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UPUA Representative Ryan Belz Attempts To Silence Media

In what has become a weekly tradition for the University Park Undergraduate Association’s Wednesday assembly meetings, Ryan Belz spent a whole lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing.

Belz, the UPUA College of Communications representative, spent nearly an hour of the assembly’s time making motions to amend legislation that updated the organization’s bylaws. By my count, Belz made 16 motions with just one passing and at least six failing to receive even a second vote.

Many of the motions were asinine, unethical, and based in personal grievances. Belz attempted to add a clause to the bylaws prohibiting members of Onward State or the Daily Collegian from sitting on the assembly and representing undergraduate students. Let’s go over that again: Belz thinks that members of the student media are not deserving of the opportunity to run for office, let alone hold that office.

Imagine that: the people who spend every day representing the voice of the student body and act as an advocate for undergraduate students within the media banned from running for student government! And in case you missed the irony here, Belz is the assembly’s College of Communications representative. He is quite literally acting against the betterment of the constituents he directly represents by legislating against the inclusion of two organizations that certainly have some of the largest communications representation of any student organization.This is hypocrisy at its best from a representative who believes that the assembly is trying to silence his voice.

It’s worth noting that Belz has been vocally combative with a small group of UPUA representatives who also work for Onward State, including Smeal representative Noel Purcell, Agricultural Sciences representative Ted Hozza, and at-large representative Melissa McCleery.

I could spend 1,000 words detailing the pitfalls of attempting to silence the media’s voice within student government, but there’s a lot more to get to. Belz essentially went page-by-page through a small booklet of a bill in an attempt to dismantle it. If his motions were collectively passed, they would have massively changed the makeup and operational functionality of the UPUA as a whole at a fundamental level.

He attempted to remove the executive board from the Steering Committee. He attempted to undo just about everything that was stricken from the previous bylaws in the legislation. For example, the assembly has discussed the removal of the Internal Development committee, which Belz previously chaired, for months. First, Belz moved and failed to sneak his old committee back in. He then tried to add a University Development committee into the organization’s governing documents and remove the Facilities Committee, which UPUA had slated to replace ID.

He tried to add the vice-chairs of every committee to Steering and fought vehemently over the word use of the word “internal.” He tried to strike Steering’s ability to recommit legislation to the committee it was submitted by. Belz even made a motion to require the Pledge of Allegiance to be read before every meeting, an issue that the assembly already agreed not to vote on.

It went on and on and on. Belz, who has become more of a distraction to the assembly than a representative focused on the betterment of student life, decided that he’d waste the time of his colleagues, perhaps as payback for what he feels is a conspiracy to silence his voice. Belz was previously removed from his committee chair role after allegations that he threatened another representative’s seat in a vote-whipping attempt, which he has denied.

“The passage of amendments to the by-laws and constitution tonight are a complete and utter disaster for this organization, which is becoming a dictatorship,” Belz said at the end of the meeting. “I would like to thank you again for attempting to limit my right to vote and my right to debate, and I would like to let you know that you were not successful.”

Just moments later, Governmental Affairs committee chair Stephen Payne commended the assembly for allowing the nonsensical amendments from Belz to be debated and voted on instead of silencing him, the exact opposite of what was implied. After the meeting, UPUA President Anand Ganjam said that Belz has become a distraction within the organization’s assembly meetings.

“I believe that his motions and his comments have become a distraction within the assembly meetings specifically. I don’t want to speak to his work in the committees, as I know he works hard there,” Ganjam said.

“However, his actions have seemed to slow progress with the assembly and have become very repetitive. With that being said, he has the right to speak, as does any other representative. I have a personal opinion that discussing governing documents is not our priority and can be a waste of time, so I do think that his amendments slowed the progress from things that we could have been discussing like tangible initiatives that benefit student life.”

The aforementioned bylaw changes, which most notably added a Facilities Fee committee and removed the Internal Development committee, passed 33-3. Similarly, the assembly voted 35-3 in favor of changes to the constitution, including the addition of organizational guiding principles, a legislated Department of Communications on the executive board, and a few other relatively inane alterations.

It’s as simple as this: If Ryan Belz can’t find a way to set aside personal issues with his colleagues in the assembly and perform his duties as a representative of the undergraduate student body in a responsible fashion, the time to discuss his removal from the assembly has come.

Belz has become a detriment to the organization and its mission to improve student life at Penn State. There will always be complacent members of the organization, representatives who show up every Wednesday and don’t do much else. But a representative who is essentially a lone wolf working against the organization is a whole different animal. And even worse, an academic representative who does not hold a basic understanding of the needs of his constituency, or just ignores that understanding if he does have it, is unacceptable. If the assembly won’t take action, his college’s council should.

In my three years covering UPUA, I have often been extremely critical of the organization, but that criticism always comes from a place of love and respect for the undergraduate student government and what it does for Penn State. The assembly may not always be taken seriously by fellow students and the administration, but there is no questioning that UPUA is the largest advocate that the student body has at Penn State, and arguably one of the most powerful. I have almost exclusively sided with the minority opinion within the assembly during my time on the UPUA beat, not because I enjoy being a contrarian, but because I strive to offer an honest judgment rather than accepting the loudest and largest voice in the room. In this case, the minority has settled for vindictiveness over governance, and that can’t stand.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a 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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