SGO Meeting 10.7.18

On Sunday, October 7th at 7:00PM, the executive board members of Student Government Organization met in Kohlberg 116 to discuss updates. Nine out of the eleven executive board members were in attendance. They began with a discussion about Brett Kavanaugh after President Gilbert Orbea ‘19 brought up feeling disillusioned after he was sworn in the Supreme Court. They then talked about what this might mean for the Supreme Court, such as the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

Their first bullet point on the agenda was to talk about updates on the Appointments Chair. Josh Siegel ‘20, the Appointments Chair, was not in attendance, but messaged Orbea that he would send Ken’delle Durkson ‘20, Chair of Diversity, an update. Gilbert then updated the board as far as Siegel’s meeting with the leader of an IC group to which he made insensitive comments, for which he was present. “From my understanding of the meeting, there was no ill will.” The leader of the IC group appreciated the work Siegel put into correcting his wrongs, and also, Siegel is currently drafting a statement in relation to this incident. He sent one draft to Durkson, to which Durkson responded,  saying it “needed more substance.”

Vice President Kat Capossela ‘21 then demonstrated a new blind voting system that Katie Clark and Andrew Barclay shared with her for SGO to try out. The system uses a website called Poll Everywhere. If used, the votes from the SGO members would appear on this interface but only as numbers, not names. It also wouldn’t show votes as members typed them in, so no one would be able to see other votes and be influenced. The board agreed that they would not use it for every single vote, but primarily for sensitive topics, and that members would have to motion for the vote to be secret in order for it to be used.

Next, Durkson proposed the introduction of two new senators to his committee, to which Orbea responded that “delegate” would be a better word for these two positions, rather than “senator.” In addition to his committee of five senators, Durkson’s proposal was to add two people who could work exclusively on off-campus projects. According to Capossela, the old Constitution allowed for these delegates, although they hadn’t used this rule in the last three or four years. Suggested delegates included Brendan Shi ‘20 and David Buckley ‘21, who Durkson sought in the summertime to do off-campus work  with Chinatown Development and with UPenn’s Intercultural Center and Black Cultural Center. SGO members unanimously voted to approve these “Diversity Delegates.”

SGO then moved on to discuss a new method of historical record keeping. Capossela, who brought up the idea, stated that they would have to think about what incidents they would like to include. She said that each committee has their own Google Drive folder where they can record their own meeting minutes and a running document to keep as institutional memory.

Following this, the executive board proceeded to speak about attendance. According to Capossela, “three unexcused absences is ground for a warning” while “four unexcused absences counts for impeachment”; however, she indicated many qualms with this rule. For example, if a person misses a whole day, she asked, should that count as missing two if they are on both the executive board and in the senate? There was no direct answer. Orbea suggested four absences a semester, saying that if SGO has two different rules for attendance for senators and executive board members, it would show that it is more acceptable for some members and less acceptable for others to be absent from meetings. He added that the executive board should hold themselves to a higher standard anyway. Capossela said she would come up with a proposal and will ask people to vote on it, because attendance is the best way to hold people accountable to their positions.

Austin Yanez ‘21 asked if they could talk about what their individual committees are doing during the executive board meetings. Since his committee is smaller, members often talk about SGO as a whole in a more intimate setting and, as a result, have some suggestions to bring up. Capossela responded by saying they decided not to talk about it this week since they only just assigned chair members last week. Orbea said they will probably start doing this after Fall Break.

At 7:45PM, when it was time for the Senate to join, the Middle States Review heads Carol Nackenoff (Political Science department) and Robin Scheuer (institutional research assessment) came in to speak with all of SGO. They began with an overview of what Middle States is, saying that, as this is the last year of the three year Middle States Re-accreditation process, a team of six to eight academics (possibly including Deans from other institutions) will be coming in the spring to evaluate Swarthmore College. This October 30th, the head of the team will be on campus, and the group now needs to revise the review document so that they can present it to him then. During the process, they had one or two students on each of the working groups who compiled different chapters of the review. Nackenoff and Scheuer then added some things they noticed as they started working. For example, originally there was nothing written on the Divestment or Title IX events of last year; they realized it would not make sense if those events were mentioned in the newspapers and not in the review.  According to Nackenoff and Scheuer, they had a meeting with faculty and although the faculty did not show up, they’ve received individual feedback. President Smith, the Deans, Provost, Vice President, and College Counsel have also read it and helped with the wordsmithing process. Nackenoff and Scheuer said they want to hear SGO feedback on the document.

Among other suggestions for improvement, Akshay Srinivasan ‘21 stated that he could not find anything about the Dean’s external review in the document’s section about Organizing for Survivors (O4S). There was a general question about transparency as one senator asked if there has been any thought about putting this depth of study into a more accessible, tangible thing for students to access, so they can hold the College accountable for the things that aren’t happening. Nackenoff answered that they are going to write an Executive Summary for the campus that will be available upon completion.

