Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims summed up the night quite well at the start of his special presentation during UPUA’s first general assembly meeting of the semester last night.
“It’s a great time of new beginnings for everyone at Penn State,” he said, referencing Anand Ganjam, the latest UPUA president, and Eric Barron.
He addressed the assembly for about a half hour on Wednesday night, discussing a number of initiatives and issues that he hopes to work with UPUA on in the coming academic year. From furthering mental health assistance through the CAPS program to better dealing with sexual violence education and prevention, Sims said that he will be available to assist the assembly in any capacity needed.
“The most critical thing for me is that students are always involved in decision-making on an institutional level,” he said, noting that a permanent student trustee position needs to be established.
The lone debate of the night and the only noteworthy discussion came after Sims discussed his decision to replace UPUA’s adviser, Mary Edgington, with Barry Bram, an administrator within student affairs who is known to must students as the former THON adviser. Sims recently made changes at the adviser position for both CCSG and GPSA as well — which is somewhat unusual, as virtually every other student organization is able to independently choose their own adviser. Edgington had been with UPUA for more than six years, and judging by the numerous ovations she received throughout the night, was immensely popular.
“To tell you the truth, Mary has a very big portfolio including getting [the HUB] construction project done,” Sims said, referring to Edgington’s role as the director of union and student activities. “Barry Bram has been a special adviser to me in areas involving student engagement. He probably has fewer things and people to worry about than Mary. I also count on Barry to bring me into your processes whenever I can be of assistance.”
There were a few questions for Bram after he addressed the assembly prior to his confirmation vote, but the most interesting discussion came when he left the room.
At-large representative Melissa McCleery questioned President Ganjam on whether the change in adviser to Bram was presented by Sims as the lone decision, or if UPUA leadership had any say. Ganjam confirmed that he was essentially told that Bram would be the guy and was not consulted in the change — although he noted that Bram was highly qualified, a point to which McCleery also agreed.
“Every positive thing that everybody has said about Barry is absolutely true,” McCleery responded, “but I simply cannot vote yes on a decision that was essentially made for UPUA. We had no oversight into this and this vote is basically a formality. Damon said tonight that he respects our input on decisions, but this move clearly contradicts that.”
Despite her objection to Edgington’s ouster and the lack of a fight from UPUA’s leadership, Bram was confirmed 30-3 and sworn in shortly after.
In other news, Ganjam gave a relatively lengthy report on what to expect this semester. He said that he hopes to see changes in the campus alcohol policy, expanded parking hours, and further discussion on a smoke-free campus and added that a town hall forum with President Barron should happen in late September. He also updated the assembly on the HUB quarter project, mentioning that quarters will be available at the HUB information desks during regular hours of operation.
Serge Gaba was also sworn in as the National Panhellenic Council Representative. As for legislation, the assembly unanimously passed Policy 03-09, which established guidelines for a committee to select UPUA’s freshman representative, a structure that was not previously in place.