Causes and Effects of the Constitutional Convention of 1953
By: Megan Harper
Student Government on a college or university’s campus is designed to be the voice of the students to the administration and serve as the guiding principles for the entire student body. Baylor’s Student Council was created in the early part of the Twentieth Century and had done quite well in serving the students of Baylor University. In its initial formation, it helped students create a sense of autonomy and responsibility for their campus and “in theory, student autonomy offers the best chance for student service” (Baylor Lariat, 1914, October 22, p.2). Although Baylor University continued to grow in enrollment throughout the course of the Twentieth Century, the written procedure for the council had not changed. Due to the political climate of the 1950s, the continual emphasis on democracy, and the increased student involvement on campus, the Student Council at Baylor University held a constitutional convention to restructure the constitution and make changes for the betterment of Baylor.
Political Climate of the 1950s
Throughout the early years of the 1950s, the American people felt the increased tension building between themselves and the government and people of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Many people feared the loss of democracy and freedom as the propaganda of communism was quickly spreading throughout many countries. This fear was explicitly stated in a statement released by the Social Studies Committee of 1953 and adopted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “Communism is a threat to freedom and democracy…We believe that the most powerful bulwark against communism and other forms of totalitarianism is a wholehearted commitment to the things democracy stands for” (The Communist Threat to Freedom and Democracy, 1953, p. 1). In January of 1953, the students at Baylor were able to demonstrate their access to freedom and democracy by holding the constitutional convention. The members of the Student Council worked together with over 300 student delegates to restructure the constitution that currently existed. The AAUW statement listed the clear differences between what democracy stands for compared to what totalitarianism stands for, an example is the importance of the individual for democracy versus the supreme importance of the state for totalitarianism. The importance of the individual was brought into consideration by allowing students from outside Student Council to have a voice in this process.
Baylor’s president during the 1950s, William R. White, believed that communism was the opposite of democracy and worth of the individual. Dr. White wrote “Here Stands Baylor”, the statement of purpose of Baylor University sent to the alumni in 1953, and in it, White wrote “Baylor is a bitter foe of both Communism and Fascism because they are dangerous enemies of both Christianity and the individual” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 6, p. 1). Dr. White understood the fears of the American people and the dangers that were associated with communism, but he stood firm in Baylor’s values that the “political creed is to be found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution” and “her religious and moral creed is found in the Holy Bible, particularly as set forth in the New Testament” (Here Stands Baylor, 1953). This statement of purpose along with other speeches written by President White, such as Freedom’s Right and The Baylor Spirit. What is it?, speak to the democratic culture that President White was trying to instill at Baylor during the 1950s. Both the national sentiment as well as President White’s comments played roles in the response of the students of 1953 and the creation of the constitutional convention. This event, put on and run by the students, was a way to express democracy on Baylor’s campus and fulfill a responsibility to one another to do what they believed was right.
The Constitutional Convention of 1953
Even on campus, people were noticing the environment that was surrounding the creation and implementation of the Constitutional Convention of 1953. The Lariat editor, Gwyna Lee Smith, described how democracy played a crucial role in the constitutional convention when she wrote “it went in the hearts and minds of all who talked, wrote, thought, fought, bargained – and even those who just observed” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 23, p. 2). Baylor students wanted to have a voice that mattered and that was respected and upheld. The purpose for the convention was to write a new constitution that would apply to the entire student body, not just Student Council (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 13, p. 1). Additionally, the planning committee for the convention had a great desire for this convention to be very similar in nature to the national conventions held in the U.S. Government. The proceedings of the convention included having the Baylor band play the “Star Spangled Banner”, a keynote speaker, having representatives from a multitude of student organizations, allowing for committees to separate the overall document crafting, and dividing the voting percentages among the representatives of the 45 organizations that were a part of the convention (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 13, p. 1). The Constitutional Convention committee decided to divide the organizations into four sections that encompassed all of campus life: the non-partisan group, the social group, the service organizations, and the religious organizations. The non-partisan group included the dormitories and the classes and were allotted 55% of the overall vote or say in the redrafting of the constitution. Also, the campus radio station KIYS was on hand to broadcast the convention to the greater Baylor population who wanted to follow along and hear the opinions of the delegates as the convention was happening.
Another similarity to the National Government proceedings that the new constitution recommended was to form two new branches within student government at Baylor University. The original Constitutional Convention of the United States occurred in 1787 in the city of Philadelphia, where the original states drafted the constitution and designed a government with separate, but equal branches. A major reason why the document overseeing Student Government at Baylor University prior to the convention lacked authority to the whole student body was that it only established a legislative department, the Student Council. The legislative branch was unable to be to effective to the larger Baylor community due to its limited number of members as well as the lack of ability to enforce or enact the legislative they passed. The new constitution would create a judicial department and an executive department. The judicial branch would be composed of a Supreme Court as well as three lower courts; the Student Court, a grievance committee of the Law School, and the Honor Council. The executive department would be composed of a president and vice-president both elected at-large by the student body as well as a president’s cabinet to help advise the president on his proceedings (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 21, p. 1). This shift within the governing structure of the Student Council aligned with the structure of both the state and federal governments.
