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

SGA votes no confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes

“Blockbuster” meeting sees 11 resolutions, appointments and oaths
Daniel Frank
Daily Collegian (2024)

On Wednesday, May 8, the University of Massachusetts Student Government Association met for their 1916th meeting in the wake of over 130 arrests the night prior at a pro-Palestinian encampment. Senators approved 11 substantive resolutions, including a vote of no-confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes, the S-1 Budget act, a change of the waste-stream system, appointed leaders for the next year and administered oaths of office.

The focal point of the meeting was a resolution signaling that the Senate had no-confidence in Reyes and his administration.

The meeting opened with a joint statement from Speaker Jackie Fallon, President Tess Weisman and Vice President Joshua Gauthier. The statement was handwritten on a piece of paper.

Gauthier spoke first, saying “[Fallon], [Weissman] and I will state in the strongest possible terms that last night, students who peacefully protested were brutalized. Our freedoms were deeply infringed and our trust in this storied institution has been irrevocably broken.”

“We hear you, we see you and we’re going to hold this administration accountable [Wednesday], right now,” Gauthier said.

Weisman read from the Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s reporting on the events.

“Is this the type of campus that we want to live in?” Weisman asked the Senate. “A society where the voices of our students, no matter their position, are silenced with zip ties, handcuffs and riot helmets. This is not just a story of protests. This is a story of a peaceful demonstration met with an overwhelming and unnecessary police presence,” she said.

Fallon said that there was no consultation with the SGA before “police descended on our campus.” In previous meetings, she mentioned how administrators said UMass was “lucky as a university to have our own [University of Massachusetts Police Department (UMPD)] rather than schools such as Columbia [University] or [University of Texas at] Austin where they had to call in town, city or state police” (The University of Texas at Austin has a police department larger than UMPD). “We were reassured that this would be minimally confrontational … and that student safety would be centered,” she added.

Fallon seemed offended that the Administration pointed to the consultations last week while not abiding by what they said to SGA leaders.

Weisman then explained that the Graduate Student Senate and SGA were in constant communication with each other, and the Faculty Senate is trying to figure out next steps. The trio gave “demands to make a path forward that involves a working group with students stakeholders and the GSS and SGA” along with the creation of a “better risk management team that includes a de-escalation task force.”

According to Weisman, the Chancellor agreed to those demands, and sent a request to attend and answer questions at a meeting with each of the three groups.

Due to this, Weisman said that she, Fallon and Gauthier are recommending to not suspend the rules in order to put a vote of no confidence up before the Senate.

This sentiment was echoed by two members of GSS— President Fareed Mohammed and Chief Secretary Zachary Bhattacharjee. The pair appeared before the Senate and fielded questions.

“We owe it to our students to see how the responses are given,” Bhattacharjee said.

Secretary of Sustainability Jack Minella asked if both SGA and GSS did not “feel that we have already heard what he has to say through [Reyes’] actions.” Minella pointed out that over 2,000 people signed their approval of the no-confidence motion in a student consultation survey and leaving the motion open may not be representative of the student body’s wishes.

Senator Ishaan Sarna asked GSS what would happen if the Chancellor refused to meet at the Senate meeting next Wednesday, and wondered, “How much leeway are we going to provide to [the] Administration?”

Mohammed said that there is a significant obligation for student bodies to wait and listen to the response of the Administration before acting.

The Senate skipped officer reports due to time, given the large agenda.

Minella read from a 2016 UMass press release announcing the University’s divestment from fossil fuels.

“UMass loves to tout what they did that day in 2016,” Minella said. “They love to tout that they are working towards Carbon Zero even though [that] progress has not really happened in the past two years since it has been announced.”

“It is up to us students to make sure initiatives like that continue, [it] is up to me for the next several weeks or so to make sure that happens,” Minella continued. “It is up to all of you in this room and everyone who succeeds all of us that these initiatives do not die with our terms in office.”

In a sit-down interview with the Collegian in February, Reyes was asked about reaching carbon neutrality by 2032. “All we know is, that’s the goal,” he said.

Marco Ulysee, the chair of the Social Justice and Empowerment Committee, agreed. “A public college should be a place where you should be able to carry out your first amendment rights.”

The Motion of No-Confidence cited Reyes as “in defiance of 2024-S64” and his co-governance responsibilities.

Whereas, Chancellor Reyes’s unconscionable decision to issue hundreds of police officers upon the UMass campus caused irreconcilable harm to the UMass community, and; Whereas, utilizing police force, violence, arrests, or threats thereof, to disperse peaceful protests, is wholly antithetical to the promotion of the safety and wellbeing of students, faculty, and all UMass community members,” the Motion read.

