Emotional Feuds Rule Executive Committee

Emery Malachowski, Managing Editor (Juniatian), Desk Editor (Kvasir Literary Magazine)

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“Student government is incredibly  tense,” says student government Technology Officer Sam Craig, “Especially because of two characters in executive committee. Feelings are being upset when this is just a business matter. We are walking on eggshells around people who feel that they are being ridiculed when they are not, instead of allowing us to speak freely and protect our First Amendment right under the Constitution.”

“Members of executive committee are passionate about governance and have differing opinions, but we debate productively within student government for change,” refutes Emily Dowler, student government Secretary and Chair of projects committee.

However, Xander Mansberger, a member of the general student body present at the student government meeting, told reporters, “There is a shitload of tension and it seems like everyone is angry and no one has a right to speak. There’s a power dynamic that feels not solvable.”

At the meeting on Wednesday, December 5th in Sill Boardroom, emotions were high as Senators spoke out of turn and criticized one another on the Senate floor. Personal grudges were public and clear as factions fought each other for control of time on the floor and of governance. The tension was clearly felt through debate on issues of internal policy marred by accusations of voter suppression, prejudice, and senators battling for their voices to be heard.

A proposed amendment to the Financial Bylaws was headed by Emily Dowler, Kirwin Seger, and Stephanie (Pixie) Estrada. The amendment would change how SAUR (Student Advocates for Universal Respect, a branch of Student Government) and projects committee requested and received money from the Operational Budget of student government. This included adding SAUR and Policy to Article III, Subsection II of the Financial Bylaws that says that expenses for certain committees which at  the time included executive committee, Senate, Allocation Board, RSO Approval Board, Judicial Board, and General Assembly must be made from the Operational Budget.

The discussion was led by Emily Dowler, Kirwin Seger, and members of SAUR. Emily Dowler described the purpose of the amendment as a way for SAUR and projects committee to be considered as equal members of executive committee with the other committees. SAUR has an Executive Chair, and the chair representing projects committee is Dowler in her role as Secretary.

When the amendment was discussed, members of policy committee, Committee Chair Vidal Glassman and voting Policy member Rian Fantozzi, voiced concerns about how the amendment would override standing procedure Article VI, Subsection III of the Financial Bylaws. This would mean that the required consensus would change from needing Senate approval, Allocations review, and Executive unanimous consent to only needing simple Executive majority.

While discussing rephrasing, Policy asked to be also added to Article III Subsection II with SAUR and Projects. Dowler voiced surprise that Policy would ask such a thing, later saying that she did not believe  that Policy would want to be included, considering that Policy had been opposed to the amendment in the past.

Seger then accused Policy of not reading the amendment beforehand. When later questioned he retracted this statement, saying “There was a lot of dissension from Executive Board, some of it stemming from Policy about the amendments. I think they read it, I don’t know…I guess I don’t understand why the concerns weren’t brought up beforehand.”

In response, Glassman says that when Seger first brought up the amendment to him in the past, he invited Seger to a policy committee meeting that Seger never attended. Glassman says that “Every time that [a] policy comes up I ask people to come to a policy committee meeting. They never do.” He says Clause A of the proposed amendment, which stated that “Exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis with the approval of a majority of the Executive Committee,” was not approved, but adding Policy, Projects and SAUR to Article III, Subsection II.

The next order of business was a standing order proposed by SAUR. SAUR Chair Estrada said that “The overall purpose of the standing order was to make sure that student government respects SAUR, because it is not fair how SAUR has been disregarded in the past.” The standing order called upon the General Assembly to acknowledge its important role and ensure its security, calls upon Policy Committee, to redefine quorum to include no less than four SAUR representatives, to include SAUR chair on the executive committee, and to ensure its meeting  times are not infringed upon. The standing order was discussed and concerns were voiced surrounding how part of the standing order would forbid student government from scheduling meetings at the same time as SAUR, which some felt showed favoritism towards SAUR over other organizations.

Glassman voiced concerns over incorrect phrasing within the Order, showing me a text from that day he had sent to policy committee stating that the standing order “called for a standing order, looks like a resolution, and asks for an amendment.”

The standing order was voted upon and failed, and there began motions to pass parts of the standing order that were not as controversial. When the discussion began again heated and chaotic, Lutwyche called for the standing order to be tabled in order for other business to be attended to.

SAUR Chair Estrada said “I think the standing order failed because people did not understand the reasoning behind it, even though it was in the preamble. I don’t know how to make people get it.” She cited incidents in the past from 2015 onward where she said that student government did not take action on incidents on  campus that SAUR brought to their attention, including a homophobic slur etched into someone’s car, tensions surrounding Black Lives Matter on campus, and the lack of acknowledgement or respect for SAUR in student government. Estrada says “Had it passed I’d feel more comfortable with the standing SAUR has in student government. It just further shows how student government treats SAUR and the minority sect they represent.”

Jackson Bourgeois, a member of policy committee, believes that Senate members believe in SAUR’s mission and importance. He believes that the wording in the standing order was the issue, citing that the order called for policy committee to ensure that SAUR meetings were not abridged by Senate meetings, but that Policy does not have the authority  to do so. He also mentioned that a clause in the standing order at the meeting was not part of that standing order that they had agreed to vote upon that night, and that part of the standing order called upon certain actions by the General Assembly, which a standing order is not allowed to do. He says that “Should they come back to Senate next semester with the specific problems with the wording of the standing order fixed, there would probably be a different result.”

