SGA president alleges that UMass administration violated the Wellman Document in decision to suspend on-campus classes

SGA postpones elections until fall 2020

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(Collegian file photo)

By Sophia Gardner, Assistant News Editor

On March 11, the president of the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association, Timmy Sullivan, alleged that the University violated the Wellman Document by not consulting SGA leadership regarding the recent decision to suspend on-campus classes in response to COVID-19.

The Wellman Document establishes the responsibilities, duties and functions of UMass governance, including for campus governing bodies like the SGA. According to the Document, governing bodies have the “privilege” of contributing to long-range planning when “appropriate.”

“It specifically says that the campus leadership should be consulting with the Student Government Association for issues that would have an impact on students in terms of our academics, our life on campus, faculty and student wellness decisions. I think all of these things fall under the experience that we’re having now,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan expressed concerns regarding the lack of communication from the University to the SGA: “We were not consulted, we did not know that there was a discussion even taking place,” he said. “This is something that should be outrageous to every person in this body.”

“The character that was displayed here shows that shared governance is not something that is important to this administration,” said Sullivan.

Senator Kyle Kendall also expressed his concerns about the Universities’ lack of communication to the SGA, as well as to the student body: “Where were the students? I mean, [the] Boston Globe released this before we heard anything from our administration,” said Kendall.

It was also announced that the spring 2020 SGA elections will be officially postponed until the fall. All campaigning must stop tonight, and the elections process will start over entirely, according to the elections commission. The decision to postpone the election violates the SGA’s constitution, which states that elections must be complete by March 25.

“You may be looking at our constitution and our bylaws and say ‘you’re crazy, not following them,’ we know,” said Speaker Rachel Ellis. “This situation has never happened before.”

“I am very aware that we are breaking our constitution, and I think we’ll be okay this time . . .If we did [have the elections] and we didn’t reach the five percent, we would have to do this anyway,” said SGA advisor Lydia Washington. “Just don’t take us to the judiciary.”

The SGA also discussed an email which they plan to send to the student body, which includes a response form where students can express their concerns to the SGA regarding the suspension of in-person classes.

“Although we may not know right now, we’re going to do our best to find answers to those questions,” said Ellis.

“We’re trying to do what we’re supposed to do because we really have no information more than anyone else,” said Carla Montilla, chair of the social justice and empowerment committee.

Several senators asked that the SGA include in the email that they are fighting for students to be refunded for their lost housing and meal plans, and that the University provide support for students who would be put in difficult situations as a result of the closure. “If we are returning home, I’m of the mindset that we should be getting refunded for [food and housing],” said Sullivan.

“We want people to know that we are consulting with [the] administration on these certain topics, and we will let them know as soon as humanly possible,” said Ellis.

The senate also speculated over whether online classes will be extended, and what that would mean for the student body:  “I think it would be really beneficial for the University to consider the ‘what ifs,’ like what if this goes beyond April 6,” said Kendall.

The SGA also discussed possible solutions to some of the issues that were raised.

“[Amherst College] did a lightning round of fundraising from their alumni,” said Senator Barkha Bhandari.

Another suggestion was that the SGA create a web-page that could connect students with alumni willing to help them financially: “Even people that just need a quick Venmo for a bus ticket,” said Ivory Moulton, chair of outreach and development committee.

The SGA also discussed how payroll will work while on-campus classes are suspended.

“No one from the SGA will be getting paid over spring break . . . If you want to get paid after the break, you can,” said Stacey Muanya, secretary of finance.

Agencies’ decision on whether to pay employees over spring break will still stand, but the agency is able to decide whether or not to pay their members for the extended period of time that students will not be on campus.

Muanya also discussed putting aside money to help students affected by the University’s decision: “I would like to hold a certain amount of money for students who are trying to buy bus tickets. Plane tickets . . . just offer financial support for students,”

The SGA plans to have one online senate meeting throughout the two weeks that students will not be on campus.

Sophia Gardner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @sophieegardnerr.