Members of the legislative and executive branches of the Student Association faced off Monday after some student leaders said a resolution condemning the University, which was not previously discussed with officials, could hurt the SA’s relationship with administrators.
Yannik Omictin, the SA’s chief of cabinet, said a resolution admonishing the University for allotting $300,000 to conduct an institutional culture survey last semester should have been tabled until SA leaders could discuss the measure with administrators – some of whom, he said, were upset with the resolution’s “harsh” language.
But after a lengthy back-and-forth and a dramatic vote to exclude the SA president and her cabinet from executive session, senators passed the legislation 21-4-2, saying the body does not need to consult with officials ahead of passing legislation because it serves as a check on the University.
The resolution condemned the University’s spending on the culture survey and said part of the $300,000 should have been allocated elsewhere to ease affordability issues on campus, like high costs of housing, dining and laundry. The measure also called on officials to release extended annual reports on their budget and spending.
Omictin said Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty emailed SA executive leaders prior to Monday’s meeting “expressing disappointment” that the legislation had not been previously discussed with administrators. He declined to specify what the email said.
He said passing the resolution Monday would impede Petty’s “working relationship” with the SA because she was not informed about the measure prior to its introduction.
“Obviously, $300,000 is a tremendous amount of money and I definitely don’t think the administration should have done this,” Omictin said at the meeting. “But I would not like to have this be a sting, however large it may be, on our relationship with Dean Petty, who’s been with us every step of the way this year.”
Petty, through a University spokeswoman, did not immediately return a request for comment.
Nassim Touil, the SA’s vice president for financial affairs, said Petty was “blindsided” by the legislation because SA Sen. George Glass, U-at-Large and the sponsor of the legislation, met with her last week and did not mention the resolution.
“There was opportunity for discussion that existed, but it wasn’t utilized appropriately,” he said.
In an interview, Glass said he did not think to discuss the resolution with Petty last week because his meeting focused on an unrelated topic. He said the senate has also debated resolutions in the past condemning the University’s spending without soliciting feedback from officials.
The senate approved a resolution last academic year chastising the University for spending $500,000 on University President Thomas LeBlanc’s inauguration.
Glass said Omictin and SA President Ashley Le asked him to table the legislation early in the senate meeting while the body debated other legislation. But he said SA executive leaders were “bowing to pressure” from officials in asking him not to present the legislation.
“It’s not an SA Senate versus executive thing, it’s not an SA Senate versus admin,” he said. “There’s just a problem with the way that some things are being handled with the survey, the way the money was spent and how we were left in the dark consistently about these issues that needs to be addressed.”
Prior to debate on the resolution, SA Sen. Anisha Hindocha, Law-G and the senate pro-tempore, motioned to bar SA executive leaders from discussion during executive session. Glass said Le was not allowed in the room so senators could decide whether to debate the legislation without pressure from SA executive leaders.
Le left Monday’s meeting during executive session. She said that if SA senators were concerned about the money spent toward GW’s institutional culture survey, they had a “sufficient” amount of time to request a meeting with officials and discuss University spending. LeBlanc first revealed the cost of the survey in an interview with The Hatchet published last October.
“[Petty is] our SA adviser, so I gave her a heads up about this legislation, as I do with every other legislation when we have one brought up,” Le said. “She was concerned that she didn’t hear about this directly from the sponsor.”
But Hindocha said senate leaders were not included in correspondences with administrators and did not know officials had concerns. She added that a resolution should pressure the University to acknowledge an issue, which does not warrant discussions with officials ahead of time.
“This is the force of the senate, together, telling them that we have a problem with what they’re doing rather than just one person, or two people, or three people or even five people going to administration and saying we have a problem,” Hindocha said.
Cayla Harris contributed reporting.