Crisis of Ethics in Executive

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Crisis of Ethics in Executive

Word cloud created from the transcripts of the interviews used for this news story,

Word cloud created from the transcripts of the interviews used for this news story,

Word cloud created from the transcripts of the interviews used for this news story,

Word cloud created from the transcripts of the interviews used for this news story,

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The Ethics Committee of Emily Dowler was characterized by confusion, multiple accusations of unethical behavior within Executive Committee, and a contested memo sent to the entire Student Government. The story began at the start of the semester last year, and ends in early March in Dowler’s resignation and her email to Student Government where she accused them of slander.

An Ethics Committee is defined under the General Bylaws as a temporary committee formed by the Executive Committee to review a Senator or Cabinet member that is not fulfilling their duties appropriately. Essentially, an Ethics Committee can be called on someone who is not doing their job. The request for an Ethics Committee to be called on Dowler was submitted by the Senior Class to Executive Committee. The reasons stated in the formal request for the Ethics Committee were that Emily Dowler allegedly engaged in bullying actions against members of Senate and Projects Committee, including confronting Projects Committee member Echo Thorpe for voting against Dowler’s interests and acting as “the primary party responsible for the events leading to the resignation of elected President, Harpreet Chamdal.”

Emily Dowler was Chair of Projects Committee and Secretary within the Executive Committee, both roles she held for the first time this year. She had been in Student Government last year as a member of Policy and Projects Committee. Harpreet Chamdal publicly stepped down from her role as Student Government President on October 29th, and Ambrose Lutwyche took her place. All of the three elected members of Executive Committee have resigned this year; this turnover left only non-elected members and appointed replacements on the committee.

 

EXECUTIVE FEUDING

The issues with Executive Committee noted in the Ethics Committee request began at the start of the fall semester. It was most publicly characterized by the conflict between Secretary Dowler and President Chamdal, yet the conflicts and resentment seem to extend to nearly all members of Executive Committee, particularly Policy Chair Vidal Glassman and Officer of Technology Sam Craig.

The most persistent source of conflict in the committee seemed to be between President Harpreet Chamdal and the Secretary, Emily Dowler. Chamdal explained that she wanted to run the Committee “like a business” where people discussed issues without becoming emotional at all, but that she felt that Dowler took all critiques very personally. She said that even after several mediations with Erin Paschal and Cecilia Cook-Huffman, Dowler was an “emotional abuser,” and that the situation forced Chamdal not to share her opinions, even when Dowler criticized her. She felt that she had to fulfill all the terms of their compromises, and that Dowler would barely change at all.

Chamdal said her agenda for Student Government was to make it a place where students could have a real voice, get stuff done, and be taken seriously. She said that Dowler was against that agenda— Chamdal said that Dowler didn’t want everyone to be using their voices, rejected all ideas, and valued her role as Projects Committee Chair above her role as Secretary in Executive Committee. Chamdal viewed this negatively, framing the Secretary position as being objectively more important than the Projects Chair position.

Dowler agrees that her role as Projects Committee Chair was significantly more important to her than her role in Executive, and says she communicated this to everyone since the beginning. She said that everyone felt like “that’s fine! It’s no big deal!” Dowler says that after their mediations together she felt that their new compromises were working, and was disappointed that Chamdal resigned and did not feel the same way.

Members of Executive Committee characterized the group as having “two camps”; Sam Craig described how the two sides would fight incessantly, one group committed to having “word to word conversation” and who he believed would maintain a non-confrontational tone, and one group that would take offense “anytime anyone disagree with them.” Glassman added that after a brief optimistic start the culture in Executive Committee was “rocky from the get-go.” Ambrose Lutwyche, President of Executive Committee, called the beginning of the year “a trip,” and said that everyone acknowledged, both communally and privately, that they did not all get along in principles and in communication styles. Some members he called very direct, and “Some tended to get very emotional when talking about things that mattered to them.” Craig said that some people, although he didn’t want to “name names,” would often feel that they were being personally attacked, and that he was one of the people viewed as an “attacker.” He believed that Chamdal’s difficulties arose from pressure to choose one of the two sides.

