UPUA Tensions Persist Over Ad Hoc Committee To Add Caucus Seats

The University Park Undergraduate Association had a short agenda for its weekly meeting Wednesday, but that was all overshadowed by contentious discussion of the assembly’s Ad Hoc committee and the potential to add appointed seats for Penn State’s three international/multicultural caucuses.

Students from the executive board of Latino Caucus spoke during open forum, calling for UPUA not to treat the caucuses like “special interest” and to stop dragging its feet on adding the seats to the assembly. UPUA Student Life Chair Tyler Akers later explained that the term “special interest” is the codified language in UPUA’s governing documents, not meant to alienate the purpose of the caucuses in representing the interests of their respective communities.

Perhaps the most tense moment of the evening came when Tomás Sanchez, president of Latino Caucus, spoke and described a meeting Wednesday afternoon with UPUA president Cody Heaton. Sanchez said Heaton got up when he was talking “to open the door and turn the lights off, signaling that he no longer desired to hear my concerns.”

“I’m here to let you know that UPUA will never be seen for all the good that you guys really do if we just continue to shut the lights off on communities of color,” Sanchez said, “and I think that you guys really need to think about all the power that you guys have as representatives, because I know when you guys came in for endorsements, there’s a lot of you who said that you would fight for us to get these seats.”

Heaton responded that the conversation had strayed from the meeting’s original topic — the Ad Hoc committee — so he ended the meeting, which he added had already lasted beyond the time the two scheduled. “I’m sorry that you felt that way, but the conversation was getting pretty egregious at that point,” Heaton said.

When Sanchez attempted to refute Heaton’s response, Akers declared a point of order, saying Sanchez had used his allotted time and that “bickering” should not be allowed on the floor. Sanchez was not permitted to respond or continue his comments, even when Representative Jake Springer attempted to yield time to Sanchez.

“Public comment can only occur at the front of the room during your allotted time to speak,” Akers objected. “There is no way to yield time during representatives’ times, because none of us are open to the public…We are not everyday students speaking during public comment, therefore we have no time to yield.”

The only set guideline for open forum established in UPUA’s Bylaws and Operational Code is as follows:

Open Forum:  Use of the Floor for presentation is limited to five (5) minutes per speaker or group.  Representatives may ask questions for five (5) minutes after presentation.

The time limit established above is also able to be extended by a simple majority vote of the assembly, but no such vote was even allowed on the floor for consideration, even after Representative Beryl Bannerman attempted to object to Akers’ objection in order to allow Sanchez to speak. Because Sanchez had sat back down in his seat during Heaton’s response, it was determined he had yielded the remainder of his own time.

Bless Michael Berube’s heart for following up all of that with the evening’s special presentation. Chair of Faculty Senate, Berube gave a brief presentation on academic freedom and its dire importance in the modern collegiate education.

After confirming its Judicial Board for the year, the assembly unanimously passed (surprise!) a probably unnecessary resolution to declare next week PSU Votes Week. If you’re not registered to vote, expect to be bombarded next week until you are. (Editor’s note: Seriously, though, you should register to vote.)

The Ad Hoc Committee will meet at 8 a.m. Wednesday in 314 HUB. The meeting is open to the public, and Heaton encouraged all in the room and outside of the room to attend and get a better feeling for what the committee is tasked with and how it’s formed a plan of action.

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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