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about 9 months ago

The Five and a Half Hour UPUA Meeting That Was

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The fatigue was visible in most of the UPUA representatives’ faces as the clock struck 1:30 a.m. in 314 HUB. Long UPUA meetings are nothing new, but this long? Those are something of legend, anomalies that are spoken about in hushed tones as legend of assemblies past.

But there was nothing legendary about last night’s five and a half hour general assembly meeting. Oh, no — not even close.

There was lots of good, of course. President Katelyn Mullen announced that her initiative to implement a student-selected trustee was all but completed — undoubtedly one of the biggest student government victories in the history of UPUA. The new Elections Commission was sworn in and funding for the Steps For State initiative was approved relatively seamlessly. But all of this was overshadowed, at least in time, by the proposed UPUA restructuring billwhich after months of planning, was picked apart and mutilated to the point that it was almost unrecognizable in the end.

Tempers ran high — toward the end of the night, one representative spontaneously and perhaps without realizing it blurted out “Let’s fucking vote!” and had to be reprimanded — and there wasn’t a whole lot to show for it, other than the feel-good notion that at least the conversation was started.

Talks of a restructure have gone back to last September, and after much research and planning the Internal Development committee finally brought a plan to the floor last night. The proposal would have decreased the number of representatives from 45 to 33, and would have eliminated the Greek, Schreyer, freshman, on-campus, and off-campus voting positions. Instead, the assembly would have consisted entirely of one academic representative from each of the 13 academic colleges,  and 20 at-large representatives. The idea was to eliminate these constituency bases under the concept of representing the student body as a whole — or as President Mullen would go on to say, to “do something that other assemblies were afraid to do.”

Naturally, the Greek community was set on keeping their voting position and were out in full force during the open student forum. Aimee Luu, the executive vice president for the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), had strong words for the assembly.

“I feel like UPUA is inadvertently silencing minority voices through this legislation,” said Luu.

Indeed, the Greek vote issue quickly turned into a race issue for the two minority Greek councils. Other commenters during the robust open student forum were upset at the lack of communication between the Greek community and UPUA, as many were unaware that a restructure was going on the floor tonight.

“This was very short notice and we don’t really have a voice on the decision being made,” said Lambda Sigma Upsilon president Juan A. Tejeda. “We really would like some more time to present a united case to save the Greek representatives.”

However, Internal Development Chairwoman Katie Esarey pointed out during her special presentation that the lack of communication was coming from the Greek end. The restructuring talks have been in the public sphere since the fall, and the IFC and PHC were both proactive in having their voices heard.

“This restructure is something that the Greeks have been aware about for some time now,” said Esarey. “Clearly your Greek reps haven’t told you what’s been going on.”

When the assembly moved into discussion of the legislation, it was clear that no one was onboard with every facet of the proposed restructure. In fact, at times, it appeared that none of the legislation had even majority support (everything needed a 3/4 affirmative vote because it dealt with the constitution). So, the assembly decided to break the proposal into smaller amendments to the UPUA governing documents to keep the discussion focused on one topic at a time.

The Greek discussion seemed to pick up right where it left off, with the assembly somewhat split on the issue. Currently, all four Greek council positions in UPUA are appointed by the individual councils, and not elected by the student body at large.

“I want someone to prove to me that there is one tangible benefit to having the Greek vote on UPUA,” said Speaker* Anthony Panichelli. “I have just not seen it. I have not seen it one single time since I’ve been at Penn State where a Greek representative has had a different stance on an issue because they were Greek.”

(*By the way, the Chair of the Assembly will now be called Speaker of the Assembly. That was one thing that passed, at least.)

Panichelli mentioned that changing the Greek voting positions to liaison positions — which was the proposal on the table — would only slightly change their role in UPUA, as liaisons can still comment on legislation, just not vote on it.

“I believe in democracy!” screamed the always exuberant Rep. John Wortman at one point during the discussion. “The fact that [the Greek votes] are appointed and not elected by all students is utterly ridiculous.”

Still, some representatives were hesitant to take away votes from something that represents a large percentage of the Penn State community. Also, several were concerned that removing the Greek vote would sever the delicate ties between UPUA and the Greek community. The amendment failed to get the 3/4 vote necessary, and was dead at 24-16-1.

This was a significant vote in that it is the first time in UPUA that there was even majority support for eliminating the Greek votes — several Greek assembly members even voted for the policy. Still, though, the Greek endorsement is gold come election season, which undoubtedly indentured some of the representatives to that reality.

In any case, the four Greek representatives will live to fight another day.

The Schreyer and freshman representative positions were also discussed last night, but both were ultimately saved from elimination as well. The freshman representative positions were never really in jeopardy of getting cut, despite current freshman representative Rep. Garrett Warmbein speaking out against the position (irony at its finest).

“I think it is a much greater opportunity to foster a group of freshman than select two and have all the others watch,” said Warmbein on the current system. “There is a disconnect between the Rep and the rest of the YOUSRV [freshman intern] program. If you raise freshman to be the ideal rep, that would be a better process.”

Despite that, many UPUA Reps still felt that having freshmen vote in the assembly was crucial and that the freshmen perspective was necessary and worth listening to. To demonstrate this, 28 people voted against what the freshmen representative said, and the amendment failed 13-28. This, despite the fact that a proposal from Rep. Ted Ritsick to create a representative for change of campus students under the same logic failed soon after.

The Schreyer position had to go through a little more discussion in order to be saved, however. Former Schreyer representative and current on-campus representative Michael Mancini was in favor of saving the position, and he came prepared with a one-page printed sheet of why Schreyer was worth keeping.

“I believe it’s a very worthwhile spot and allows students in the SHC to get involved,” said Mancini. “I don’t really see the significant benefits of removing the Schreyer’s spot.”

The discussion then opened up a bit, and the assembly moved into more a philosophical discussion on whether they should be specifically special interest-driven or something broader than that. That is, until President Mullen jumped into the conversation.

“You’re supposed to be in this room to support Penn State as a whole. I don’t know how someone can sit in their seat and vote for one specific issue,” said Mullen. “We shouldn’t be representing just 100-200, we should be representing 40,000.”

That was almost enough to convince the assembly to vote against the Schreyer position, but the amendment barely fell short of a 3/4 majority with a vote of 29-12-0.

The one victory for the reformers on the night was eliminating the location-based constituencies. The assembly approved removing the on-campus and off-campus representatives and replacing them with a body of 20 at-large representatives. So I guess there was a “restructure” after all. Now, you’ll get the change to vote for up to 20 people on the ballot come March (there were some efforts to lower than number to 5 or 10, but they ultimately failed).

Yes — five and a half hours to remove on-and-off campus representatives and make them at-large instead, while keeping everything else basically the same. No one seems to circle the wagon like UPUA.

Surprisingly enough, there was still other legislation last night besides the restructure. A bill went through with a vote of 40-1-0 that gives UPUA $1722.50 for Steps For State. In addition, non-academic representatives will now be able serve on the Academic Affairs committee thanks to Policy #08-13.

It’s 4 a.m. I think I’ll rest now.

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