Emily Dowler characterized the tone similarly, saying that the group had many heated discussions and an environment she called “toxic.” She reiterated the idea of two coherent groups. She said the “logical thinkers” group was led by Vidal Glassman and Sam Craig and the “emotionally grounded” one included herself, SAUR Chair Pixie Estrada, and first semester’s Treasurer Kirwin Seger.

“Obviously I love facts and logic,” Dowler explained, “But I don’t think you can make a decision without considering how it will affect people and make them feel.” 

“Obviously I love facts and logic…but I don’t think you can make a decision without considering how it will affect people and make them feel. ”

— Emily Dowler

She said the conflict was constant, and sometimes got so difficult that Estrada told her she was considering giving her own role on Executive Committee to another member of SAUR. Estrada did not respond to the Juniatian’s requests for interviews.

Emily Dowler said she felt personally attacked when an Ethics Committee was called on her, like a “knife in the back,” because she felt that several other members were worthy of having an Ethics Committee called on them. She says she could have chosen to call an Ethics Committee on Vidal Glassman, who she says tried to persuade her not to cooperate with President Harpreet Chamdal. Dowler says that when she and Chamdal were in conflict, Glassman suggested to her that she should not try to work with Chamdal to lower tensions between them. Dowler says Glassman told her this would either put pressure on Chamdal to step down, or would allow them to use the President’s behavior to make it easier to call an Ethics Committee on Chamdal. Dowler says she refused to do so, and said that she believed Glassman’s motivations were personal grudges.

Glassman responded that “we might have had a conversation once” when questioned about whether he ever spoke to Dowler about calling an Ethics Committee on President Chamdal. He says that the idea “might have been thrown around, but as Policy Committee Chair I never considered doing that…there’s things we consider outside of work.” He said that Dowler was angry at Chamdal, and approached him about “what could be done.” He says that he might have explained to her the different ways that she could approach the issue, and that Ethics Committee might have been one of the routes. He says that nothing came out of that conversation, and that his professional relationship with Chamdal was fine. He says he never allowed personal feelings to interfere with Executive Committee work in any way. During his five minute interview dedicated to this subject, a full minute was filled with Glassman’s long pauses before answering.

Glassman was not the only person Dowler criticized as being possibly worthy of an Ethics Committee in her interview; she also accused Sam Craig of not fulfilling his role as Officer of Technology. “He does not do anything having to do with technology,” said Dowler. When interviewed, Craig says that his role is to update the student government website with meeting minutes and to take care of voting clickers. The Student Government website currently has meeting minutes posted. However, in the Standing Order of Electronic Governance introduced to Senate on Sept. 17th, 2018, Craig is also tasked with the transition of all Student Government documents to Github, an online version control publication service, and has completed none of that task. Rian Fantozzi, a previous Policy member, has uploaded all the documents currently on Github. “He’s the named party in the Standing Order in charge of handling the Github,” said Fantozzi. “He does not do this.” President Lutwyche says that Craig met the “very baseline level” of his responsibilities, and has “done the minimum.” Lutwyche notes that he believes that Craig would immediately admit that he “is not the best suited for the position,” but Lutwyche also doesn’t think that Craig did not get the guidance or training he needed to fulfill his role Fantozzi disagrees, saying as a member of Policy he spent time with Craig training him in person on how to use the Student Government Github. “I gave him all the skills necessary, and I showed him where to get help and resources…most everything you can determine by googling,” continued Fantozzi.

When asked if he felt that anyone on Executive Committee other than Emily Dowler was worthy of having an Ethics Committee called on them, Craig refused to comment.

 

WHAT IS MY JOB?

