Housing numbers in question

Semantics can be a tricky thing, especially when it comes to Student Government Association elections. Starting last semester and, now, continuing this semester, a swirl of controversy surrounding the definition of “on-campus non-residence hall” students has erupted among the SGA.

On campus, non-residence hall is one of the three electoral districts used by the SGA to define the makeup of the Senate – the other two being “on campus residential” and “off-campus or commuter.” The problem, which became quite obvious last semester during the Senate trial and subsequent Judicial ruling, is that seemingly only the SGA defines an “on campus, non-residence hall” area.

“I don’t know who does [use that definition],” Dave Vaillancourt of Housing Services said. “You’d have to talk to a historian to find that out.” Vaillancourt explained that his responsibilities extend only to residential housing and that he was unfamiliar with the exact definitions outlined in the SGA By-laws.

In a Dec. 6 ruling, Chief Justice Gabriel Tavarez ruled last September’s SGA elections and, as a result, the Senate, unconstitutional. The Judiciary’s decision was based on a number of factors, including the misrepresentation of the above-named electoral districts. The defense, which consisted of Senate Speaker Jim Eltrignham and TJ Roy, claimed that these districts had not been observed in even the most recent SGA elections, but the defense was to no avail.

In a memo dated Feb. 1 of this year and addressed to Eltringham, Registrar Elizabeth Pyle attempted to clarify these discrepancies. The memo was sent in response to Eltringham’s Jan. 25 request for University population numbers. However, in the memo, Pyle outlines two potential problems with the SGA request.

First, the “official” University numbers have not yet been determined; therefore, the numbers, which were given to Eltringham and which will be used to determine Senate apportionment, are only estimates.

“This is a time of significant ‘flux’ in numbers,” Pyle’s memo stated. “You have told me that the SGA’s need for numbers is immediate, and that you cannot wait until later in the semester when official and more stable numbers will be available. So, I am responding at this time by providing numbers that we must all see as an accurate reflection of the information in my possession at this time, but not as numbers the University would consider to be official statistics for the Spring 2001 semster.”

Vaillancourt explained that any “definite” numbers would always be hard to nail down at any time, and that it was prudent for the University to wait to make residential counts.

“The official count isn’t until the fifth week of the semester,” he said.

“Any moment you run numbers, somebody is going to withdraw, change rooms or any number of things,” Pyle agreed. “There is so much flux this early in the semester that generally we like to wait.”

The second problem brought up by Pyle’s memo was the terminology defined in the SGA By-laws. The memo explained that some of the SGA category names are not consistent with University definitions. Therefore, the Registrar’s Office was forced to make interpretations in light of past practices for SGA elections.

“One of the problems is that the SGA doesn’t necessarily have a set definition for these categories,” said Pyle. “In responding to that kind of request, they’re calling for us to interpret these names.”

Eltringham elaborated on this statement, explaining that this matter has always been a gray area for the SGA.

“Whenever this particular By-law was written, whoever was doing it, didn’t really check to see how the University defined residency,” he said. “We define it with the caveat as ‘defined by the University.'”

The memo broke down the undergraduate populations as follows: 9913 on campus, residential students, 482 on campus, non-residential students and 6851 off-campus students. Those numbers translate into 28 senators from the off-campus area and two senators from the on-campus, non-residential area. The latter area, which includes fraternity and sorority houses, was lumped into the off-campus area for the September elections. Subsequently, 32 Delta Chi members assumed most of the 34 Senate seats allotted to the off-campus area. Many believe that the Greek involvement in the SGA was one of the main reasons for contending the elections.

Eltringham did not anticipate any problems with the upcoming Senate elections, because he is taking extra precautions to document all the residential numbers, which he receives from the University. He did, however, express concern about the seeming absence of the Hillel House from the on campus, non-residential area and the number of senators allotted to that area.

“Having those [fraternities, sororities, students living in Lincoln apartments and presumably Hillel] together in three seats is not going to represent all those concerns,” he said. “It’s a little tricky and it calls into question our democratic ideals.”