Senators will discuss the controversial removal of the Asian Latino African Native American (ALANA) Caucus seats at tomorrow’s University of Massachusetts’ Student Government Association (SGA) Senate meeting.
Two motions involving the removal of these seats have passed through the SGA’s Administrative Affairs (AA) committee, and will come to vote at Wednesday’s 7 p.m. meeting.
According to a document titled “Summary of CEPA Research On ALANA Caucus Appointed Seats” by the Center for Educational Policy Advocacy (CEPA), all appointed seats, particularly the ALANA Caucus seats and the Area Government appointed seats, are deemed unconstitutional. This research began in the fall 2009 and concluded this spring when CEPA representatives D’Alessandra Acosta and Yevin Roh presented the agency’s findings to the SGA’s AA committee on Thursday.
However, there is controversy over whether or not CEPA’s research and findings concerning the Area Government appointed seats’ alleged unconstitutionality has changed.
In the Senate Election, students vote for their area governor. Once the area governor is elected as an ex-officio member of the SGA, that governor has the power to appoint a senator to the SGA from their area.
According to Senator Patrick Kenney, this disturbs the “assumption that there is one vote for one person.” By voting for a governor, that governor can appoint another person “who presumably holds the same ideas they do” giving that governor “double the representation. That’s why the appointed Area Government seats are undemocratic.”
According to Senator Derek Khanna, Acosta and Roh could not indicate specifically how the Area Government appointed seats were unconstitutional at last Thursday’s AA meeting.
“Yevin was perfectly clear,” said Kenney. “He laid out exactly what was in their report, and it was quite clear. I don’t know what pieces of their presentation Khanna was talking about, but to me it was perfectly clear.”
“There is the issue of the seats not being allowed in the SGA Constitution,” stated CEPA’s document, referring to all appointed seats. “This is essentially a point of research that we need a further analysis on, due to information very recently acquired … The Area government seats were apparently deemed legal by a report written by Michael Marin. Yet there is no information on the name of the report or how to acquire this report. We feel this report will also aid us in making informed recommendations.”
“I trust the research that CEPA has done and stand behind their findings,” said SGA Student Trustee Emily Bloch.
Many SGA senators agree with Bloch in trusting the research done by CEPA, and CEPA’s argument that the appointed seats from the ALANA Caucus are unconstitutional because they violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution’s Equal Protection Law.
“All I want done is what is right,” said Kenney. “I don’t particularly want to remove any seats, but that is a tough question. It is necessary that we follow the law.”
“According to the research by CEPA, yes, these seats are unconstitutional. I believe they are all, including the area government seats, undemocratic,” Kenney continued. “However, it is clear that while the area government appointed seats are undemocratic, the ALANA [Caucus’ appointed] seats are unconstitutional. I feel as though many of the arguments for the removal of the ALANA Caucus seats coincide with the removal of the area government appointed seats.”
“Appointed seats are also quite literally unconstitutional as our SGA constitution does not recognize senators except through election, yet our bylaws do,” said Roh. “This lack of congruency makes appointed seats unconstitutional.”
Khanna stated in a formal complaint to the Office of Civil Rights under the U.S. Department of Education, after speaking with members of the American Civil Liberties Union, that “the [ALANA] appointed seats violate the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
In his complaint, Khanna wrote that “the student government of UMass Amherst, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth has an affirmative action program in regard to appointment seats that does not prescribe to the parameters outlined by the Supreme Court of the United States. Similar systems throughout the country have been struck down. I believe that the University of North Carolina was most recent.”
“The system allots quota seats on the basis of race with no regard for how many students of that race populate the student government,” he continued. “In other words, it is a quota system on top of the election results. In the election minority students do exceptionally well, achieving over a majority of the Senate body itself. This in itself is not my grievance; the grievance is that the ‘affirmative action program’ exacerbates this lack of diversity.”
Much of Khanna’s research derived from a thesis titled “Race and Representation: A Case Study of Racial Diversity in Student Government” presented by Rhys James Livingstone to the graduate department of sociology at UMass, which can be found at http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1260&context=theses.
According to Khanna, the Office of Civil Rights has been investigating the legality of the ALANA Caucus’ appointed seats for over seven months.
Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jean Kim, according to Khanna, had set in place a plan to remove the appointed ALANA Caucus seats by yesterday. Although the seats are vacant, several senators say the ALANA appointed seats are vacant mainly because of concerns surrounding the legality of the seats and knowledge about their pending removal.
The first motion sponsored by Senator Scott Aldrich-Holmes states that the “SGA recognizes the need for diversity within the SGA Senate” and that “Senate seats may be appointed by the ALANA Caucus.” The motion then calls for the removal of the ALANA Caucus’ appointed seats by removing from the by-laws sections two, three and four of Title II Chapter 3.
Title II Chapter 3 Section 2 states that “The ALANA Caucus shall be apportioned a number of Senate seats equal to 13 percent of the total of those seats apportioned to the Electoral Districts, and the Charter of the ALANA Caucus shall prove for the appointment and removal of SGA members said seats in a manner consistent with the By-laws of the SGA and prescribed the Charter of the ALANA Caucus.”
Within the first motion, Title II Chapter 3 Section 1 remains intact and states that “The ALANA Caucus shall be the official representative of those groups prescribed by the Charter of the ALANA Caucus.”
However, within the second motion sponsored by Khanna and passed through the Administrative Affairs committee held that Title II Chapter 3 Section 1 be removed. The Preamble of the Charter of the ALANA Caucus also states that “the ALANA Caucus is the official representative of those groups prescribed by the Charter of the ALANA Caucus.”
“The policy intent was to achieve campus fair and just minority representation in UMass student government,” said Khanna about the policy of having appointed ALANA seats. “In reality, however, the policy produced unintended consequences instead – bitter, and sometimes violent racial tensions, and widespread and prolonged charges of reverse and illegal discrimination.”
“The language used in the motion presented by Sen. Khanna is offensive,” said Kenney. I have a problem with the wording of that motion, but I do not have a problem with what it is asking [the SGA] to do … I support the motion submitted by Scott Aldrich-Holmes.”
When asked if he believed the SGA would remain as diverse should the ALANA seats be removed, Roh said, “Diversity has always depended on the students, the ALANA Caucus was not the sole arbiter of insuring diversity. Each senator as an individual brings a great amount of diversity, each having their own unique life experiences.”
“An important issue deserves serious consideration and deliberation. I was pleased to see that the committee members gave both,” said Roh. “I will feel truly happy about the meeting when both ALANA Caucus appointed seats and Area Government appointed seats are removed.”
He continued, “The same constitutional concepts of viewpoint discrimination and equal voice apply to both ALANA Caucus appointed seats and Area Government appointed seats, it is just for both to be removed. As MLK Jr. said, ‘The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.’ We as students and as people must do our best to help bend that arc.”
Hannah McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alyssa Creamer can be reached at email@example.com.