SGA decides against task force for investigation of claimed unconstitutional university policy

By Stuart Foster

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)
(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

One week ago the Student Government Association Senate voted nearly unanimously to support the creation of a task force to investigate the University of Massachusetts’ Land Use Policy, which the Student Legal Services Office had concluded is unconstitutional.

However, after SGA President Sïonan Barrett vetoed the motion and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Enku Gelaye refused to sign it, the SGA unanimously supported the veto of the motion on Monday, which would have created a task force to eliminate all unconstitutional parts of the Land Use policy, after less than five minutes of discussion and no debate.

“There was some miscommunication and not adequate consultation, so I’m okay with the veto,” said Maddie Goldstein, a senior studying sociology and history who is the chair of the SGA’s Social Justice and Empowerment Committee and who helped create the initial motion. “I still have very high interest with this policy and seeing something get done soon.”

SGA Senate Speaker Lauren Coakley said at the meeting that Gelaye did not sign the motion due to a failure of outreach and because Gelaye would not have the authority to sit on the task force.

Coakley said that the UMass Faculty Senate would be better suited to investigating the Land Use policy, which currently limits outdoor speeches and rallies to the hour from noon to 1 p.m. outside the Student Union, and that any student interested in working with the Faculty Senate would be appointed.

“I really don’t think there’s too much at loss here,” Goldstein said. “I don’t think this project is ending.”

Charlotte Kelly, a senior studying political science who is the communication and outreach director of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, was one of the writers of the motion outside of the SGA and was critical of the SGA for supporting the veto.

“Ultimately this task force was in the best interest of students,” Kelly said. “The SGA is supposed to represent student voices, this is a policy that directly effects students on a day to day basis.”

Kelly said that Gelaye, who SGA members said in the meeting was not properly consulted, was sent an email which was not responded to.

Members in the SGA meeting also said that changing the Land Use Policy was not an authority held by Gelaye, but could only be done through the UMass Board of Trustees.

“The Vice Chancellor or anyone in Administration does not have the power to change it,” said Chantal Lima Barbosa, the vice president of the SGA and a legal studies and political science major.

However, Kelly said that the second article of the Land Use policy states that Gelaye has some of this authority. That section of the document reads that “the general authority and responsibility for the administration of these regulations lies with the Chancellor and is delegated to the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.”

While Kelly said that the Faculty Senate has some control over the Land Use policy, fundamental changes would have to come from the Office of the Vice Chancellor.

Kelly said that the Office of Student Affairs had not specifically addressed this policy in 26 years, and that part of the motivation for writing the motion was a perceived lack of impetus from the Office to deal with the unconstitutionality of policies’ language.

“This motion has been assembled by so many different groups on campus,” Kelly said. “There are loads of groups of students who are asking for this task force to be started.”

In addition to the First Amendment rights violated by the policy, Kelly said that the Land Use policy opens the door to new policies such as restrictions on when and where student groups can promote events and causes with chalk on campus and what kind of banners can be hung by groups on campus.

Kelly said that the UMass Administration is trying to shift blame and responsibility for fixing the policy and that Gelaye is dealing with the issue non-directly.

“It really makes me question her commitment to student voices,” Kelly said.

Kelly also said that the SGA was fulfilling the requests of the UMass Administration at the cost of abandoning student interests, and that the SGA should not check with the Administration to ensure that its actions are acceptable.

“Our Student Government is complacent and willing to subjugate itself to administrative dictates,” she said. “I worry that by saying this the SGA will defund my organization for doing their job and holding the SGA accountable.”

The task force proposed in the motion would have been composed of 60 percent students and 40 percent administrators.

Members of the SGA, the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, the Graduate Student Senate, the Graduate Employee Organization and a designee of the Director of Student Legal Services would have been permanent fixtures of the task force.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster