Campus Beat Reporter
Senators at the first Associated Students Senate meeting of winter quarter swore in two first year on-campus senators with a vote of 11-5-5, despite claims of illegitimacy and AS Legal Code violations. First years Batsheva Labowe-Stoll, a pre-political science major, and Reilly Hobson, a pre-economics major, were sworn in at 7:24 PM on Wed., Jan. 6.
The search for new on-campus senators began toward the end of spring quarter, as the sixty-sixth Senate failed to appoint two elected on-campus senators. A search committee appointed second years Elizabeth Brock, an undeclared major, and Mercedes Rodriguez, a black studies and pre-political science double major. Following Brock’s resignation at the beginning of the summer, and the resignation of second year art history major Lacy Wright on Oct. 14, there have been two vacancies on Senate.
The committee began work in Nov. 2015, advertising to all the residence halls. Seventeen students applied, with ten being cut via paper applications, and five more following the interviews.
Some senators said that they saw no fault with the process of the search committee. But according to second year history of public policy major Nawar Nemeh, who served on the search committee, the committee violated AS Legal Code, which stipulates that the positions must be filled within five weeks of the vacancies. Additionally, the committee did not complete conflict of interest forms, which are required of every committee in AS. These forms specify the relationship between candidates and the selection committee, defining conflict of interest as personal financial gain of members of the committee and their associates, or of AS with the interests of on-campus organizations. No minutes were taken at the series of meetings, which Nemeh claims is illegal, although it is not specified in Legal Code.
In an interview with The Bottom Line, Nemeh stated that at the Dec. 3 meeting of the search committee to review the seven candidates remaining after the paper cuts, all members of the committee excepting the vice chair listed one candidate as the bottom choice. “We all raised our hands in a vote to cut that candidate, since by majority vote, we did not think they were qualified,” Nemeh said. “In the middle of that vote, the vice chair interjected saying, ‘I’m sorry, I have to stop this vote. I know this candidate and this candidate is really qualified for this position and I think it’s unfair to cut this candidate entirely.'” According to Nemeh, committee Vice Chair, Second Senator Pro-Tempore and third year biopsychology Niki Elyasi “used her personal and extensive knowledge and association of the applicant to give them a voice on the committee, giving the applicant an unfair advantage. What has happened is that this candidate has been sworn in.”
College of Letters and Science Senator and third year history of public policy major Stevan Abdalmalik, who did not serve on the committee, was the first to bring up the issues at the meeting, at one point raising his voice. He claimed that Hashemian broke neutrality by voting, and alleged bias in the chair and vice chair knowing the names of all applicants prior to voting, while other voting members did not. He also took issue with Hashemian’s behavior at the Jan. 6 Senate meeting.
“At the beginning of the meeting, the IVP recommended that the senate skip the agenda to review the appointments first thing,” Abdalmalik wrote in an email to The Bottom Line. “When I asked why, the IVP responded with ‘because I can’, and when further pressed for a reason, the IVP explained that she did not want the appointees to wait any longer … Furthermore, the IVP allowed certain senators much more speaking time, at times allowing the vice chair of the committee accused of the violation of Policy 15 (Conflict of Interest Policy) to interject other senators’ speeches two or three times in a row under the guise of a legal but backwater excuse of ‘point of personal privilege’ — a discrepancy I pointed out in the meeting.”
Hashemian further clarified on the incident in an email to The Bottom Line. “I just wanted to make it clear that when I was asked why I recommended moving to appointments, I said ‘because I want to,’ not ‘because I can.’ As well as because we did it last time we appointed senators,” Hashemian said. “Point of Personal privilege was used by multiple senators incorrectly, it was my fault for not stopping them all. Meaning, I gave both sides the opportunity to use point of personal privilege incorrectly, allowing me to be as fair as possible.”
Nemeh says that the chair of the committee only votes in the case of a tiebreaker, but that the chair, First Senator Pro-Tempore and third year political science major Louis Mariano, voted. Hashemian, who served as an ex-officio member with speaking and recommendation privileges but no voting privileges, also voted and unfairly influenced the decision, Nemeh alleges. Mariano stated at the Senate meeting that votes were tallied with and without Hashemian’s vote, and the decision was clear.
Nemeh claims to have drafted a letter regarding his concerns with the process, but as of press time, this has not been made available to the public or to certain senators. Rodriguez, who served on the committee, stated at the meeting that she was not made aware of this letter and that if Nemeh had issues, he should have brought it up during the process.
Nemeh remains adamant that it was “dangerous to approve these appointments.” He and Abdalmalik will continue to sit out Senate in the time being. “The Senate swore to uphold a contract,” Nemeh said. “They failed to uphold that contract, and after they broke that contract, I didn’t find it fit to sit at that table.”
Hashemian and Elyasi, who were accused of bias, have spoken in response to Nemeh and Abdalmalik’s behavior at the meeting. “I am so disappointed and so ashamed to have my Senate act this way,” Hashemian wrote in an email. “Then they left the meeting and never returned, silencing the voices of people they were elected by. Each senator represents roughly 1,000 people. With them leaving, 2,000 voices were silenced. With them trying not to appoint two first year students, was trying to silence all the first year voices, over 5,000 people. We were all elected and if we leave when something does not go our way, then the Senate has failed. We all failed.”
“I never like to assume the worst in anyone, but I did feel that this was an unwarranted personal attack and an attempt to divide the Senate into two separate conglomerates,” Elyasi wrote in an email. “It’s important to note that appointments were decided as a committee with a vote, it was not my unilateral appointment.”
Regardless, Hobson and Labowe-Stoll, the first freshmen senators since former senators Benjamin Shin and Nikki Calderon were appointed in 2012, will sit at the Senate table.
This article has been updated to reflect current information.