SP Constitution Frequently Asked Questions


Prepared by SPEC 2003-04 in response to questions and clarifications sought ahead of the April 2004 House meeting.

What is the structure of the house government?

The House Council consists of:

5 Members of Sidney-Pacific Executive Committee (SPEC) bEach of the Vice-Presidents as well as the President is responsible for overseeing the committee chairs in their Office. The Chair of the Halls is responsible for overseeing the Hall Councilors

29 Members of the Cabinet (Committee Chairs). Each has 1 vote.

13 Hall Councilors. Each has 2 votes.

Other volunteers often take on vice-chair positions or head ad-hoc committees, but these are non-voting roles.

Where does my $5 per month house tax go?

The house tax is used to fund hall councilor events, buy videos for the video library, subscribe to monthly magazines and for maintenance and upkeep of the building resources such as aquarium, plants and the gym. The budget requests and the allocation information is available under *My Account* section of the website, accessible with certificates. If there are specific questions about any particular budget item, please contact the relevant committee chair and they will be happy to answer questions.

Do I have access to everything the house government spends my money on?

Almost entirely yes. A large portion of house tax funds go toward events and outings, all of which are open to all residents. Among other capital expenses, house tax funds goes toward front-desk checkout items, replacing stolen/broken S-P property, and paying for the building's subscription to satellite TV, available in the 3rd and 5th floor lounges.

The House government at Sidney-Pacific has worked over the past two years to purchase audio equipment, stage and entertainment equipment as part of the construction budget of the building and using funds from sources outside of the house tax revenue. These support equipment are used only for house council events. These equipments are very expensive and run the risk of maintenance problems if used by novices.

Who is elected and who is appointed?

Refer the following three sections...


By whom?
The newly elected Sidney-Pacific Executive Committee (SPEC) appoints the committee chairs.

Appointment of committee chairs is based on an application and interview process. Any student eligible to live in Sidney-Pacific for the following year, is eligible to apply for any of the committee positions. In Spring 2003, around 140 students applied for committee chair positions, of which around 70 were interviewed for about 35 appointments.

Committee chair applications are invited for a few weeks during mid-March to early-April. Interviews are held in mid-April and all appointments are effective beginning at the May House meeting.

Stewardship of the residence and its facilities, organizing events of many types, an interest in participating in a broad range of government activities, including house meetings are among the most important responsibilities of the Sidney-Pacific House Council. These responsibilities need expertise, energy, motivation and in many cases, related prior experience. A thorough, meritocratic and open interview process has been established to recruit the best talent.


By whom?
Hall Councilors are elected directly by the residents.

The current residents of a hall will elect the Hall Councilor for the following year.

Hall Councilor nominations are open beginning mid-March and are open till mid-April. There will be a *Meet the Candidates* session in each hall providing a forum for all nominees of that Hall to present their platform and discuss their ideas with the residents.

Hall Councilors are the directly elected representatives of the residents of their hall, and, as such, their votes are given double weight. In addition to representing the interests of their residents within the House Council, Hall Councilors serve as the first point of contact for their residents, acting as information resources and social facilitators.

SPEC -> elected

By whom?
The voting members of the Sidney-Pacific House Council elect the President, VP Resources, VP Residential Life, VP Information for the next year. The Chair of the Halls is elected by the Hall Councilors alone.

Who is eligible?
Any current resident of Sidney-Pacific, who will be continuing graduate study during the following year, is eligible to contest the elections for any/all of the SPEC positions.

Full Preferential method of voting will be used. The Bylaws of the Sidney-Pacific Constitution describe the election process in detail.

Nominations for the 5 SPEC positions open at the Nominations dinner in early March. Nominations close two weeks after the Nominations dinner. Elections are held during the April House meeting.

As electorates become larger, it's very easy for elections to become popularity contests. This has been observed in other large residence halls at MIT, where votes have sometimes broken down along racial/ethnic lines. Moreover, winning a general election relies on a substantial campaign effort, diverting the energies of candidates and the government from more pressing tasks. At the other extreme, a very small electorate of 5-12 people is susceptible to corruption, or, at the very least, the effects of personal grudges or favoritism. Many governments (GSC, U.K., etc.) try to find some middle ground by following a parliamentary-style system, and S-P adopts a similar model, with an electorate of around 50 people who are obligated to be informed about the candidates and issues.


Why do people like the music chair have a legislative vote while non-House council members do not have a vote?

The committee chairs are not only considered experts in issues relating to their committee. Over the course of the year, they devote much of their time to the Sidney-Pacific Community, and through this work and discussions with other officers, they learn quite a bit about all of the issues facing the government. Moreover, their votes are valued as "functional representatives" of various interests within the house, i.e. resource center users or gym users. The inclusion of the committee chairs in the voting process also increases the voting body of the House Council from around 15 to 45. This changes the dynamic of the House Council from that of a large committee to that of a proper legislative body (of a size comparable to the GSC General Council).

Why don't we allow all residents to vote for SPEC?

In agreement with what was expected when the Sidney-Pacific house government was formed and based on the house government's functions over the past two years, 90% of SPEC's job is management, and only 10% is politics.

Since much of SPEC's job is managerial, S-P's government is modeled not just after public governments (not known for their efficiency), but also private organizations like companies and non-profits. One can find similarities between the organization chart of MIT and SPEC. Of course, unlike MIT, S-P does have half its government directly elected by the residents - it's a hybrid system, designed to capture the functional efficiency of private organizations as well as the accountability of public ones.

As a graduate dorm, Sidney-Pacific elections are not just issue-based; they're aptitude-based and commitment-based. This can even be said about GSC elections. Perhaps in a more issue-oriented organization (such as a nation), one needs to feel the pulse of the general populace to get the best people for the job, but here, it's the House Council that's in the best position to judge a candidate's skill set, dedication, ability to work with others and make informed decisions.

Note: Also refer earlier answer to "Why?" under "SPEC->elected".

What about XYZ dorm which embodies democracy more?

Each on-campus graduate dorm at MIT has its own process for electing its executive committee. Some executive committees are appointed without any input from the residents in the building. Some executive committee elections suffer from apathy of the larger graduate student body.


Why are house officers asked to sit separately from other residents?

Oops... this was an experiment by this year's SPEC that didn't go too well with anyone. It was attempted for three meetings and then deemed a total failure. Hence, discontinued. Mea culpa!

Who gets a staff T-shirt and how can I get one?

*STAFF* t-shirts are given out to volunteers for Orientation events, some large events and the CoSI seminars. In bright colors, they help residents at events know whom to approach for help. If you see someone in a *STAFF* t-shirt at any event, you are welcome to approach them with any question/clarification/request for help. We do request that people given the shirts do not wear them during events that they are not helping with, to avoid confusion.

On a related note, volunteers for the brunch committee are given aprons to be worn during the immense cooking effort for brunches.

Does Sidney-Pacific own a Playstation?How can we make use of it?

Sidney-Pacific now has a Sony Playstation 2 available for everyone to use in the game room. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) and a beat pad are available for check out at the front desk.


Who decides the recipients of service awards?

SPEC decides on the service awards based on input from various sources including current officers, volunteers and by the attendance at various events.

Where does the money for service awards come from?

In 2002-2003, the service awards were supported entirely by the S-P Housemasters. In 2003-2004, the service awards have been supported in part by the S-P Housemasters and in part by the House budget.

Do I have to be an officer to get a house service award?

No. Service awards are given out to recognize and reward exemplary contribution by any individual to Sidney-Pacific. That many of the officers have received service awards speaks highly of the enormous time and effort put in by these folks towards making S-P a better place.