The week leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1953, the student body president, Glen Walker, gave a speech to the delegates who would be serving as representatives for the four major sections of campus life. In that talk, Walker mentioned “The Student Council at present has 13 members while our student body enrollment totals over 4,000” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 16, p. 1). Walker wanted to make it very clear to the delegates how important this new constitution was going to be because it would allow students to have an increased voice to the administration, control over certain aspects of student life such as judicial affairs as well as lead to restructuring that would allow for a better representation of the student body within the council. The student body president was very confident that this convention was going to lead to a better outcome and that the work they could accomplish would be able to make a great impact for Baylor University.
There were 13 council seats prior to the Constitutional Convention and the distribution between the classes was inconsistent with Baylor demographics. The freshman class at Baylor was the largest class by numbers during the 1952-1953 school year, having almost twice the number as the senior class that year. However, the existing document only allowed for half of the number of representatives for the freshman class compared to the senior class (Baylor Lariat, 1953, January 21, p. 2). The planning committee behind the convention was hopeful that the results of this rewriting would lead to an overall increase in the number of representatives within student government, but they also allow for the classes to have an equal, or a more equitable, voice within the branches of government. Since the new constitution included the two additional branches of government, the document had to include how the representatives would be divided up. The representatives that would be serving in Student Congress, the new name of the legislative branch, would be divided, based proportionally by the class size and the size of the individual school. The distribution was explained in Article IV Section 4, which read “Freshman Class at large, five; Sophomore Class at large, five; Junior Class at large, four; Senior Class at large, four; School of Education, one; College of Arts and Sciences at large, two; School of Law, three; Graduate School, one; School of Business, two, one a Senior and one a Junior; School of Music, two, one a Senior and one a Junior” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, April 2, p. 3).In addition to all of those delegates being added were the four officers of student government, which included the president, vice-president, recording secretary, and treasurer. The qualifications for the president and vice-president included having earned at least 90 credits and the recording secretary and treasurer had to at least a Junior standing (Baylor Lariat, 1953, April 2, p. 3). In total, Student Congress at Baylor would have 33 members compared to the original 13.
Student Participation in the Baylor Experience
Students at Baylor wanted to be involved with campus life, student leadership, and the overall voice for the university. The coordinating committee for the Constitutional Convention utilized 300 students’ input in the writing of this new document. The student council voted on Monday March 23, 1953 to publish the approved constitution in the Lariat, including the changes from the administration, to allow the student body the opportunity to read through the document (Baylor Lariat, 1953, March 25, p. 1). There were five main changes proposed by the administration that recognized the student government of the Business School, changed Honor Court to Honor Council, increased the number of faculty on the Honor Council to two faculty members, created specific membership for Supreme Court including four faculty members, and removed the representative from the School of Nursing (Baylor Lariat, 1953, April 2, pp. 1-2). The students were able to see the exact changes made to the main content of the document by the administration, which was another way that democracy was demonstrated through transparency.
Outside of Baylor, the members of Student Council were active in Texas Intercollegiate Student Association, both in the planning aspects of the organization but also in attending their conventions and being a part of valuable discussions. Texas Intercollegiate Student Association (TISA) was created to be allow for the overall coordinating of the institutions of Texas. In the spring of 1953, there were 33 colleges or universities that were a part of the organization. Also in the spring of 1953, there was a TISA convention being held at Rice University and eight Student Council members attended. The topics that were discussed during the convention included “investigating honor systems and integrity councils, … developing the student government leadership, organizing the student government structure…” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, March 20, p. 1), all of which were major topics being examined during the constitutional convention held just two months prior at Baylor. This organization gave the student council members an arena to share the great things that were happening and changing at Baylor, but also hear from other schools about what they were working on and how they were implementing it within their campuses and student bodies.
The Final Product
The outcome of the Constitutional Convention of 1953 at Baylor University was a document that “place[d] the handling of student affairs much more in the student hands than does the Student Council arrangement in operation at present” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, March 11, p. 2) and still remains today as the basis of the Student Government constitution This process was long and involved diligent work such as meetings with delegates to describe the previous constitution, breaking the delegates into committees to discuss particular sections of the coming constitution instead of working on the entire document in a large group setting, and then many conversations with the administration as they attempted to hammer out the small details regarding the document. For the weeks following the end of the convention, the Lariat continued to update the student body regarding when this document would be released to be read and then eventually voted on for ratification. The original date for the Lariat to publish the new constitution was set for March 10, 1953, which would have been the first day back for the new quarter and then a week later on March 17th, the student body would be able to cast their vote regarding the ratification of the document (Baylor Lariat, 1953, February 26, p.1). However, the administration needed more time to read through the small details of the over 5,000-word document and as Dean Carroll said “it is a document to govern the entire body. We want it to be something we won’t have to apologize for” (Baylor Lariat, 1953, April 1, p. 2). The revised constitution was released to the student body on April 2, 1953 in its entirety on the pages of the Lariat along with the few, but major changes that were made by President W.R. Wright and his administration. This entire process was truly a team effort that involved a combination of hard work and dedication by the students involved and the diligence of the administration to create an accurate document that would fit the needs of all parties involved.
