Over the past year, the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) has been led by three different presidents, an unprecedented number. All three, at some point or another, have been victims of subversion as a result of challenging, executive decisions that displeased members of the Governing Board. This week’s no confidence vote in President Hernández is the latest, disappointing example.
A large part of the issue with USG leadership this year is a disregard for due process. The USG Constitution allows for the removal of a president by impeachment. Likewise, the USG Constitution allows for the replacement of said president through the presidential line of succession: The Vice-President, followed by the Speaker of the Senate, followed by the Comptroller. All three presidents this year have also been on the receiving end of an attempt to derail these constitutional processes.
Back in June, duly-elected President Josh Crow and Vice-President Alex Ose failed to efficiently and quickly respond to reports of anti-black racism on campus and around the country. Their willingness to respond came only after students of color brought attention to their failure, but this came at the expense of many students’ emotional and mental wellbeing. Nonetheless, as new leaders, I felt President Crow and Vice-President Ose should be given a chance to rectify their mistake — leadership is never easy and without its trials — but I was of the minority opinion. After a divisive town hall in which some participants brutally and unsympathetically forced
Vice-President Ose to tears, her and President Crow’s resignations followed in days. While the Constitution allowed for the impeachment of President Crow and Vice-President Ose, USG leadership knew such an attempt was likely to fail, and instead chose to push out their leaders with whom they disagreed.
Just prior to President Crow’s official resignation, a plan was set in motion to usurp the presidential line of succession by forcing the remaining members in the line of succession, Speaker of the Senate Will Schad and I, to refuse the role of president, thus forcing a special election. Speaker Schad was on board, I was not; I viewed the suggestion as a rogue attempt to subvert the constitutionally-outlined line of succession. When I voiced my opposition to the idea, in addition to my concern with leaving USG without a president or vice-president for several weeks, the attempt died, and Speaker Schad was sworn in as president. “Speaker” Schad was only able to win over the Crow-era Governing Board to become “President” Schad after agreeing to — undemocratically and unconstitutionally — hold a new presidential election in the fall. Again, while President Schad had every right to lead according to the line of succession, he was deprived of his full term by the same USG leaders that forced out President Crow and Vice-President Ose.
President Hernández recently sponsored a bill, colloquially referred to as the “free speech bill,” advocating for the adoption of the University of Chicago’s statement on free speech. This bill has been met with fierce opposition from the majority of members on the Governing Board and within the Senate, but it undeniably has its fair share of support from the student body. My opinion on the bill has always been that an affirmation of free speech, given the current climate on campus, is in poor taste, not to mention that UConn has no legitimate problems with free speech. The Sin Awareness Day preacher is permitted on campus, as is Martin Luther King Jr., as is Ben Shapiro and others who have deeply diverging, and sometimes polarizing, views.
Within USG, there has been an argument made that the bias response protocol, implemented by USG’s Chief Diversity Officer, censors free speech; I vehemently disagree with this sentiment because while USG has always been committed to enabling discussion of challenging and diverse viewpoints, it has never been a place where deeply offensive remarks, like “All lives matter,” are met without consequence. I had voiced my opposition to the free speech bill several times with President Hernández, encouraging him to rescind his support. As the Student Body President, his support is the voice of the student body and on this issue, the voice of the student body is not remotely united.
Just this past weekend, President Hernández experienced a protest of his own. At noon on Sunday, I learned of the efforts to hold a no-confidence vote as a result of questionable communications President Hernández engaged with other students. While screenshots of some of these messages were made available to me, it became clear, during the discussion of the no confidence motion, that other posts/texts/etc. were factors, yet were not made available to the whole Governing Board. In addition, the very nature of this vote was constitutionally ambiguous, totally symbolic and particularly troublesome given the attempt to keep it secret from President Hernández. I voiced these concerns, but again — I was in the minority. During discussion of the motion, President Hernández expressed remorse for his offensive messages, and importantly, he agreed to withdraw his support of the free speech legislation that has polarized USG and the campus as a whole.
President Hernández’s willingness to withdraw support for the free speech legislation was, to me, a better-late-than-never effort to listen to and hear the concerns of his Governing Board and constituents. It also made clear to me that he remains committed to serving the student body, and thus, I voted nay on the no confidence motion. Yet I was the sole nay vote, because like the two previous presidents experienced, there is a concerning disregard for due process amongst USG’s senior leadership. President Hernandez’s actions are likely unqualifiable for impeachment, so USG leadership once again took actions into its own hands.
I have a profound respect for all of my colleagues on the Governing Board; but, as is typical in leadership, sometimes we disagree on approach. I believe collective frustration with gaining accountability swiftly manifested as multiple, unintentionally subversive efforts over the last year that cost USG two Student Body Presidents. Whoever becomes president in the future must be mindful of the importance of establishing and maintaining a hierarchy, yet they should not get so caught up with the privilege of their role that they fail to listen to those they serve and work with. USG is founded on principles of diplomacy; thus, diplomacy must be maintained, even in the most testing of circumstances.
So, what can you do now? None of the elected officers on the Governing Board are running for reelection: Come April, there will be a complete changeover of senior leadership. However, a changeover in leadership does not fix the division and precedent set by this year’s events. In this chaotic year, I have constantly voiced concern that retaliatory efforts — efforts based not in magnanimity — would erode faith in the organization. I fear that this recent no confidence vote, an effort snowballed by repeated attempts over the last year to tightly rein presidents, will only deepen the divide between USG and the students we work so hard to engage and serve. Now is your opportunity to select a fresh batch of leaders who will take the trials and tribulations of leadership with grace, accept criticism with poise, and remain committed to you — and only you. Vote carefully, vote wisely and most importantly, vote your conscience.
Molecular and Cell Biology ’21