When “Robert’s Rules” Go Wrong

Let me start by saying that, in high school, I was elected Youth Senate President of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I was the most feared and revered man to stand at that podium since Billy Bulger. If you’re going to get bogged down in the minutiae of Robert’s Rules of Order, I’m your guy (ladies, take a number and wait your turn).

That said, the act by UPUA’s steering committee on Sunday of closing their session to the public was, strictly speaking, a legal use of their authority. UPUA bylaws stipulate that all meetings must be public, but (in the parlance of Robert’s Rules) it’s germane to suspend bylaws and enter executive (private) session provided ⅔ of voting members agree. This move, while legal, is unethical, much in the same way that it is legal (but unethical) to write “UPUA fucking sucks.” Well, maybe it is, but it’s definitely not nice.

Suspending rules is a common parliamentary procedure, often used in innocuous circumstance like extending the length of time for debate before a vote. Suspending rules isn’t an entirely nefarious action, but in this case it is an egregious act of abuse of power. The rule is in place to protect delicate matters, not hide embarrassing stories.

UPUA needs to stop claiming a desire to be a transparent body if it’s going to close meetings; that’s not transparent. The justification given for why the meeting was closed by the presiding officer who introduced the motion, by the way, was “to make sure media would not falsely report anything,” which is censorship and flagrant breach of social contract between a government and its people. Declaring media unfit to cover as they see proper is only a couple steps away from the old Argentinian practice of “disappearing” journalistic dissidents. As if there was even a shred of libel about UPUA to make them think that.

This country was founded on principles that reject tyrannical rule and taxation without representation. Maybe it’s a stretch to compare UPUA’s incompetence and pigheaded decision making with George III, but neither government ever seemed to care about their constituents in Pennsylvania, and both George and UPUA were/are rumored to be completely insane.

How much more time are we going to give UPUA to get their act together? It’s been in existence long enough to gain a foothold and to start to make an impact on the day-to-day lives of students on campus: something I’ve yet to see in my four years on campus. There are plenty of examples throughout history where states have benefited from dissolving their governments—the United States initially ratified the Articles of Confederation in 1781 before ditching those for the Constitution six years later.

UPUA needs to take a long look at itself and its values. I’d certainly like someone to take Sunday’s abuse of power to the Board of Arbitration, but I’m not about to start holding out hope that UPUA will do the right thing or act with any sort of poise. The fact of the matter is that students either don’t know what UPUA is, and those who do have no respect for the organization (so we’re probably not going to see a popular movement from the student body supporting a referendum as is outlined in the UPUA constitution).

I’m not saying it’s imperative UPUA must disband, but it’s time to start thinking about that conversation.

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About the Author

Dennis McNamara

Dennis McNamara is a senior studying International Relations. The product of a long and muddy Irish lineage, Dennis blames that sour heritage and his Boston area upbringing for the flaws in his character. The only paid writer for Onward State, Dennis has never been described as a team player as he often thinks of himself as “the smartest guy in the room.” In addition to contributing to Onward State, Dennis is also Creative Director for Full Ammo Improv. Dennis isn’t sure when he’s kidding either.

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