U. Montana Senate Decision Not to Approve Academic Bill of Rights May Be Unconstitutional · 17 November 2003

Alisha Wyman--Montana Kaiman, 11/18

After a resolution supporting fairness and balance in the classroom failed last week at ASUM's Wednesday meeting, the constitutionality of Vice President Gale Price's vote has come into question.

Price voted for the first time this year after a vote of 9-8 passed the resolution. Price's vote brought the vote to a tie, which caused the resolution to fail.

Upon further review of ASUM's constitution, some senators disputed that the chairperson of the meeting, a position the vice president holds, does not have the right to make ties, only to break them.

The confusion stems from a contradiction in the constitution. According to Article 4, Section 7 of the constitution, meetings should follow Robert's Rules of Order, an explanation of standard parliamentary procedure, "and the chair of the meeting shall only vote in case of a tie."

The problem with the sections stems from the word "and." Robert's Rules of Order says the chairperson can vote to make or break a tie. The second part of the sentence in the section seems to contradict Robert's Rules.

"My guess is whoever wrote the constitution didn't phrase it as clearly as they meant to," said Hayden Ausland, one of ASUM's advisers.

Together, the two clauses of the sentence have become the center of a debate over the intent of the author of the constitution.

"They would not have included that second clause if they wanted the vice president to make ties," Sen. Will Holmes said.

In response, Sen. Vinnie Pavlish asked, "If they were really trying to change Robert's Rules, why is it 'and' and why is it not 'but?'"

Holmes and Sen. Christian Winkle said Price had already announced the result of the vote and put down the gavel, which, according to Robert's Rules, means the vote was final.

Phone calls to Price were not returned.

In instances where there is confusion about procedure, whether Price put down the gavel is irrelevant, Pavlish said.

"If a person isn't aware of her rights ... I prefer the honest method," he said. "It was fair enough (for her) to know what her rights were."

Whatever the outcome, it is an opportunity to clear up the hazy clause in the constitution, Ausland said. Now that the issue has come up, the Senate may want to clear up the language. The fairness and balance resolution decision of last week stands unless the authors decide to resubmit it in a new form or someone originally opposed to it makes a motion to reconsider it.

"This is very useful, and there's a lot to be learned from this," Ausland said. "(Price) should have the vote, and if the constitution didn't state it that way, then it's the fault of the constitution."