By Shawn Ness | October 2, 2023
Chairwoman Erin McGrath (middle), Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Michael Christakis (right), various Senators (left)
Photo Credit: Shawn Ness / ASP
The Student Association (SA) Senate rejected two of Senate Chair Erin McGrath’s committee appointments Wednesday night amid Senators’ concerns over the candidates' leadership capabilities. Chairwoman McGrath fully withdrew her assignments for the committee on Community Engagement and Outreach after her appointee left the Campus Center Boardroom crying.
To start off the confirmation process for Law and Government Senator Selwa Khan, the proposed Chair for the committee on Community Engagement and Outreach (CEO), SA President Jalen Rose read out a text message from whom he called a “concerned student.”
“We believe that the proposed chair [Senator Khan] is unfit to serve in a leadership position. [During my time] as a ranking member [of this committee] I served under the Senator for a semester and a half, and during this time we had one year as a committee. The proposed chair showed me and the body that she cannot run a committee effectively,” the text read. “The proposed chair called me after the executive committee meeting, one alarming statement she said was ‘You messed with the wrong person, I know powerful people and they are going to ruin you.’”
In response to President Rose’s reading of the text, Senator Khan said, “So this person actually reached out after this happened, so that’s super strange that they’re bringing this up now. I have put my whole heart and soul into this committee for three years. I have been a chair of this committee, this would be my second year as chair of this committee.”
Senator Khan went on to accuse Civic and Community Engagement Director, Sean Millington of writing the text. Senator Khan went on to say that Millington served as her ranking member on the committee and that it was public knowledge. She also said that she thought it was unfair and “absolutely wild” that the text was read out on the floor and not brought to her first, and that she should have been approached over Senators’ concerns. In addition, Senator Khan spoke on how much time she has devoted to community service.
“This committee has had the least active members consistently for the last three years… But I swear to God, I sit here and put the work in, and even if it’s not in here, I do community service hours a week minimum. And if someone wants to top me on that then you can have the chair position,” Senator Khan said. “But if you think I’m irresponsible and dangerous, and this, that, and the other, then good luck without me as chair of this committee.”
At this time, the microphone was given to Dutch Quad Senator Ana Cervantes, who first thanked Senator Khan for sharing her feelings on the matter.
“Yes, community service is a selfless action, but taking up a leadership role, especially in a committee, you need to know that your obligation is to make sure that all members, new or not, are active” Senator Cervantes said. “As a matter of fact, I graduated with 500 hours of community service in four years of high school. As of now, I have like 700 hours, so if we’re going to talk about community service, you can talk to me about it.”
After this, Senator Khan began packing her things and left the room, although the boardroom door remained open. The microphone was passed to Humanities Senator Timothy Goldsmith who recalled back to a time when Senator Khan was a staffer to a Senator and “had the passion to run microphones back and forth to many people.”
“She does have passion. She is passionate about her job, however, a leadership role is important. The students cannot have an emotional leader like this leading us, it is volatile to our already damaged public image,” Senator Goldsmith said. “I can see that she has the passion, however, you also need to have decorum. Fighting back and forth with Senators on the floor – not just once but the entire year, and we’re not even a month in. We cannot have Senate leadership like this. As much as I support her passions, it is important that you have strong leadership who can control their emotions…”
Senator Khan then burst back into the room shouting and crying, “I don’t know what I did to any of you people. I don’t know what I did. I am done, I am out. You had a responsibility to protect me, we talked about this,” Senator Khan said pointing to Chairwoman McGrath.
When Senate leadership was trying to get Senators to settle down, some members could be seen telling others to not laugh. Chairwoman McGrath withdrew her nominations for the Chair and Ranking member to CEO.
Chairwoman McGrath’s picks for the committee on Rules and Administration were also met with concerns, specifically over proposed Chair Jacob Velasquez.
“This will be my third year serving on the committee of Rules and Administration, and never had concerns over the leadership of the committee. I do not have much confidence in the Senator’s ability to thoroughly understand our very complex section as it relates to this committee,” Off-campus Senator Dylan Klein said. “I have a little bit of concern as it relates to the execution of duties of the chairman of this committee. I look at how this committee was formulated, and I see more than a handful of former ranking members and vice chairs, and others in the committee and Senate leadership, and I believe there are better choices to be made for chair.”
“Now I understand the criticism… But when it comes down to it, I understand and I’ve read through the 204.1.2 section about the Rules and Administration committee. I have done my research, I’ve done thorough investigation as to what it means to be chair and I want to put as much effort as I can into this,” Senator Velasquez said. “I didn’t ask to have this position, I told Chairwoman McGrath that if she decided I was ready for this role, I will do my best to uphold it. And she decided I should have it now, as such, I will do my best.”
Other Senators like Law and Government Senator Jalen Miller, Senator Goldsmith, and At-Large Senator Joleen Chen echoed Senator Klein’s concerns about Velasquez’s supposed lack of committee knowledge. Vice President Crawford made an announcement that Robert’s Rules of Order are not that complicated and that she does not want other members to be scared about not knowing the rules.
After debate, Senator Klein passed a motion to consider all leadership roles for the Rules and Administration committee separately. Both senior ranking member Michael Regateiro and junior ranking member Senator Goldsmith were confirmed to the committee. The vote for Senator Velasquez did not pass with a final vote of seven “yes’s,” 16 “no’s” and 14 abstentions.
All leadership members and general committee members were confirmed for the following committees: the Committee on Ethics, Appropriations, Constituent Relations, and the subcommittees on First Year Experiences, and Oversight of Government Operations.
Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Michael Christakis attended the meeting on request from SA executives to provide an opportunity for him to address the Senate and for members to familiarize themselves with him. He called back to a vote that occurred earlier in the night to overturn Chairwoman McGrath’s motion to not allow absent Senators to join the meeting via Zoom call. The vote passed with 18 Senators in favor of overturning McGrath’s ruling. The vote also saw 14 abstentions from Senators.
“You guys can vote however you want to vote, but if you’re going to vote, vote ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ An abstention needs to have a justifiable reason,” Dr. Christakis said.
He also responded to many Senators’ queries from the Campus Climate Discussion earlier in the meeting, mainly fire alarm concerns on Eastman Tower, and repeated concerns that were raised over washing and drying facilities on the Quads, as well as the general renovative state that many of the Quads are in.
Dr. Christakis explained that all residential buildings on campus were built in the 1960s within a time span of three and a half years. And while they are all aging at the same pace, he explained that it is impossible to renovate them at the same pace.
“At the end of the day, we need to be able to house all of our students, at the end of the day, we need to house them right now. Even with the two residential buildings that are under renovations on Colonial Quad currently, it’s causing a pinch, and we’re tight right now,” Dr. Christakis said.
In response to the complaints about washing and drying machines on the Quads, Dr. Christakis was seen writing students’ comments down on a piece of paper, and said he would take students’ complaints to University Auxiliary Services. He also made a joke by saying “What’s wrong with drying your clothes in the sun?”
SA also took up two nominations for the Supreme Court, both nominees, Milexy Campos and Yesim Cinar were both confirmed to the SA Supreme Court.