007, there were exactly five members of the Science Fiction Society. Those were the five officers other than Jon, because the constitution amendment involved the eligibility of students for officership, changing it from "undergraduate" (which would allow a five-, six-, or even ten-year student to be an officer) to "within their first four years" (which would allow a BS/MS student to be an officer in their fourth year).

I challenge that statement -- I submit that everybody on the roster from the 2006-2007 school year with the exception of those no longer students were active members, not just the officers, because there is no mechanism for those memberships to have lapsed.


ReplyThread Parent
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 05:34 pm (UTC)

I can't confirm this at the moment, but I do believe the membership cards from 2006-2007 had an "expiration date" or some such written on them (I may be -- and probably am -- incorrect on this one, but I'll check).


ReplyThread Parent
kgola
kgola
Kit
Sun, Oct. 14th, 2007 01:34 am (UTC)

Dues are considered to be paid as of the start of the current academic year, even if they are paid during a later time that same year.*

Actually, in reading the constitution, I think the more relevant clause is this one. I'm not entirely sure why this is stated like this, but this implies to me that if you pay your dues in D-term, you are considered to have paid your dues in A-term, which would mean that every vote could be overturned in D-term if enough people (eligible to vote) joined and created an imbalance in the amount of votes required for a previous vote to be valid.

I'm not entirely sure why this was placed in the constitution, but I would strongly suggest removing it.

In terms of the discussion about who is a member and whether or not a membership ends, I would say that first off, it says quite clearly in the section of Active Membership:
Requirements are as follows: Dues are to be paid to the treasurer in the form of five dollars or five books in acceptable condition, or an equivalent substitution as determined by the officers, at the start of the school year or upon joining the club.*

This would seem to imply that to maintain active membership, you must pay your dues at the start of each school year. If it's not clear enough here, it becomes more clear in the section on judicial action (albeit, not the appropriate place, but relevant, I think, none-the-less). All students are permitted active membership provided they pay annual dues.* The statement annual dues implies that it need be re-upped each year to maintain. Whether this year expires at the end of a year from when the dues were paid or a year from the start of A-term, that is unclear.

I still think that regardless of the rest of it, the statement that "dues will be considered paid at the start of the school year, even if dues are paid later." is the real problem.

*All quotes of the SFS constitution are taken from the edition on http://users.wpi.edu/~sfs/constitution.txt


ReplyThread Parent
cykotek
cykotek
John
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 11:21 pm (UTC)

And I challenge your challenge. By the "all members must be currently enrolled undergraduate or graduate students" statement, as soon as E-term started, only those students enrolled for E-term were members.

Since there is no reason for the university to require re-enrolling each semester if the previous enrollment did not expire, that implies that enrollement is only effective for a single semester. Those who were students during D-term, who did not attend, and therefore did not enroll for E-term, were no longer members until such time as they enrolled for A-term. This makes the change legal, as long as the officers had officially enrolled and payed annual dues, and there were no more than 2 other dues-paying members enrolled from E-term, or enrolled for A-term of the new year.


ReplyThread Parent
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)

[PART 2]

"Membership Cards -- Section II being rendered null by a single missing word in Article I, we move to Section III, where we double back to the issue of Membership. This article is very simple:

All who pay dues will be given membership cards, these cards to be signed by one officer.

Bureaucratic Significance Cards, while cute, do not meet the constitutional requirement, given that their defining attribute is that they are not membership cards. The officers didn't have the ability to not issue membership cards. Demand your card today!"


The SFS is now a Class III Organization. As such, anyone who is currently a student may be a "member". In order to be a "paying, active member", they must pay the $5 fee, that grants voting rights and the ability to use the SFS Library as a free resource.

"Eligibility for Office -- This is the section most extensively modified by the August 2007 update, but since we've established that update was illegal, this can largely be considered bunk."

This update is fully legal. There were five members when the Amendment was voted on, and it received a 2/3 majority.

"Meetings-- Article V, Section III states that

The President (or the Vice President in the President's absence) opens and closes the
meeting.

There's no line of succession here that passes to the Treasurer or Secretary. The President or the VP opens the meeting, and if you don't have a VP...

Adler. Looking at you."


This is another issue that has been overlooked, unfortunately. Traditionally in WPI Organizations, the Treasurer follows the Vice President, and then the Secretary. If you would honestly rather no meeting happens because the VP resigned and the President is unable to attend, that's your perogative. Do note that Officers have Emergency Powers which can be exercised in times of necessity in order to ensure the club continues to function. This includes granting the ability to run meetings.

"Impeachment -- Will all these inconsistencies and violations, it seems pretty clear that there's a case to remove the current officers from power. Fortunately, we have an Impeachment mechanic in the Constitution. Unfortunately, we only have an Impeachment mechanic.

