Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

To the SGA: Stop fighting over scraps

We all have a role
(Alvin Buyinza/ Daily Collegian)

One close election and divisive debate later, the presidential ticket with Timmy Sullivan as president and Hayden Latimer-Ireland as vice president was ratified last week despite unreviewed campaign violations. One senator, Aron Unger, resigned in protest, claiming that “the Senate had failed their duty” to reject ratification.

Yet in all the hand-wringing, no one is bold enough to offer solutions. Allie McCandless, who received only 12 fewer votes than President-elect Timmy Sullivan, called the election “illegitimate” due to the winning ticket’s “illegal tactics,” but has hardly made a case to disqualify Sullivan outright. Sullivan, meanwhile, argued that the bylaws are too stringent and not “conducive to grassroots campaigns,” but is not in a position to make such a change.

The Student Government Association could not have made any choice but ratify the results of the election. Invalidating Sullivan’s campaign would have been unprecedented – at the council meeting on March 4, SGA Advisor Lydia Washington insisted that “the commission stays in warnings and suspensions, unless it’s something totally egregious.” That happened in 2014, when a candidate made a violation and, according to Washington, “did not tell the truth” to the council and was reprimanded before the voting period was over, leading to some bylaw reforms. Passionate voices on both sides make any new precedent unethical. Going forward, reforming our bylaws again is the easy answer.

It doesn’t feel easy, though. Otherwise simple debates have become placeholders for the divisive issues of our time like affordability and protecting our voice. We are hung up on counterproductive fights about what we can’t – or shouldn’t – change. To progress, the SGA and student body need to recognize our common challenges, cease the drama and stop blaming each other for campus issues that require our constructive unity.

The top two campaigns undoubtedly cared about affordability. In interviews with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Sullivan and Latimer-Ireland discussed their role in building coalitions with on-campus food access programs, while McCandless and Padmaraju discussed improving access to financial resources for registered student organizations and making SGA meetings more connected to the needs of students.

The Student Union renovation, meanwhile, has become a wedge. The McCandless/Padmaraju ticket was on the offensive, pointing to the report that the renovation is $12 million over budget and how the student government hasn’t been able to stop it. McCandless called the students’ move to Bartlett “a mess” in their interview. In fact, as an employee of a student business formerly occupying the Student Union, I would have to agree. Not only is the cost disconcerting, but the social fabric of the campus was disrupted in the confusion of the move.

That being said, this is an issue between students and the University of Massachusetts, not the SGA. Sullivan is not culpable for the University’s inefficiency, and his involvement as president is hardly a reason to argue such a claim. What would it look like for him to control the cost? Tell student groups participating in the development of new spaces ‘no’? Drafting a cheaper site plan? Tell the University to stop building? Clearly, it is the University that owes the student body an explanation for these added costs.

Behind this frustration seems to be a feeling that approving the renovation was a bad idea. But given the lack of space and the presence of asbestos in the former Student Union, I suspect a renovation would have been imminent anyway, so the opportunity for students, RSOs and student businesses to be involved in the design of the new location has been valuable. While it is valuable for the McCandless/Padmaraju platform to bring this to the forefront, college affordability is bigger than one of several construction projects the University faces. It is a national issue – one that will intensify as smaller colleges, like our neighbor Hampshire, falter because of a lack of funds while enrollments for existing colleges continue to rise.

I also see much frustration emerging from the way the SGA administration has handled issues with the University. In particular, President Sullivan has participated in protests at the Board of Trustees meeting, including one where he called Chairman Robert Manning “grossly uninformed” for saying there was not a “student debt crisis” in the country.

The truth is, there is no right way to deal with issues with UMass. Diplomatic relations should be the norm, but when the SGA does not seem to be fully utilizing its powers, or bureaucracy takes too long to solve problems, we need to know when to put our feet down. Consider when the Collegian office was almost unnecessarily taken away by the University, prompting a letter to the editor that rallied Collegian supporters action. Alumni and students were outraged. “Within hours,” a follow-up editorial read, “the newsroom was ours again.”

