[Advice to Divisional Chair Bruce Madewell 5/30/2003]
Information about petitions of students is sparse in the Code of the Senate. Systemwide bylaws specify that petitions of students is one item on order of business for a divisional meeting. Nothing in those bylaws clarifies or limits the scope of student petitions nor grants them any parliamentary force. Systemwide regulations allow students to petition for variances. Davis Division bylaws echo the systemwide bylaws both in making student petitions one order of business for a Representative Assembly meeting and in granting the Executive Council authority over petitions for variances. And, like the systemwide bylaws, they are silent about other substantive content. However, DDB 13.D, which defines the duties of the Secretary, reads:
"The Secretary of the Davis Division is authorized to refer directly to the appropriate standing committee any or all questions placed in his or her hands for presentation to the Davis Division, including petitions of students."
Only representatives and committee chairs are entitled to introduce motions, and only Senate members have the privilege of the floor. Others sometimes speak as guests of the Division.
From these last two considerations, CERJ concludes that, while students may petition the Division on any subject, the proper disposition of student petitions is that they be referred to the appropriate standing committee as an informational input into their decision-making process. In the case at hand, any student petition could be referred to the Grade Change Committee or to the Educational Policy Committee. So, what are student petitions doing on the order of business for the RA? We can only conclude that it flags the point in the meeting at which the existence of the petitions could be acknowledged and their disposition communicated to the RA. Furthermore, since decisions of any other standing committee (for example, with respect to a variance of regulations) are, in principle, subject to the oversight of the RA, this would -- should the matter arise -- be the point in the meeting at which they would be introduced. If, for example, the petition were a complaint about the action of a standing committee, it may be appropriate to introduce the petition directly to the RA. That may be the case here: the students object to the rule change proposed by the Grade Change Committee. That said, I do not see that a student petition can have any parliamentary effect: it cannot introduce a motion, force an item onto the agenda, or serve as a conduit to commenting on a debate on the floor.
The practical upshot would seem to depend on exactly what the student petition asks for. If it asks for an action by a standing committee, the Secretary should refer it to the standing committee. If it expresses an opinion about a matter pending before the RA, then it would be appropriate to read it (or circulate it) to the members of the RA. It cannot itself initiate any other action. If it seeks an action and a member of the RA wants to champion it with a motion, amendment, or debate, that would be for the individual member to decide. It would not, I believe, be appropriate for you as Chair or the Secretary to promote action at the request of students beyond referrals to committees or communications to members as already discussed.
To answer your questions specifically:
1) How do students file "petitions" with the Senate for an item to be considered by the Representative Assembly?
They submit them to the Secretary; the Secretary must decide which standing committees are appropriate (the RA is a standing committee).
2) Could a student(s) appear at Rep Assembly with a petition, for example, for a reconsideration of the Report from the Grade Changes Committee?
Students can petition on any subject. A petition, however, does not initiate an action. An action requires the voluntary intervention of committee chairs or members or members of the RA. So, if on receipt of the petition, the Grade Change committee wanted to withdraw or modify its proposal, it could. If on receipt of the report by the RA, members wanted to argue against the change (or, if it had already been enacted, to move to change it back), they could.
3) Would the Secretary consider the petition and render an opinion to allow the petition to be heard? Or would (could) he defer it to committee for consideration by the Senate at a later date?
I read the charge to the Secretary as obligating him or her to take some action and refer the matter to some committee. The Secretary has discretion to decide which is the appropriate committee (including the RA). But I do not think that the Secretary can simply sit on the petition. Whether a referral is made to another standing committee, which clearly would delay the day that it might come before the RA (if ever) or to the RA directly is up to the Secretary. If the Secretary decides that referral is direct to the RA and a petition is received before the notice deadline for an RA meeting, it would seem expedient, although not, I think, absolutely required that it appear on agenda of that meeting rather than some later one.
[See Legislative Ruling 11.05]