Baylor Student Court overrules plan to restructure Senate

The Baylor Student Court overturns the plan to restructure the Student Senate. Photo courtesy of Baylor Student Government

By Sophia Tejeda | Staff Writer

The Baylor Student Court ruled to overturn the Student Senate restructuring petition after the bill initially failed last month. The bill was intended to restructure the composition of the Senate from division by grade classification to division by academic college so as to encourage more representation and diversity within Senate.

Senator Clay Jeha brought the claim to the court, which addressed the student body external vice president’s role and the mechanisms by which the student body proposed the petition to enact the restructuring plan.

The court ruled that Zach Tufenkjian, Hoffman Estates, Ill., senior and student body external vice president, violated the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch by collaborating on the proposed legislation, which goes beyond his line of duty and outlined powers.

The court asserted that the student body’s constitutional right to offer a petition in response to failed legislation belongs to the student body collectively, not to members of student government to advocate for and facilitate as members of the student body themselves. In other words, the court found fault in members of student government utilizing their roles and titles to advocate for the vote to pass restructuring.

“The Court holds that the External Vice President blurred the lines with respect to the separation of powers between the branches of government when he co-authored, introduced and spoke on SE 69-18 on the floor of the Senate,” the court opinion read. “Further, the Court finds that the Senator, the IVP and the EVP misused the amendment process via a petition listed in the Constitution to achieve essentially the same legislative means that failed in the Senate. The Court also finds that the Defendant, in advocating the petition, was clearly acting in his role as EVP given the way he introduced himself as such in emails and in his initiation of the petition itself.”

The student body initially passed the restructuring amendment by a two-thirds majority vote after a petition received over 1,600 signatures, Tufenkjian said. Based on the trial, which occurred on March 31, the court’s opinion adjusts Senate’s structure to its original division of 13 seats per class.

Zoey Johnson, Grand Prairie junior and electoral commissioner for student government, discussed the repercussions of overturning the plan to restructure Senate and how it affects campaigns.

“Now, instead of candidates campaigning for two seats more specific to who they are — such as their major — now they are only campaigning toward the student body and their grade level,” Johnson said. “At first, [with restructuring,] if you were running for an academic seat in your major, everyone in that major could vote for you, but now everyone in your grade level can vote for you.”

Johnson also said she encourages candidates to continue to campaign — even though the number of seats they can campaign for has been restricted to one — and to work toward restructuring in the future.

“Keep your head up and try anyway,” Johnson said. “Restructuring was overturned for minor errors, so try anyway, and if you’re really passionate about restructuring, try next semester. Push harder and do it correctly the first time.”

Tufenkjian said he wishes to validate the hard work and feelings of disappointment of those involved in the restructuring proposal.

“It is disheartening to see restructuring overturned,” Tufenkjian said. “It is disappointing to see the court side with the plaintiff and really overturn and throw out thousands of student votes and petition signatures. If anyone is feeling a sense of discouragement or let down, I think it is completely justified for this situation.”

In regards to diversity within the Senate, Johnson said she hopes discussion about the original restructuring plan will stimulate more conversations about and attention to non-represented groups.

“Now that [restructuring has been] overturned, the candidates that are running [whose majors] don’t receive as much representation will try harder to get the seat, and people who do win the seats in the majority majors, like political science and business majors, will take more consideration into small minority majors on campus,” Johnson said.

Tufenkjian said he hopes students continue to be passionate about restructuring and advocating for representation in Senate.

“The issues and topics of restructuring and student representation are not over yet,” Tufenkjian said. “Although the restructuring proposal for this year was overturned, we still had thousands of students vote for the proposal … This shows a lot of student interest for this topic and ongoing discussion of student representation in the Senate,” Tufenkjian said.

In reflection on his involvement with the restructuring proposal, Tufenkjian said he wouldn’t do anything differently.

“We think we did everything legally,” Tufenkjian said. “Ultimately, our heart is to bolster student representation. Although this lawsuit and the court’s opinion are issued against me, it really is, in my opinion, issued against the thousands of students that voted for and signed the petition and voted for the amendment. [They] are not just overriding my voice, but also throwing out thousands of votes and petition signatures just because one person was involved.”

Tufenkjian said he encourages students to read the court’s opinion and each party’s arguments and decide the court’s justification for themselves.

The plaintiff’s brief can be accessed here, and the defendant’s brief can be accessed here.

“It is really disappointing to see a court that is so respected, that we trust to hold our students’ voices accountable and revere them, to do such an action,” Tufenkjian said. “There is a lot of nuance to this case, and it is a very sensitive topic for so many people. Although the court already issued an opinion, it is important to tell all sides of the story, and there is a lot more to this case.”