The Motion was read in its entirety by Fallon and required a two-thirds vote to be placed on the agenda, since it was not added 48 hours prior.

There was a large amount of confusion around the vote to place it on the agenda. Fallon initially approved the motion on a voice vote, but at the urging of the Student Legal Services Office (SLSO), she held a raised hand vote. The vote came out to 19 in favor, six opposed, and seven abstaining.

President-elect Colin Humphries and Speaker-elect Michel Flanagan were among those who initially voted against placing the motion on the agenda as Fallon, Weisman and Gauthier had urged at the start of the meeting.

Fallon first told the Senate that the Motion had failed, as it required two-thirds present to vote in favor, but then announced that the Motion had passed since two-thirds of those that did not abstain had voted in favor.

During the consideration of a separate motion, Attorney General Ian Harvey, Fallon and SLSO reviewed the action and realized that the Motion required two-thirds present to vote in favor for the Motion to be placed on the agenda, so the Motion had actually failed.

To reconsider the agenda-placing vote, the Motion would have to be proposed by someone who voted against the original Motion.

Vice President-elect Dale Leone made a point of inquiry, asking if as the vote was not recorded, could someone who voted for it propose the Motion. Fallon said that it operated on the honors system.

A representative of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, who identified themselves as Harvey, called the senate’s indecision “very worrying on behalf of all the people who were arrested last night and all who were present.”

“We see this as something very very urgent … to those who voted no, why?”

Humphries responded and put an end to the discussion, motioning to reconsider as a member who had voted against placing the motion on the agenda.

The motion to reconsider passed and the motion to place the item on the agenda then passed with only one vocal nay.

Sponsors of the Bill were then able to present and answer questions from senators.

“It was the Chancellor’s discretion to mobilize the police [Tuesday],” Secretary of PR and Marketing Hadiya Ahmad said. “It was his discretion to mobilize the police and have them use force against students to have them brutalize and hit students. They were kicked, they were injured, disabled students were dragged.”

“Just seeing that, witnessing that in person, witnessing the police in person, and what happened … that enough was enough for myself and for other members of leadership to draft up this vote of no-confidence in the Chancellor,” Ahmad said.

In the 2620 responses to the student consultation poll, 91.1 percent responded no to the question “Do you have confidence in Chancellor Javier Reyes’s ability to serve as chancellor of UMass Amherst?”

Student Trustee Chris Brady pointed out a differing reaction to these encampments from the housing encampment last year, and said that the Administration’s argument that there was a different chancellor doesn’t particularly matter. “We’re here [Wednesday] because 2600 students have taken their time to fill out a Google Form to talk about, I guess, what they think should happen to our administration as a result of the unnecessary … unprecedented use of police violence on peaceful protesters.”

“What happened last night was unconscionable. It was unacceptable, and it was entirely preventable,” Brady continued. “In October, the same Chancellor chose to arrest 55 students and two staff that were peacefully protesting at Whitmore. We didn’t do anything. We didn’t even say anything.”

“It’s not [going to] happen again,” Brady said. “That’s not this Body’s role to stand by to prioritize courtesy and relationship-building with administrators that [brutalize.] This Body’s role is to protect students. After [Tuesday], after a meeting [Wednesday] that I had with Chancellor Reyes, I am no longer convinced that his administration is committed to protecting students.”

“UMPD wasn’t there to protect them,” Ahmad said. “They were there to put them in danger.”

After Minella and Harvey asked for videos of police actions to be shown, an uncomfortable silence fell over the room before two senators asked questions about the actual role of a chancellor and what the resolution would do.

Harvey said that previous votes of no-confidence motions had been “taken very seriously” by the Administration. According to Harvey, the last two motions resulted in one resignation before the motion came to the floor and another a week after it was approved.

Senator Maia Shteyman asked if passing the Resolution would “hurt our relationship with administration at all?”

Brady responded, saying that although it could potentially hurt the dynamic, it would be “worth it.”

A few senators added their names to the Resolution in the middle of questions.

Fallon pointed out that a vote of no-confidence is the strongest option available to SGA and said that the plan proposed at the start of the meeting was a joint plan between SGA and GSS leadership to advocate for some student demands.

“Actions speak louder than words …” said Senator Ellie O’Donnell.

“There’s been so many opportunities for dialogue and what has come of that?” O’Donnell continued. “I think this is the most steadfast way to show what we believe in.”

