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UPUA Talks Closed Meetings, Drunken Coal Miners, and Offensive Costumes

The UPUA may have finally put the closed meeting issue to bed during its Wednesday night assembly meeting, when an amendment to the organization’s by-laws hit the floor.

Policy 05-09, The Louis Brandeis Sunshine Amendment, moved to add a section to the by-laws detailing the appropriate time to hold a closed executive session. The amendment was previously in the by-laws, but was “accidentally stricken” somewhere along the way, according to Internal Development Chair Ryan Belz.

The policy dictates that all meetings are open unless a two-thirds vote of the assembly moves to hold a closed meeting. In the bill’s original form, the assembly could hold a closed voting session, shutting the doors on the public for a regular general assembly meeting.

At-Large Representative (also an Onward State writer) Melissa McCleery motioned to amend the bill, prohibiting the closing of voting sessions and committee of the whole meetings.

“If you have to discuss privileged information, hold a committee meeting and strongly encourage everyone to be there,” McCleery said.

Speaker John Wortman asked to split the amendment in half, voting separately on banning closed voting sessions and banning closed committee of the whole meetings. Belz objected, stating his staunch disagreement with both parts of the amendment.

Wortman reminded Belz that as the legislation stood, it would allow closed voting sessions, which would of course allow for a clear lack of transparency, but he held strong on his disapproval of McCleery’s amendment.

The amendment passed 32-1, with Belz being the lone voter in support of legislating for closed voting sessions. The committee of the whole half of the amendment failed 22-11. The policy passed unanimously.

It’s interesting to note that the amendment’s criteria for a closed executive session include privileged discussion on finance, information, and contracts, as well as interviews for the appointments of representatives and other officials. Without using an extremely vague interpretation of those criteria, the controversial closed meeting to discuss the Al Lord resolution would have been unconstitutional.

Here’s a breakdown of how the rest of the meeting went:

Bill 07-09: UPUA Support of “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume” Poster Campaign:

This bill allocates $500 to purchase the rights to a poster campaign from Ohio University’s Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS). The STARS campaign condemns offensive and racially insensitive Halloween costumes with posters. Here are a few examples from the campaign:

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 10.35.44 PM

At-Large Representative Ted Ritsick spoke out against the bill, explaining that he believes it violates the First Amendment rights of Penn State students.

“This university campus is no place for hate and bigotry, but I’m worried that this promotes a broader message,” he said. “That message is that if somebody is offended by something, than you shouldn’t say it. That’s censorship. Both the national government and our student government have no right to do this.”

Student Life Chair Shannon Rafferty, whose committee is responsible for the legislation, told Ritsick that the poster campaign puts no restrictions on people.

“They still have the freedom to do what they want,” she said.

Earth and Mineral Sciences Representative Calvin Eberle then likened togas worn during Greek Week to blackface worn on Halloween, arguing that it’s “hypocritical to oppose this kind of stuff for just one night.”

McCleery didn’t exactly agree.

“Do I wear a toga during Greek Week? Yeah, ’cause it’s fun,” she said.

Ritsick stood again, this time to clarify that he too might find racially insensitive costumes to be offensive, but still supports the student body’s right to wear them.

“My great-grandfather was an immigrant coal miner,” he said. “If someone dressed up as a drunken coal miner, they would be perpetuating stereotypes and I would be offended, but how far do we go with this?”

The bill passed 27-6, with Ritsick, Belz, John Lombardo, John Garfield, Zach Longstreth, and Alexander Thames dissenting.

President’s Report:

In his weekly report, Anand Ganjam went through a litany of meetings he attended over the previous week. Nick Jones has been keeping the University Strategic Plan Student Advisory Committee up to date.

The Alcohol Advisory Committee will be meeting soon to discuss UPUA’s proposal that would allow 21+ students to drink on campus in dormitories. Ganjam said that Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims is on board with the proposal and Eric Barron will review it.

Dress Code:

Noel Purcell, the Smeal Representative (also an Onward State staff writer), was indirectly called out by Wortman for his inability to live up to the speaker’s dress code standards.

“You are elected officials, and most people here are in good shape, but under no circumstance should jeans be worn by anyone in this assembly,” he said.

Purcell clarified that he was in the HUB all day and didn’t have time to go home and change for the meeting.

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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