Confusion about roles was a huge theme in Executive Committee discussions, and a primary reason cited in the Ethics Committee against Emily Dowler was that she did not fulfill her role as Secretary. All members of Executive Committee interviewed said they wished their roles had been better defined. Dowler showed this reporter the list of duties she received from the previous Secretary, Taylor Smallwood, in the form of a dense and detailed two pages of bullet points. Dowler explained how overwhelmed she felt with the role, and how she had difficulty balancing it with academics and sports, both of which she held at higher priorities than her role on Executive Committee. She also considered her role as Projects Chair as of higher importance, and says she made some efforts to try and separate the two roles of Secretary and Projects Chair, which have traditionally been held by the same person. “They are two jobs, and they have the amount of work as two jobs,” says Dowler. There is, however, no written rule in the Constitution or Bylaws that Projects Chair and Secretary must be held by the same person. However, Dowler said she asked a member of Policy and Projects Committee, Jeanette Harijanto, to help her officially splice the roles. Harijanto says “I know that Emily Dowler had mentioned it in passing, but we had never met up to write any sort of amendment to separate the roles.”

Dowler said that when she was overwhelmed she handed off some of her roles to other members of Executive, and that they seemed happy to help. When asked if Dowler completed her job effectively as Secretary, President Ambrose Lutwyche said Dowler felt the need to do many things that “weren’t necessarily part of her position,” which was a quality he valued in her. He says that some of her responsibilities fell to other people, including taking meeting minutes, coming to meetings, and taking attendance, which he considered “very minor” issues.

Echo Thorpe was not available for comment on the claim that they were harassed by Dowler about something they had voted on. Dowler herself said she cannot recall ever asking Projects to vote a specific way, and that in fact, most votes on the Senate floor didn’t matter to her. While she did not say she tried to keep Senate from reaching quorum and being able to vote, she did say that during a period of frustration she might have dissuaded Projects Committee from going to Senate meetings at all, partially because her own inability to make some of the Senate meetings made Projects members feel like they also weren’t responsible to attend.

 

THE ETHICS COMMITTEE CONVENES

The process of the Ethics Committee itself was fraught with difficulties. The two greatest issues were confusion while conducting the Ethics Committee itself, and the memo sent at the end of it that Dowler characterized as “slander.”

The written request itself was composed by Rian Fantozzi at the request of the Senior Class, who approached him after the December 5th meeting of Student Government asking to speak with him about how to call an Ethics Committee on Emily Dowler. He was approached initially by President of Senior Class, Haley Walker, who did not respond to interview requests. Fantozzi would eventually help them to create their final request that the Senior Class signed and submitted to Executive Committee. He included with it a memo for Student Government President Ambrose Lutwyche and Sam Craig, who would be chairing the Ethics Committee. The memo explained why Ethics Committee could be called on Emily Dowler despite vagueness in the bylaws and the constitution determining whether or not an Executive Committee member could have an Ethics Committee called on them.

The memo also included a personal note from Fantozzi explaining that while he wrote the letter, he did not recommend an Ethics Committee to the Senior Class or agree that they should call one. He believed the current system was too broken to hold an effective Ethics Committee. When interviewed, Fantozzi said that he viewed the Senior Class as clients coming to him as a neutral party and current member of Policy who understood the Bylaws and Constitution well and could at least make sure they completed the request correctly.

The memo was given from the Senior Class Board to President Ambrose Lutwyche after the first meeting of the spring semester.

The processes outlined in the Constitution and the General Bylaws of Student Government to hold an Ethics Committee are not only unclear, but actively contradict each other. In the Constitution, the Ethics Committee investigation ends with a vote by Senate; in the Bylaws, the five members on Ethics Committee make the decision instead. The Ethics Committee is meant to be chaired by the Secretary; in instances of a conflict of interest, such as this one, the responsibility falls to the Officer of Technology. In this case, that meant Sam Craig.