Orbea mentioned that it felt like the omission of the issue of student compensations was glaring, as it was the catalyst for the movement to form the undergraduate students union on campus. Durkson mentioned that the document speaks at great length about accessing Swarthmore education and how much Swarthmore students absorb the material, but not so much about how professors actually teach the material and make it accessible for students. Yanez mentioned that in his view, CAPS has gotten worse at fulfilling students’ requests in a timely manner, and Nackenoff asked him to send a three to four line email explaining this. One senator stated how there is no explicit explanation for the lack of statistical information for Native American/American Indian and Pacific Islander populations at Swarthmore and there is nothing that shows why Black/African-American students have the lowest graduation rates. Nackenoff and Scheuer responded saying the first was because the statistics were too small and the second was because the statistics fluctuate, but it might be helpful to put that in there.

Another senator asked if there were any intentions of hearing other students’ feedback, stating that although it is important to reach out to SGO, there is a need to check in with affinity groups as well because there is a disconnect between SGO and those other groups. Nackenoff stated that once they set up in Shane Lounge and interviewed anybody who passed, but mentioned that it was hard to get people’s attention because everyone is busy. The question, she states, is whether or not groups will want to “spend that time”, but they can certainly do that. Yanez mentioned how there is nothing about quality of student life, for example, quality of foods and quality of dorms and asked if this is because Middle States does not ask those questions. Nackenoff replied that they do not have that criteria and Scheuer said they do senior surveys every other year. Nackenoff also said working group 4, one of the groups that worked on the Self-Study report, has a lot more than what is seen in the report, such as these senior survey reports. Both of them offered for people to reach out to and if anyone else has thoughts since they “will still be actively gathering feedback for a while”.

Orbea then motioned for an added fifteen minutes to the meeting. There were fifteen members in favor, five opposed, and two abstentions, so the motion passed and the meeting was extended. It was then suggested that people go back and read what Yin Xiao ‘20 had said in his proposal, which had been presented in the previous meeting. Orbea stated the “first an important thing to talk about is recognizing their independence,” being that if SBC was granted independence, “all the stuff we just passed will be for nothing because we can’t force them to do any of the things we talked about.” SGO’s mechanism for accountability for SBC would then be reduced to appeals of funding decisions and a couple other items.  

A blind vote was suggested, but then one of the editors of the Phoenix who was taking notes on the meeting argued that “students should have the right to know who voted for what.” One senator then asked if they could do an initial blind vote but then the third party note-takers could write down who voted for what. At this point, Capossela realized she hadn’t shown the senators the new mechanism for blind voting, so she showed them Poll Everywhere. Orbea clarified that it would help “to not influence people if they see the tides going one way or another.”

Durkson asked if they could debate first before voting, and they agreed. Capossela started off with her position: “I do think they should be independent.” She argued that it wouldn’t result in a lack of checks and balances so long as they had rules and conditions. “It’s weird that we are like the parent group when we don’t act like it anyway.” Orbea argued, “you don’t have to let them loose with $600,000 to fix that.” One problem he brought up was that SBC shouldn’t be able to determine how much money SGO gives SBC. Capossela, earlier, suggested that decisions in which SGO and SBC were conflicted, it would go to OSE, which Orbea then reiterated as a consideration.

Capossela asked if they could put conditions on the proposal and ask SBC if they will be willing to accept those conditions. Durkson stated that he is also in support of not recognizing their independence because they are not elected officials. Capossela pulled up Andrew Barclay’s email saying that he believes every student group should have autonomy. Srinivasan seemed to agree, stating that for other committees of SGO, with the exception of SBC, there’s no mechanism for SGO to make recommendations or a list of rules and conditions to govern them. Orbea responded that they do have a mechanism for that, but committees can do things on their own. A senator said that if the focus was to shift the power over choosing the SBC Chair out of SGO’s hands, there would be reasons that moving it to OSE made sense. They mentioned that there was an issue where the person who chaired SBC last year was involved in a case of suspected embezzlement, however despite investigation by the administration, no students were able to know the results of the report. Another student claimed that it does not make sense that SBC is a committee compared to the size of the other committees. Instead of trying to keep this flawed paternal system, they should postpone the vote and propose a document that has an agreement that has mutual responsibilities and checks and balances between the two bodies. However, Orbea stated that once they are gone, they are gone, saying that SBC was forced to keep ties to SGO by administrators who saw the power of the independent SBC.

Yanez mentioned that he saw a lot of problems between SBC/SGO relationship last year as a senator and that the argument can be made that these problems can be fixed without them being independent and thinks the appointment of the chair needs to be changed along with many other things. He asked if they should focus on if SBC can do these things with or without independence before SGO votes. Orbea responded saying that they need to deal with independence first because appointment of chair happens in May. There were ideas for a third constitution to hold everyone accountable, but there was also a general worry that once SGO votes on the independence of SBC, there is no stopping them from not following this third constitution. Capossela responded that one of her proposed changes was  “if we clash again, we defer to OSE, alternative is that if we reach out to students, they won’t read constitutions and make a choice”.

Siddharth Ramachandran ‘20 asked to clarify how much jurisdiction  SGO currently has over SBC. If SGO does not exercise much jurisdiction and power over SBC now, Ramachandran indicated, it might make sense that Xiao wants to separate. One of the senators suggested to meet with the rest of SBC before making decision. Orbea stated that Xiao refused to meet with both him and OSE “when Katie Clark and Andrew Barclay said… we need to meet together… refused to. Said I don’t see a point in meeting. SBC will not concede.” They motioned to vote, ending with a unanimous decision to not vote on independence and to hold it off for now.