Less than 24 hours after suspending the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Executive Board and Elections Commission (ECOM), the TCU Judiciary formally rescinded its suspension of both parties on Nov. 12. In a statement, the Judiciary formally apologized and said that its reasoning behind issuing the suspension was based on a misunderstanding between its branch, members of the Senate Executive Board and ECOM.
The suspension, which took effect on the night of Nov. 11, was placed by the Judiciary after it believed that members of the Senate Executive Board were attempting to directly choose students to fill the vacant Senate seats without an election. Such an action would be in violation of the TCU Constitution.
However, members of both the Senate Executive Board and ECOM clarified that there was never any attempt by a body of student government to undemocratically place students into the vacant Senate seats.
“I think [the Judiciary feared] that we were going to take on an elections process that was unconstitutional, which was never going to happen,” TCU Vice President Grant Gebetsberger, a member of the Senate Executive Board, said.
The misunderstanding began when the Judiciary reviewed a set of emails that included the use of the term “appointment” by members of student government, according to the Judiciary’s statement.
Members of the Senate Executive Board told the Daily that the term “appointment” has been used in correspondences by members of the Senate to refer to the process of inaugurating a candidate who is running in an uncontested, democratic election.
“We would be lucky to get even one person running for some of these vacancies, which is why the word ‘appointments’ was used when discussing the process of getting these people onto student government bodies,” TCU Treasurer Sharif Hamidi, who was exempt from suspension, said. “There was never any, any intention or any plan to prevent other people from running.”
Earlier in the semester, members of ECOM, an impartial body of student government responsible for conducting elections, used the term “appointment” to describe a different process of filling government seats.
According to ECOM Historian Mark Lannigan, ECOM strictly uses the term “appointment” to refer to the selection of students to temporarily fill Senate seats without an election.
“ECOM has a very defined version of ‘appointment,’ where it is just a complete circumvention of the election process,”Lannigan, a sophomore, said.
Lannigan believes the confusion surrounding the way in which vacant seats would be filled may have arisen from different uses of the term “appointment” by the various bodies of the TCU government.
ECOM proposed its version of an “appointment” plan in an October appeal to the other bodies of student government. In the appeal, ECOM cited extenuating circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to temporarily select students to fill the vacant Senate seats until a legitimate election could be held. This plan, however, was never put into action.
Among these vacancies were two Class of 2022 Senate seats, two Community Senate seats and two Judiciary seats.
Initially, ECOM attempted to fill the vacancies in the fall election on Oct. 1, which overlapped with the traditional election of first-year senators.
While turnout for the fall election was high, and all first-year senator seats were filled, the seats that were opened during the summer remained vacant.
“Turnout itself at the fall election was pretty high,” Lannigan said. “The issue that was presented with the fall election was a lack of interest in running.”
According to ECOM’s bylaws, if vacancies remain after an election, another special election must take place within 15 days to fill them. At the time, however, ECOM did not believe that it would be able to hold a successful special election by Oct. 16.
For this reason, ECOM submitted an appeal on Oct. 6 to members of the Senate and Judiciary to suspend a portion of its bylaws in order to give itself more time to consider how to fill the open seats, according to previous reporting by the Daily.
In the appeal, ECOM also proposed a plan to temporarily fill the Senate seats with unelected student representatives until a legitimate election could be held.
Lannigan explained ECOM’s reasoning behind this plan in an October interview, clarifying that the intent was to increase representation in student government, instead of leaving the seats vacant for a period of time. This was considered to be particularly important in the case that senators or the Judiciary cast votes for issues involving the COVID-19 pandemic. ECOM promised in October that should its “appointment” plan go through, it would replace the seats with democratically elected senators at the end of the semester.
However, the bylaw suspension did not pass. ECOM formally abandoned its “appointment” plan and began planning for the special election that will occur on Nov. 24.
“The [bylaw] suspension we presented did not go through … so we didn’t move forward with appointments,” Lannigan said. “We went forward with the elections planned, which is entirely within our bylaws … we didn’t anticipate anything else becoming of this.”
It came as a surprise to members of both the Senate Executive Board and ECOM when they were notified of the Judiciary’s suspension.
“I woke up and immediately called Taylor Lewis, the parliamentarian, after seeing an email from the [Judiciary] and from ECOM representatives that also sent their suspension to me to alert me,” Sarah Wiener, TCU president, said.
According to Wiener, a suspension on a student organization has not occurred in the TCU’s recent known history.
“In the past 12 years, and likely before, we don’t know of any instance where a suspension to a student organization like this has ever been used, particularly [toward] Senate and ECOM,” Wiener said.
In its Nov. 11 suspension, the Judiciary gave grounds that alluded to the “appointment” process that ECOM had presented to it in October. The Judiciary believed that the Senate and ECOM were attempting to circumvent the election process by selecting students to fill the seats, without an election.
Lannigan believes that the misunderstanding may have resulted from a difference in communication between the three independent bodies of student government.
“The issue … became a breakdown of communication between the three bodies,” Lannigan said. “The problems that arose were because I think the Judiciary still thought we were on board with ‘appointments.’”
There was confusion among members of the Senate Executive Board, members of ECOM and the Tufts community at large following the announcement of the suspension. In an effort to clarify the situation, members of the Senate Executive Board and the Judiciary convened a meeting on Thursday afternoon.
After deliberation, the Judiciary officially rescinded its suspension of the Senate Executive Board and ECOM at approximately 5 p.m. on Nov. 12. In a statement, the Judiciary cited the misunderstanding around the term ‘appointment’ and committed to improving communication with the other bodies in the future.
“Much of this confusion stemmed from the division of powers between the branches of student government and an unfortunate lack of communications,” the Judiciary wrote in its statement. “During this meeting, all parties pledged to make an effort towards increased transparency, collaboration, and respect for the responsibilities expressed by the governing documents of the TCU in order to make sure this never happens again.”
In its statement, the Judiciary also formally apologized to Wiener, Gebetsberger, Parliamentarian Taylor Lewis and Diversity Officer Matthew Peña, who had been temporarily suspended from their roles. The Judiciary also apologized to Hamidi and Historian Sarah Tata, who were exempt from suspension, and to affected members of the student body.
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