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UPUA Debates Allowing Student Voice At Meeting

Welcome back, lovers of student government. It’s been thrice weeks since UPUA held a substantial meeting, and the separation anxiety from my weekly fix of unnecessary red tape and regulations got the best of me.

As usual, last night’s meeting opened with an open student forum in which nobody spoke, but a special presentation from County Commissioner Michael Pipe on “Penn State Students and Voting” made up for it. Pipe said that if you live in East, West, Pollock, Eastview Terrace, or Nittany Apartments, you have to vote in HUB Alumni Hall. Those that live in North or Atherton Halls have to vote at St. Paul’s Church on McCallister Street.

If you have any questions for Pipe, you can e-mail him at [email protected] or call him at 814-232-9333. A Centre County Votes website will be launched in the very near future with all necessary information for election day.

During her weekly report, President Courtney Lennartz discussed an Alumni Association-based committee on student drinking that she has been a part of. She added that she will be filming a PSU Votes video on Friday. Lennartz is continuing to work on getting UPUA access to the student-wide e-mail listserv. She is also hoping to work with THON to put on an event during State Patty’s Day weekend to combat the “holiday” and is advocating for more students on the Board of Trustees with the Student Leader Roundtable, a mysterious group may or may not be associated with the Illuminati.

UPUA swore in representatives Brock Kauffman (Nursing) and Madison Benfield (Health and Human Development) at last night’s meeting, forcing them to recite a cult-like oration before considering the deed done. There may or may not have been a blood oath involved, but I can not confirm that such an oath took place.

Chairman Spencer Malloy proposed that the assembly endorse the Penn State students that have been elected to serve on the Office of Student Conduct’s Judicial Hearing Board. Representatives Anthony Christina and Elias Warren questioned the process of an endorsement and asked if they were essentially sending a congratulatory letter to the “thoroughly vetted students” without ever meeting them. Christina referred to the endorsement as a “blind rubber stamp,” but the endorsement for a group of people that nobody in the assembly had ever met passed nearly unanimously.

And next came representative Resolution 08-07: Funding for Operation Lollipop and the Textbook Heroes Program. Despite the stupid name, it’s actually a pretty — oh, wait, it’s a stupid piece of legislation too. Operation Lollipop is an information-collecting program in which UPUA will be providing students with lollipops in the HUB in exchange for information on their textbook purchases. Textbook Heroes is a program that will survey students on professors that save them money on textbooks and award the top 12 textbook-friendly professors “plastic statuettes” (at a price of $15).

Good idea in theory. Bad idea in execution. The legislation costs nearly $500 — $289 of which goes towards highlighters that say “Textbooks Suck.” For the price of nothing, UPUA could just tell students that three minutes of their time could save them money on textbooks instead of giving them custom highlighters, but maybe that’s just me. Everyone already knows textbook prices suck. What’s to gain by spending money to gather information that will only prove that point?

But the meeting got interesting when Elias Warren motioned, albeit in a very vague manner, to yield the floor to the students to hear their opinion on the legislation. Smeal Representative Rishi Mittal objected, saying, “We are already supposed to know what students think.”

The motion failed, and students were not granted the ability to speak on the legislation. Democracy at it’s finest, folks.

The legislation passed 34-4-0, but when the new business was completed and comments for the good of the order began, the assembly voiced their opinions on the Elias Warren motion. Warren said that the assembly “shouldn’t not allow students the opportunity to comment on legislation” and that it “doesn’t bode well for UPUA when we don’t allow students to speak when given the opportunity” to a round of applause from the student section in the back (when I say students, I really man mostly freshman UPUA interns from the YOUSERV program).

Rishi Mittal explained that he brought up the objection because he believes that allowing the students to talk sets the precedent that “students come to meetings and just keep talking and talking about legislation.”

A female student in YOUSERV walked up to the microphone at this point. She said, “We were thinking that if an issue is important it needs to be talked about. For the sake of time, we should at least talk about it. We feel like this meeting is being rushed. We feel that it’s being short just so that everyone can get out. I think that everyone here is mature enough to discuss it in a civil manner.” The student section clapped yet again.

One YOUSRV member explained that he has noticed an issue where “representatives think that they are above students” and that he “thinks the vote would have gone different if it was a role call vote and everyone’s name was taken down when they decided not to let the students speak.” He went on to say that the YOUSRV members have a group text in which they all expressed confusion as to why their voice was shut out.

Facilities Chair Dave Harrington then gave an inspiring speech, stating that he “doesn’t want to be characterized as someone who does not care about the student voice” but also doesn’t agree with “pandering to the students”. Both Harrington and Anthony Christina agreed that they should not have passed the motion because it was disorganized. Christina said that he didn’t think any students were even interested in speaking because nobody was “rushing to the microphone,” which, granted, has never happened in the history of UPUA.

Representative Tom George was the last to speak, saying that he believes it is “not only our duty to serve the students but to reach out to students as well.” George asked the assembly to consider how many of their Facebook friends even know that they are involved in student government. At least one of the UPUA representatives that spoke about the Warren motion didn’t seem full of himself.

Here’s the bottom line. Representative Warren’s motion to yield the floor to “the students” was vague and impractical. A better option would have been to ask students if anyone wanted to speak, and if so, yield the floor to a specific student. Instead, Warren’s well-intended motion was simply shot down by Mittal and the Assembly instead of amending it to accomodate its original purpose.

But that’s logic I guess.

Elias Warren Quote of the Week: 

There will be no Elias Warren quote this week. His words on the failed motion to allow the students to voice their opinion shouldn’t be watered down by some joke about Dark Knight Rises that he may or may not have made. I will point out that he used the word “percolating” correctly, though.

John Zang Tie of the Week (5/5):

John Zang wore a dark blue suit, white button down shirt, and a dark yellow tie with a criss-cross pattern and a tie clip. A yellow pocket square perfectly complemented the tie. After six long weeks, I am finally going to award Zang the coveted perfect rating. Ya earned it, kid.

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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Staff Picks: Grabbing A Drink With A Prominent Penn Stater

If you had the chance to hear about Penn State from (or throw down at a State College bar for a night with) some of its most prominent figures, who would you want to grab a beer with?

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