SGA was then shown video of protestors being dragged to the ground, along with police kneeling on those arrested and blocking cameras of people recording.

Ahmed stressed that anyone in the area was threatened with arrest.

“If someone who knows nothing about university policy saw what happened last night and saw that the justification for what happened last night was the land-use policy, the only sane conclusion is that that patch of grass is the most important land used in the university and making sure that folks have permits … is of paramount importance for university safety,” Brady said.

Brady pointed to other schools divesting or not calling the cops on protestors to illustrate the broader context of the arrests. “Given that background information, the decision to call in that many cops is that much more baffling,” Brady said.

There was no debate held, but senators asked questions of those proposing the motion for around 30 minutes. The voice vote was overwhelmingly in favor of approving the motion, with one soft nay and around six abstentions.

After the resolution was passed, the Collegian received an email from University Spokesperson Ed Blaguszewski containing two statements of support for Reyes from UMass President Marty Meehan and Board of Trustees Chair Stephen Karam.

 “On behalf of the University of Massachusetts, I want to express my full support for Chancellor Javier Reyes and his leadership of UMass Amherst,” the statement read. “He is widely respected by his team, the broader community, and our Board of Trustees. We witnessed this overwhelming support first-hand when he was inaugurated as UMass Amherst chancellor in April.”

“The circumstances on the Amherst campus are in no way isolated and are part of a national trend taking place on college and university campuses across the country. Chancellor Reyes and his team have engaged in good faith discussions, offered meaningful paths to a resolution, and done everything within their power to engage sincerely and protect students’ rights to free speech.”

“As chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, I want to offer the Board’s full and unwavering support for Chancellor Javier Reyes,” Karam’s statement read. “We have absolute confidence in his leadership, his integrity, and his commitment to our students.”

Another resolution, protecting student rights while protesting, was placed onto the agenda afterwards. The Resolution was written by Ulysee and came in response to the encampments last week. It was passed unanimously.

The meeting began, however, with the consideration of next year’s FY24 S-1 budget, allocating funds for SGA, Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), Agencies and other campus activities. This year’s S-1 budget totals $6,969,709.95, offering $1,777,372.68 for Agencies and $1,585,665.77 for RSOs. These are all lower sums than the current FY24 S-1, which totaled $8,060,856, with $1,937,478 for Agencies and $2,129,233 for RSOs.

Margret Curtis, the director of Student Activities and Campus Life (SACL) Finance, spoke to the Senate at the invitation of Chair of Ways and Means Committee Pranav Joshi. “You have so much more on your mind but finances are important too,” Curtis said.

Curtis clarified some uncertainty on the starting balance budget, saying, “Should the balance go over next year, we would have to deal with that next year … either with the [fee] increase or cutting spending, but we can deal with that when the time comes.”

Curtis said that if a negative balance was hit there would be “no freeze on spending” and that “business would continue.”

Joshi explained to the Senate what a yes or no vote on the S-1 would mean and explained that a failure would require SGA to go through each line item. “I highly recommend that you take the recommendation, but I’m a little biased,” Joshi said.

Joshi said that 247 budgets were voted on by the Ways and Means committee, and around 66,000 individual line items were voted on.

No groups presented an Appeal of Appropriation before the Senate. There was no debate on the budget and the S-1 was unanimously passed.

An emergency funding request from the UMass Climbing Team was presented before the Senate. The team requested $6,103.14 to send 10 athletes to the National competition, having only budgeted for 2-3 to qualify. The $2,697 they raised during UMass Gives is not available to the team until after they have to pay for flights, rental cars and rental insurance.

Seven senators were also appointed to the Summer Coordinating Council, and pay for SGA during summer was also approved.

An interfaith prayer space motion, 2024-S59, drafted by Secretary of Health and Wellbeing Amira Elmansoury, was heard by the Senate. Elmansoury said that Student Union room 355 is not sufficient as a prayer space and is not official. She pointed to multi-faith spaces at several other campuses as examples SGA could follow and pointed to high usage from current student groups.

Of those surveyed, 96.4 percent said they supported the Motion in its current state. If signed by administration, the Motion would create a working group between Administration, GSS, SGA and representatives from RSOs on the Religious and Spiritual Council.

The motion passed unanimously.

Minella presented a motion amending the bylaws around his position as the secretary of sustainability, which made the bylaws fit better with the actual responsibilities of the role. Elmansoury also presented a motion to do the same with her role as the secretary of health and wellbeing. Both motions were done in conjunction with the Administrative Affairs Committee, and both passed unanimously.