There seems to have been a bit of confusion by whoever first drafted this Constitution. It seems they didn't actually know what Impeachment means. Impeachment is the act of a voting body bringing charges against an officer. That's all it does -- it accuses the officer of doing something in violation of the laws that govern his or her office. Certainly, there's more than enough evidence to impeach Jon Adler. But impeaching him doesn't remove him from office. Nor is there any means within the constitution to do so. Result?

THERE IS NO WAY UNDER THE CURRENT CONSTITUTION TO REMOVE AN OFFICER FROM POWER INVOLUNTARILY.

Also, impeaching is in and of itself rather difficult. The impeachment vote calls for a 3/4 vote of all active members, not just those voting. Given that under Article V Section II there only need be 1/2 active members present for a quorum it is entirely possible (and arguably quite likely) that a meeting is unable to impeach an officer even if all present (including the subject) vote in favor.

Should a successful impeachment vote passes, as mentioned, nothing actually happens. The officer's position doesn't vacate, and thus the special elections clause, having no position vacated, has nothing to do."


According to the current constitution, "impeachment" actually leads to removal from office. It is not actual impeachment. And unfortunately, there is no accurate description of how impeachment should work within this Constitution.

The result?

We're winging it.

The membership has seconded a motion to vote on the impeachment of Jon Adler. Thus, we are honoring this request by setting up a meeting to have the presenter and the one called to impeach speak and have a vote.


ReplyThread
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)

This update is fully legal. There were five members when the Amendment was voted on, and it received a 2/3 majority.

See above. If you can't show that the 2006-2007 memberships have been terminated, you needed 2/3 of the active members to pass the new Constitution.

According to the current constitution, "impeachment" actually leads to removal from office. It is not actual impeachment. And unfortunately, there is no accurate description of how impeachment should work within this Constitution.

That ain't how it works, there. Impeachment isn't defined anywhere, so one is forced to utilize the common English definition. If it were defined, then you could say it meant removal from office, but right now the only tenuous string of implication is in the name of the section it appears in.

Interestingly, there's another question in this section -- the officers can appoint a librarian, but can they fire one? It doesn't appear so.


ReplyThread Parent
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)

...I'm sort of having one of those "WAIT... But I remember this..." moments. Immediately following the 10/10 meeting, myself, Pavis, Robyn, and Tess checked the Constitution and found that Impeachment led to removal from office. And now, upon looking, this clause is... not there.

EDIT: Okay, here's where it is, with extremely poor wording:

"An officer may be impeached by a motion to impeach, a second of that motion, and a 3/4 vote of all active members. The constitutional clause on special elections then becomes operative."

So we have the 3/4 majority bit, followed by the statement that we then move to a special election, which only occurs when an officer is removed from office.

You raise a good question about the librarianship, definitely something we're going to have to consider and (again) try drafting up to clarify in the Constitution.


ReplyThread Parent
witeoutking
witeoutking
Rick
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:09 am (UTC)

[PART 3]

"Fixing It-- Fixing the Constitution could prove a challenge, especially given that the document currently posted on the website masquerading as the Constitution is, but its own definitions, a fraud. Fortunately, elsewhere on the site is the last officially ratified Constitution, however, most of the more egregious errors remain. Similar to the Impeachment vote, changing the Constitution requires 2/3s of all active members, not just those voting. Remember that every student who ever paid dues and is still a student at WPI is an active member. Under that definition, I don't think there's even a roster of active members at this point."

I agree that the Constitution needs fixing. And I can assure you, once this is all said and done, no matter how this ends, it WILL be fixed. If the Constitution truly does have NO WAY to state that old members are no longer active members, then the Emergency Powers (That Be (TM)) will call for a vote by specifically "active members who have bought voting rights since August 27, 2007". It will be fixed.

I thank you for bringing up these issues, and I hope we can bring this to a resolution soon.


ReplyThread
pezzonovante
pezzonovante
pezzonovante
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 03:29 am (UTC)

Is there something hear I could perhaps lend a hand in?


ReplyThread

(Anonymous)
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 11:54 am (UTC)

This anonymous post is made by Jonathan Adler:

"So here's my challenge to the next Administration: Fix this mess. If for not other reason to than to be able to collect membership dues next year."

The constitution is not the responsibility of just the administration of the club, it is the responsibility of everyone involved in the club. If you see problems in the constitution, and clearly they exist, then let us know of possible solutions to the problems. We can all work together to improve the constitution, rather than just passing off the mess to the new guys.


ReplyThread
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)

I can't tell you how tickled pink I am that you were the one to catch that (besides the obvious implication that you actually read this post all the way through). I think that this most recent crisis is an excellent opportunity for us, as a club, to go back and review our charter and our mission, and even our formal structure. At some future and more appropriate venue than LiveJournal, I would propose the creation of a committee for the review of our documents and propose new documents that fully describe the operations of the SFS as a Class III organization, so that our operations match our documentation.


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Fri, Oct. 12th, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)

Also Jon Adler:

I think that is an excellent idea and provided I'm still around, I will look into doing that during B-term.


ReplyThread Parent