On April 10, 1953, the student body of Baylor University was given the opportunity to cast their vote on whether or not the proposed constitution should be ratified. The students were given a week to read over the constitution and bring forth any questions or complaints that they may have had and the student council would do their best to respond to those concerns. A two-thirds majority approval of the ratification for the proposed constitution was need for it to go into effect at 5pm on May 6th (Baylor Lariat, 1953, April 10, p. 1). On Tuesday April 14th, Student Council announced that the new constitution would go into effect and the officers of the student body and sixteen student Congress members would be voted in during the elections that would be held on May 6th. This marked a great change in the governance of students by students through greater numbers of representation and greater impact on the campus. The constitution has very similar structure still in place today.
An example of how the student government at Baylor University was able to implement more of a voice for the students and demonstrate a democratic society was the Honor Council. The Honor System was introduced in May of 1951, but was then further clarified during the convention’s proceedings. The description that was outlined in the constitution that was ratified in the spring of 1953 was “We, the Student and Faculty of Baylor University, in order to co-operate in devising and perfecting a plan whereby the honor and integrity of Baylor university Students may be maintained, do hereby effect the Honor System of Baylor University” in Article IX Section 3 Part 1. The students wanted and needed a way to be able to uphold this higher standard for one another as well as maintain an image of excellence within the Baylor community. Although, the honor system was already in place, the council that was in charge of those proceedings would henceforth be called the Honor Council of Baylor University. Members of the council would, with the permission of the Faculty, go speak in front of their classes explaining the yearly publication that outlined the specifics of honor code on “Honor Day” held each quarter. Any examination given after this discussion between the students and the member from the council would have to be followed by a signed pledge from the student that they did not give or receive any assistance and that they had not seen anyone else do so either. This system kept students accountable to one another and reinforced Dr. White’s notion that “the individual should have a sensitive conscience with reference to his responsibility to mankind” (Here Stands Baylor, 1953).
Democracy, while fading in certain parts of the world, was still alive and present at Baylor University in 1953 by the students coming together to implement not only a constitutional convention, but also a revised student government featuring all three branches of government. During the remaining years of the 1950s, Student Congress used its new formation and representation to better the Baylor community through greater communication with the administration and implementing more desires of the student body. By adding additional members to the organization, Student Congress was able to be more effective in hearing the needs of the students, but also in their ability to help support the initiatives taking place at Baylor.
Afterthoughts. (1953, January 27, p. 2). The Baylor Lariat
April 10 is Ratification Date for Constitution. (1953, April 2, p.1-6). The Baylor Lariat
As We See It. (1914, October 22). The Baylor Lariat
Baylor is Bitter Foe of Fascism, Communism Says Pres. White. (1953, January 6, p. 1). The Baylor Lariat
Chairmen to Meet with Administration. (1953, March 25) The Baylor Lariat
Constitution on the Way (1953, April 1). The Baylor Lariat
Constitution Will Be Published; March 17 is Date of Ratification. (1953, February 26). The Baylor Lariat
Constitutional Convention Opens Today; 125 Official Delegates Will Aid in Writing Students’ Constitution (1953, January 16). The Baylor Lariat
Constitutional Meeting Plans Are Discussed with Delegates. (1953, January 15). The Baylor Lariat
Convention is Held This Weekend to Write Student Constitution. (1953, January 13). The Baylor Lariat
Here Stands Baylor (1953). [A Statement of Purpose]. Office of the President, Chancellor & President Emeritus (W.R. White) (BU Records – Literary Productions Articles 4 of 5) The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Letter from the Editor. (1953, January 23, p. 2). The Baylor Lariat
March 25 Is New Ratification Date for Student Constitution. (1953, March 11). The Baylor Lariat
New Constitution Is in Final Stages. (1953, January 27, p.1). The Baylor Lariat
New Department of Government Will Be Organized if Committee Recommendations Are Accepted. (1953, January 21, p. 1-2). The Baylor Lariat
New Document Ratified in Friday Election, Foes into Effect May 6. (1953, April 14). The Baylor Lariat
The Communist Threat to Freedom and Democracy (1953). [From Journal of the American Association of University Women]. Office of the President, Chancellor & President Emeritus (W.R. White) (BU Records – Literary Productions Articles 2 of 5) The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
TISA, Journalist Meets Highlight Weekend. (1953, March 20). The Baylor Lariat
Vote on Proposed Constitution Today. (1953, April 10). The Baylor Lariat