Dowler says that she believes that the standing order did not pass because people  were concerned that the order would show favoritism towards SAUR over other organizations, particularly the section that would not allow Senate to meet during SAUR meetings. She believes that having more time to discuss would have been beneficial, and that she believes that student government supports SAUR and their cause.

After their standing order failed and was tabled for the next semester SAUR members appeared visibly frustrated. Some members began to walk out of the meeting as the next segment, Fantozzi’s discussion of general education requirements, began. Craig describes seeing Seger leaving the room and motioning for others to leave as well. Craig believed that Seger wanted to remove enough people that  there would not be a quorum. A quorum is when there are enough voting members present to allow a vote. Fantozzi  was discussing general education requirements and required voting on resolutions surrounding those issues.

After consulting with Erin Paschal, advisor of student government, about the ethical implications of his actions, Glassman told the Juniatian that he asked Seger explicitly if he was removing people so that there would not be a quorum and so that it would prevent the Senate from being able to vote. He says that Seger responded “Yes, you’re welcome. It doesn’t matter, you’ll get a quorum anyways.” Glassman says that he struggles with revealing this information, but it troubles him because he believes that Seger’s actions amounted to voter suppression.

Estrada did not believe that Seger asked members of SAUR to leave. She said that SAUR members left of their own accord due to feeling disrespected because of the decision made on their standing order. When asked about leaving the meeting and about allegedly asking SAUR members to leave as well, Seger admitted, “I felt it was the right thing to do. I felt that SAUR in particular was extremely disrespected…I’m  a big fan of peaceful protest. I love SAUR and I think SAUR has a right to be heard. I think that in the moment it was the right decision. You might talk to me in a couple days and I might change my mind on that.” When asked if it had to do with avoiding meeting quorum, Seger said “What happened next in Senate didn’t matter to me. I see the importance of what Rian was trying to do, but I felt that SAUR was important. I hope it wasn’t seen as a disrespect to Senate.”

When later interviewed Rian Fantozzi responded “I find it troubling that anyone who chose to be a member of student government would use the phrase ‘What happened next in Senate didn’t matter to me’…encouraging a group to leave the room, to walk away from the table, is the breakdown of diplomacy. I will happily champion SAUR in any reasonable case. However, recognizing that [the] more contentious things will require more than one meeting, more than one vote, is an important reality that we cannot overlook. A vote failing is not disrespect.”

After the SAUR standing order was tabled and the meeting continued, time was beginning to run out. A motion passed to extend the time of the meeting fifteen minutes. Although she had voted yay on the motion to extend the meeting time, Dowler then wanted to retract her approval,  and asked for permission for projects committee to leave. While this was not granted by President Ambrose Lutwyche, Dowler was seen leaving the meeting, and Echo Thorpe of projects committee says that Dowler asked her to leave the meeting as well, and was angry when she did not. Dowler says that Projects had missed a lot of meetings, and would have missed another had they not left early. She says that there had been a lot of Senate meetings this semester. She wished that Senate had planned better so they had not cut into project committee’s time. She says that her outburst was one partially fueled by emotions, and that she apologizes.

While student government has recently become more cognizant of Robert’s Rules of Order, a set of parliamentary procedures meant to keep a meeting on track and civil, Wednesday’s meeting on the whole was marked by a lack of decorum. While Seger noted that his favorite thing about student government recently was a greater commitment to Robert’s Rules, Seger chose who was called upon to speak many times during the meeting, a violation of Robert’s Rules, which states that that is a duty reserved only for the President.

When Robert’s Rules of Order was introduced to Senate, suggestions were made to increase their effectiveness. These included providing a table of motions on the back of each member’s name (also a new addition to Senate this year) and standing when speaking to eliminate the question of who had the floor. Ultimately, these were not implemented.

In the earlier meeting that implemented Robert’s Rules of Order, it was stated by members of executive committee that, “We’re using around 80% of them”. This has lead to confusion among more experienced parliamentarians as to what constitutes a rule violation.  The rules not in use were neither defined nor explained.

There was also a noted lack of vocal involvement from the student government President Ambrose Lutwyche. Lutwyche said in an interview later on that night that he believes political haggling is the best way to discuss an issue, and that he wishes they had more time to discuss certain things that they had to cut off during the meeting. He hopes that rifts between different factions in the Senate can be healed by discussions extending past Senate meetings.

Senators have revealed that factions have been forming and arguments have been fueled by emotions and resentment practically since the semester began, but many seem to see as well that there is a new passion and energy to student government that may bring real change and attention to the issues they discuss. Seger, who will be abroad next semester, says that “I do genuinely appreciate everyone and the value they add to that room.” Craig, however, continues to voice negativity surrounding how executive committee behaves, saying “They do not know how to hold a proper debate. These personal problems within executive committee are drastically influencing student government in a negative way.”

This all comes at the heels of the resignation of former President Harpreet Chamdal, who was replaced by her new Vice President Lutwyche. Her resignation was marked by infighting within executive committee. The new Vice President, Charlie Cadden, will be inducted  at the beginning of next semester.