A motion advocating improving the waste stream system was presented by Minella, who described it as his “magnum opus of this semester.” The act advocates for more consistent receptacle placement, the optimization of outdoor bins and consistent signage reflective of UMass’ single stream recycling system.

Minella walked the Senate through the five different colors that comprise recycling cans on campus and the litany of different signage. “Future changes are needed besides this motion, but I had to stop writing somewhere,” Minella said.

The motion passed unanimously and Minella said he was excited for it to become university policy.

“Carbon Zero has stalled under his administration and I think that is absolutely deplorable.” Minella thanked Sunrise UMass for supporting and helping with the language. Some students affiliated with the Sunrise Movement were present during the meeting, one holding a sign saying “be climate revolutionary.”

After that passed, Minella presented a motion to expand bike rack availability at Worcester Dining Commons, his last of the night. The senate breezed through the motion and its unanimous passing was greeted with cheers.

Prior to resolutions, Humphries and Leone presented their cabinet picks for the next year.

“This wonderful group of people in front of you [Wednesday] were the right people,” Humphries said.

 It’s a surreal moment right now seeing everyone lined up here,” Leone said.

Anthony Nassar, a senior biology major and current chief of staff, was reappointed; Ryan Darbhanga, a freshman economics and political science major currently a senator on the Ways and Means Committee was appointed attorney general; Kenyatta Heavlow, a junior political science major currently a senator and conduct advisor, was appointed secretary of external affairs; Dylan Bellerive, a junior economics and political science major currently a senator on the Ways and Means Committee, was appointed secretary of finance; Kimberly Manyanga, a junior public health major, was appointed secretary of health and wellbeing; Abbie Mae Nicholson, a freshman business administration major, was appointed secretary of public relations and marketing; Anayah Lombo, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology and psychology major, was appointed secretary of diversity, equity, and inclusion; Carol DeRose, a junior natural resource conservation and political science major and former associate speaker, was appointed secretary of sustainability; Anisha Sharda, a junior computer science and psychology major, was reappointed secretary of technology; Nicolas Vitale, a junior political science and journalism major and conduct advisor, was appointed secretary of university policy; and Charlie Goodchild, a freshman political science and communication major serving as the acting secretary of veterans affairs, was appointed secretary of veterans affairs.

Humphries didn’t want to block vote, saying that “that isn’t the vibe for me,” so senators questioned and voted on each appointee individually. The process lasted about an hour. Each appointment was approved unanimously and then sworn in by the judiciary.

Flanagan then presented four of his eight nominees for senate chairs to the Senate.

Valeria Centinaro, a freshman political science major, was appointed as the chair of the Administrative Affairs Committee; Bella Rabin, a sophomore landscape architecture major, was appointed as the chair of the Academic Oversight Committee; Ishaan Sarna, a sophomore economics and psychology major, was appointed as the chair of the Outreach and Development Committee and Esther Onyeka, a freshman political science and sociology major, was appointed as the chair of the Social Justice and Empowerment Committee.

All four were approved unanimously and were then sworn in by the chief justice.

Flanagan and Assistant Speaker-elect Melena Amoratis are “looking for a larger applicant pool,” so they extended the deadline for the other four chair positions.

Humphries and Leone were then sworn in as president and vice president, respectively, and were followed by Flanagan and Amoratis being sworn in as speaker and assistant speaker, respectively.

Despite the ceremony, the formal transfer of power occurs on June 1 for the executive and May 15 for senators.

The final motion considered by the Senate came to the floor at 11:26 p.m. It bestowed the Senatorial Medal of Honor on Fallon.

“Speaker Fallon played an integral role in making calculated, professional and informed decisions which have ensured the wellbeing and success of the Student Government Association,” read the motion.

“I met [Fallon] three years ago,” Humphries said. “Right from the get-go Jackie showed a dedication to the students.”

“I was really proud to see her become associate speaker, even though she had to beat me to get that,” Humphries joked.

Flanagan wished Fallon “peace and love in New York next year,” as Leone, Chair Mackenzie McNeil and others also praised her.

“In the last two weeks we have passed more legislation than the United States Congress and she has a longer term than the speaker in the House of Representatives,” Chair Sam Tran said.

A physical medal was presented to Fallon and to Harvey, who was awarded in a previous meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 11:47 p.m., after approximately Five hours and 15 minutes. It was the longest of the semester.

Daniel Frank can be reached at [email protected]

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