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UPUA Makes Little Progress On New Elections Code In Fiery Meeting

The 17th Assembly of the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA) met Wednesday evening to approve a revised version of its Elections Code for judicial review in a contentious meeting longer than the average Penn State football game. 

The latest gathering of the assembly started innocently enough. President Sydney Gibbard and Vice President Carter Gangl delivered their weekly reports, touching on their recent visits with various university organizations, before moving into the meeting’s business.

Old Business

The assembly began by swearing in Sophia Carpinteyro as the Smeal Academic Representative. It then passed Bill #34-17, co-sponsoring the Bellisario College of Communications Student Council’s AP Style Book Library unanimously. 

Representative Elliot Copeland then introduced Resolution #13-17, condemning antisemitism and recognizing International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Copeland recounted a series of recent antisemitic incidents at Penn State that inspired the resolution, including his own experiences as a Jewish student.

“It’s disturbing. It’s horrifying, and we can’t let it happen here,” Copeland said.

Resolution #13-17 passed unanimously.

New Business

The vast majority of Wednesday’s meeting was taken up by the Elections Code of 2023, a subject that had sparked heated debate over the last several weeks. The assembly had finally passed a version of the Elections Code at its previous meeting, but it was struck down by the Judicial Board on Monday due to Clause 9, which covered outside endorsements. The full clause that was rejected is below.

§9.4     Registered Student Organizations may endorse candidates for At-Large Representatives, Academic College candidates, and Executive Tickets in whichever manner they wish.

            §9.4.1 The following organizations shall not be eligible to endorse candidates:

                        cl i. University Affiliated Organizations

                        cl ii. University-Associated Offices

            cl iii. Organizations that hold Community Group Seats or are directly represented by Community Group Seats in the UPUA Assembly

Speaker Nora O’Toole motioned for everything except Clause 9.4 to be approved. Chief Justice Andrew Waldman, speaking on behalf of the Judicial Board, asserted that large organizations like the Interfraternal Council (IFC) have been able to sway past elections by thousands of votes with its endorsements, even though voters were seemingly unfamiliar with who they were voting for.

The Judicial Board’s opinion argued that since large organizations already have permanent voting seats in the student government, they are free to share their opinions at all times and shouldn’t be doing endorsements. Waldman clarified that, following precedent, IFC as a whole cannot endorse, but individual fraternities and sororities can. 

Waldman then fielded questions from several representatives about the Judicial Board’s decision. When one representative questioned why the other justices weren’t at the meeting themselves, he tersely replied, “Constitutionally, I have to be here.” 

A visibly frustrated Gangl attempted to close the floor for questions several times before eventually succeeding. The assembly then moved into an equally contentious discussion period.

Representative Josh Reynolds argued that the leadership of any organization on campus, not just large ones, could sway the votes of its members. Reynolds used IFC as an example of a large organization with little power, continuing that “nobody gives a damn what they think or say.” 

Representative Vincent Smedile responded that stopping large organizations from endorsing would incentivize candidates to make connections with smaller, more diverse organizations that have been ignored because they cannot sway elections on their own.

“Why should elections be [about] who can curry the most favor with large student organizations?” Smedile said. “It reinforces that the same group of people gets elected, year after year. We have to break that cycle.”

IFC President Kyle Quinn then delivered, laptop in hand, a prepared speech about the Judicial Board’s “discrimination” against Greek organizations. 

Hours later, the assembly voted to strike out Clause 9.3. Reynolds called to remove Clause 9.1, but a majority voted to keep it. Another proposed addition to the clause failed narrowly. 

President Gibbard, in an effort to bring the argument to a conclusion, suggested eliminating student organization endorsements entirely. This sparked a debate about whether the assembly should continue to debate, which both sides felt strongly about.

The assembly eventually passed a new Elections Code, this time without Clause 9.3 and with small changes to both Clause 9.1 and Clause 9.2, to go in front of the Judicial Board. Should it be struck down, next week’s meeting will likely be more of the same.

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About the Author

Adam Babetski

Adam Babetski is a senior double majoring in communications and medieval history, and is one of Onward State's associate editors. He's from the only part of Virginia without tractors and southern accents, except Richmond (reportedly). You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBabetski for hot takes about sports. For serious inquiries, email [email protected]

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