The Ethics Committee was formed of seven people, including Audrey Kulberg (Projects), Karan Nair (Sophomore Class), Haley Lederer (Policy), Benjamin Raab (Junior Class), a member from the Freshman class, a SAUR representative, and Chair Sam Craig. (Raab and Nair did not respond to requests for interviews from the Juniatian).This number of committee member breaks one of the only concrete rules in the Constitution and Bylaws, which states that the Ethics Committee should be composed of only five uninvolved Senate members. Craig had no explanation for this discrepancy, except that he said he chose one member from each of the different groups within Senate, excluding Senior Class, and that he followed instructions included in the memo by Rian Fantozzi. Fantozzi’s memo, which was given to the Juniatian, does not say to choose six members or to choose one from each uninvolved group. Additionally, Fantozzi recommends to exclude members from the Senior Class and from Projects, considering them “involved,” while Craig only chose to exclude members from Senior Class. He said he considered Projects Committee, the committee Dowler chaired, as uninvolved. President Lutwyche says that “many members of Projects Committee had a very personal interest” and “were very invested and had opinions” in the proceedings, and did not actually realize that a member of Projects was included in the Ethics Committee. He added that he would be very surprised if any member of Senate was uninvolved or uninvested.  

Fantozzi describes his memo sent to Craig as “clarifying why the committee could be called,” and that using it to actually run the committee “was not its purpose at all.” Fantozzi said that he expected Craig to use all the resources at his disposal, including Policy Committee, the Bylaws and the Constitution, and not just the memo he presented him. Lutwyche says he also told Craig to consult with members of Policy about how to interpret the bylaws. Haley Lederer, member of the Ethics Committee, said they never looked at any other documents as a group other than “a folded up piece of paper Craig carried that he said Rian gave him.” “That is hilarious,” responds Fantozzi, “And incompetent.”

Craig is a member of the Executive Committee. All Executive Committee members was considered involved by Craig himself, and everyone but him was called as witnesses in the investigation. When asked if he considered himself involved, and whether that changed his validity as Chair of the Ethics Committee, Craig responded that he considers himself to be an exception. “I took an uninvolved stance when I was notified that I had to fill the position. I went at it with a completely unbiased viewpoint. My goal was not to be posing any questions, and let the rest of the committee ask them. I’d join in the discussion in the end in our deliberation. Ultimately, there’s six other people on the committee.” Craig says they had not yet decided whether he would have a vote or not as Chair. Student Government functions under parliamentary procedure (Constitution, Article 3, Section 2, Clause 3), under which chairs do not have a vote.

The Bylaws and Constitution also both agree that the members should be “random.” During the Senate meeting where the Ethics Committee was discussed on March 18th, several Senators wanted to know how Craig picked these members “randomly.” His response was vague both in the meeting and in a later interview, saying that he would “run his finger down the list” and choose a name. He maintains that he believes it was “random enough.” Haley Lederer, a member chosen to be on the Executive Committee, said that Craig told them he wanted it to be balanced, and tried to maintain a good balance of men and women, as well as continuing to try and be random. However, “we know from any science or statistics class, human selection can’t really be random,” says Lederer. “I think he tried his best.”

The Ethics Committee members interviewed characterized the committee as generally confused and overwhelmed. A member that asked for their identity to be kept confidential noted that the timeline felt very condensed. Lederer said that the group was excited because the event felt unprecedented, but that certain members were anxious about the emotional repercussions of calling an Ethics Committee on a peer, especially in such a small school. In the one meeting they had, they discussed who they were going to call to be witnesses in the investigation. They decided upon Echo Thorpe, Harpreet Chamdal, the Senior Class, and the Executive Committee.

 

RESIGNATION

Dowler says she was notified of the Ethics Committee by an email she got from Sam Craig that she described as “a sentence long” that notified her that an Ethics Committee was called on her because of “bullying.” While being interviewed Dowler still appears dumbfounded. She repeats several times that it was “just so weird” and that it came out of nowhere for her. She reiterated the idea that she felt betrayed, especially by members of Executive Committee that she considered her friends (even though the request for her Ethics Committee was sent by Senior Class, not Executive Committee). She said that it was never communicated to her that she had done anything wrong, and she wished people had spoken with her before calling an Ethics Committee on her. She explained that she thought many members of Executive Committee were engaging in “shady stuff,” but that she preferred to communicate with them directly, and wished they had done so with her. Charlie Jones, Senior Class Vice President and co-signer of the Ethics Committee request, confirmed that no significant efforts were made to communicate concerns with Dowler to her before the request for the committee was made.

