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Toxic Culture Rises in Student Association

By Saba Mann, Meghan Brink, and Cameron Cupp | October 28, 2021

The Student Association Senate, which is in charge of a $3 million budget funded by student fees, is in turmoil and at the edge of dysfunction following a semester of governance marked by personal animosity, bullying, and little progress, according to several members.

The toxic environment and lack of progress follow a controversial semester last year when the winner of the presidency in the spring general election was retroactively disqualified after being found guilty of illegal campaigning and student code of conduct violations relating to harassment and illegal Greek life involvement.

This semester’s issues within student government have continued, with some observers likening meetings as ineffective shouting matches where personal battles and agendas take place on the senate floor. At least one senator has come close to permanently resigning.

“Personal issues are fought out on the senate floor, instead of in private, making it impossible for the body to serve students’ needs,” said first-year Senator Jay Thompson, who resigned earlier this month but quickly returned out of what he said was “concern that the senate might be something that will never function.”

Dysfunction between members of the executive branch and the Supreme Court has led to the resetting of the timeline of the fall election multiple times. This caused the late formation of committees, which conduct virtually all activity in the senate.

The fall election, initially set to begin on Aug. 30, was reset for the first time on Sept. 10 by an executive order because there were not enough students running for office. The president, vice-president, and comptroller signed an executive order to reopen the campaigning period to allow for more students to run.

But before the election could take place, A lawsuit was filed in the SA Supreme Court by Senator Dylan Klein, claiming that the three executive members did not have signatory powers to change an election timeline. The court, while lacking a quorum, motioned to hear the case, and Justice Ali Popeck filed an injunction on the election.

President Abdoullah Goudiaby told the ASP that he believed the court was wasting their time by hearing the case because there were parts of the case that Goudiaby claimed were “impossible or conflicting with our constitution.” He also pointed out that the court could not even vote on a case since they only had four justices instead of the five needed to vote. New justices had not yet been elected because this was only possible after the fall election concluded.

Therefore, from Goudiaby’s perspective, if the court placed an injunction to hear this case, it would further delay the election without adequate reasoning.

In response, the executives filed a motion to dismiss the case because Goudiaby claimed Popeck did not follow the procedure required by SA by-laws concerning filing injunctions.

The court was nonresponsive after the motion was filed. “It was radio silence, so nobody was aware of how things were moving,” said Goudiaby. Since the election was not moving, Goudiaby said that, “this started the ripple effect of the student’s belief of the lack of productivity in SA.”

Popeck said she was not able to respond because she was observing Yom Kippur, which took place on Sept. 15-17. However, Popeck did not respond until Sept. 20, when she met with SA executives, SA pro staff, and the Supreme Court to discuss this case. Popeck told the ASP that Goudiaby and Comptroller Molly Donelan told her she was abusing her power by placing an injunction on the election and claimed the three officials accused her of being corrupt and said that she was “worse than President Desann Chin-Carti,” who was impeached two years ago for using SA funds for personal use.

“Nobody compared Ali to Dee Carti,” said Donelan. She said that Popeck had taken a statement Donelan made about formerly impeached Chief Justice Thomas Magana at a senate hearing that occurred previously.

Goudiaby said the purpose of the meeting was for the executive members to receive updates from the court on the status of the case.

“It was a cordial meeting, there were no personal attacks,” said Goudiaby. “The entire meeting she [Popeck] kept saying ‘I feel attacked’ for us just simply asking how things happened from the court’s end.”

After causing a week-long delay in the conclusion of the fall election, the case was dropped because it was illegal for the court to hear it with only four members present. The court voted to lift the injunction on Sept. 20 and the fall election proceeded the following day.

Senate committees are typically formed within the first month of the fall semester following the general election. All of the committees were finally formed during a special session last Monday, Oct. 18, allowing for student clubs to access funding.

“The good that we have done does not excuse the delay, nor does it invalidate how students and student groups have felt,” Chairman Nick Chin and Vice Chairwoman Divya Tulsiani said in a joint statement to the ASP. “[We] consider these actions steps in the right direction, and we are optimistic that students will feel more confident bringing their concerns to us so we can continue to move forward.”

The senate has often come to a standstill when senators use procedural tactics to effectively filibuster the body. An example of this was last Monday when Klein called for the removal of President Goudiaby while he was making a statement of support towards a committee chair.

At the meeting, Goudiaby responded to Klein by telling him “then remove me” multiple times. Klein said he regarded this as “threatening,” however, multiple witnesses confirmed Goudiaby did not shout and did not approach Klein during the interaction.

“What the president did was unacceptable,” said Klein. “Multiple senators even said it. The president made it an issue of ‘coded language.’ I think he needs to take responsibility for what he did.”

Responding to Klein’s comment, Goudiaby told the ASP, “If you cannot think about what the threatening manner is, you need to introspectively look at your implicit biases because they are very clear here.”

Debate points and points of order are also commonly used in SA to stall meetings, often with no parliamentary standing.

“It is an example of how ineffective things get in this body sometimes when people approach things in a manner that is conducive to the students, nothing that happened was in favor of the students,” said Goudiaby.

Klein has also come under criticism for using personal attacks against Senator Kayla Cooper over her appointment hearing to the appropriations committee chair. Without providing evidence, he said he did not have the “confidence” in her nomination simply because she lacked experience within the committee.

Donelan said that she was “shocked and disappointed” at Klein’s behavior.

Reflecting on the recent tension in the senate, Thompson said, “I got to be so offended by how cruel it was for young people to pick on each other, and how it was affecting other students, because the more time we waste in there, the more it impacts the ability for these people to help others with their issues.”

Thompson said that he believes that to overcome this toxic environment, the senate needs to improve its organization, consolidation, and prioritization.

He said that he believes disagreements between members should be discussed in private, not on the floor of the senate.

“If you do your homework, you have a reason to debate, but most of them have nothing,” he told the ASP. “If it is something I care enough about, I should have done my homework or talked to them before this,” he said in regards to how he would address the conflict between other members.

Student Activities Coordinator Raymond Webb declined to comment on the current nature of SA saying, “Out of respect for SA’s independence and in deference to student self-governance, it would be inappropriate for me to comment. I can say that each year and each group of student leaders is different, but the one constant is that they grow as a group and as leaders throughout the year.”


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