So putting pressure on institution works. It’s not the only thing we’ve tried, either. It may seem like a hot mess today, but once the Student Union opens, I believe that it will be a testament to negotiation between the University and students for the greater good. Many students, myself included, will not be able to fully enjoy these changes. Still, anyone who has a passion for any student groups on campus can appreciate how this will affect the next generation of UMass.

So, how should the SGA proceed? For one, the number of resignations is out of hand. Policies that require more commitment within the council will allow it to challenge the notion that it is sitting on its hands. More, it will encourage the president to better accommodate some of the critiques his administration received regarding campus-oriented projects.

Secondly, the feuding parties’ division can be leveraged to have a legitimate debate about election reform. What caused the elections commission to overlook a piece of evidence in a violation allegation? How much does it take for a campaign to be disqualified? What is the difference between coalition-building among RSOs and unfairly exploiting their resources, and how can we make those rules clear? These are questions that should be addressed long before the next election.

In the meantime, we need to move on from this election and work together on college affordability and making our voices heard. Those violations might have made a difference in the election, yes. But we are not dealing with extreme cheating or fraud. Unclear rules led to this controversy, and they will persist until we pursue reform. In the meantime, we have bigger fish to fry when it comes to making this campus more inclusive, safe and affordable.

James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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  • D

    Dr. EdMar 28, 2019 at 3:45 pm

    There is precedent for invalidating an election — it’s happened twice.
    In 1998, Amy Pellegrino’s election for President was thrown out, and she lost the 2nd election.
    A few years later the Senate election was thrown out because most of the Senators were Sig Ep brothers.
    This has happened, and the SGA advisor ought to know it.

  • T

    Tyler DurdenMar 27, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Maybe stop writing letters SGA and actually listen to criticisms. Aaron Unger is completely correct.

  • G

    Glory DaysMar 26, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    As a former SGA Senator, the SGA has no real advocacy power past Fearing St. The state legislature has never once listened to the trustee, who have no ideas of anything other than to increase funding, and a vote of no confidence literally falls on deaf ears. Has the trustee ever approached the GEO to make concessions? Offered any real savings or oversight on disfunctional programs already in place that money is being wasted on? Taken any reflection or have they only asked for more money?

    That question, of course, was rhetorical.

    Why, despite being a Senator for 2 and a half years of my time, feel the need to comment on this article? It’s because nothing has changed since I left 12 years ago with the SGA. It is friends playing politics and gaming RSO budgets.

    These students today do not remember the ALANA caucus debacle, but it would serve them well to see what SGA clowning does; national media attention and gutting them of any respect.

  • A

    Aron UngerMar 26, 2019 at 12:54 am

    This article shows such ignorance about the SGA, its powers, and its responsibilities that I’m shocked it was published. As someone quoted in this article, let’s set some things straight:

    1) The author in this article seems to have no clue what ratification means. Not ratifying the election would not mean an invalidation of the Sullivan-Latimer-Ireland ticket. It would mean a re-do of the election. This is well within the SGA’s power. Senate did not have the power to invalidate the ticket, that is under the purview of the election’s commission. The whole point of the vote was to determine if the process that the election commission undertook was acceptable. The author seems to agree that it was not based on the “reform the bylaws” comment. That was the whole point of the vote.

    2) The SGA has 3 main roles. Advocacy, RSO management, and University oversight. It is 100% the job of the SGA to oversee what the University is doing and making sure that it is acting in the interests of students. The SGA has massive power in this regard, up to and including a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor. On the advocacy front, the SGA is pressuring the board of trustees hard to not raise tuition, and to get legislation passed to fund higher education in MA.

    3) The number of resignations is not out of hand because of some structural problem with the SGA. This year has had an unprecedented number of resignations. At least 20 Senators have resigned (probably more than 30), as have half of cabinet. Many of those resignations were of long-standing SGA people who had good relationships with the administration. I would recommend asking them why they left instead of assuming some issue with the system.

    4) The election recommendations are a mix of things already clearly stated in our bylaws, something that was clearly answered by the election commission, and 1 actually good question.

    5) There actually were several unprecedented things that happened this election. Someone hacked the election commission account. A campaign was suspended for more than half of the campaigning period. Most of those suspensions were assessed post-election retroactively, which obviously is not a real penalty. An RA emailed their residents asking for votes for a candidate.