Dowler then looked to Erin Paschal, an advisor to Student Government, and someone who Dowler had seen as a stabilizing force throughout the course of the year. Paschal used to sit in on all Executive meetings, but Dowler says members of Executive asked her to leave. Dowler says Paschal helped her to make the decision to leave Senate, and then helped her to craft the emails she sent to Executive Committee and Projects Committee letting them know she was resigning. Her emails were very simple and short. She said that after the Ethics Committee was called on her it didn’t feel “worth the fight…it wasn’t a graceful exit, but I was already looking for a reason to leave and it seemed like a good time.” Dowler says that her mental health and general levels of happiness has become better since she resigned.

This decision caused the Ethics Committee to never actually held its investigation. After the committee had emailed their witnesses and Dowler and before the Committee could begin the investigation in earnest, Emily Dowler had resigned as Secretary of Student Government.

After Dowler resigned, Student Government then had to decide whether or not to continue their investigation. The Constitution and Bylaws did not explain what to do if the person under investigation resigned. President Lutwyche says Executive Committee discussed it, and he was of the “very strong opinion was that it was over and should not be pursued.” He believed the only consequence the Ethics Committee could enact, expulsion from Student Government, had already occurred. Charlie Jones, Senior Class Vice President and co-signer of the Ethics Committee request, disagrees. He believes that the Ethics Committee should have continued, especially because if Dowler tries to re-enter the government next semester, the Ethics Committee will have to reconvene again. In that situation, he says, many of the Seniors who were witnesses in the investigation will have graduated, and the Ethics Committee will be less effective.

 

SLANDER

After the investigation was called off, Sam Craig then independently wrote a memo to send out to the entirety of Senate. It was emailed to Student Government on March 5th. This memo states that an Ethics Committee was called, it lists the allegations against Dowler previously not open to the public, and says that Dowler resigned and that he has  dissolved the committee. Craig says that he discussed this memo with Ethics Committee, and that Executive Committee also approved it. Our confidential interviewee from Ethics Committee says they were never asked about Craig’s memo; Lederer said that it might have been discussed briefly through an email chain, but could not be sure.

Emily Dowler’s reaction occurred within the same day. Her email back to the Student Government was written as follows:

“I would like to voice concerns over a recent email sent to the Student Senate. In a recent portrayal of events that culminated in my resignation, it was made to seem that I resigned because I was guilty of accusations against me. I feel obligated to clarify that my resignation was the result of an overwhelming feeling of disrespect during my time on the Executive Committee. I am disappointed in this governing body for their slander against me. Ultimately, I hope the Executive Committee recognizes their mishandling of the situation and corrects the constitutional procedure going forward.” Dowler said she received an outpouring of support from other Senators after the incident.

In the following Senate meeting President Lutwyche apologized for the memo.

None of the Senators we interviewed considered the memo slander. Craig says he personally still has no issues with the memo, and says that he believes very few people did either. He says he believes the allegations should be public, and that “every member should have knowledge of what happened and why there was an Ethics Committee called…I probably could have included a sentence or two more saying that no judgement was reached about Emily Dowler and whether she was innocent or guilty from these allegations.”

The Juniatian spoke to Senior Legal Counsel Mike Hiestand of the Student Media Law Center to ask about the validity of Dowler’s claims that the memo was slander. Hiestand said that stating allegations as true without corroborating facts could be considered slander. The definition of slander is “defamation, in which someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed.” Spreading certain ideas about a person without checking or investigating whether those ideas are in fact true may, in some cases, fall under the umbrella of slander.

 

IN CONCLUSION

Whether or not the memo was indeed slander, and whether or not Dowler was worthy of having an Ethics Committee called upon her, the turnover of members of Student Government has not been this severe in at least seven years. Senate this year has been marked by movements, controversy and calls for change unprecedented in recent history. The Juniatian will continue to report next semester on Student Government with all the rigor and resources available to us, and we hope our reporting and investigation hold value and are useful to our readers.