Bylaw inconsistencies delayed SA censure hearing, senators say

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Sophia Young | Photographer

SA Sen. Jake Corsi, CCAS-G, has awaited a student government censure hearing for two months following "harmful rhetoric" accusations.

Almost two months after the Student Association Senate initiated censure proceedings against a senator, SA leaders are preparing for a hearing Monday.

SA senators motioned Sept. 23 to hold a censure hearing for SA Sen. Jake Corsi, CCAS-G, but SA leaders said the body’s constitution and bylaws offer conflicting guidelines for how censure proceedings should be handled. Leaders said they delayed the censure meeting to clear up confusion about the documents and ensure the SA follows the correct rules.

SA Sen. Brandon Hill, CCAS-U, said Corsi’s “harmful rhetoric” since the senator stepped into his role in the spring has altered the SA senate’s environment. He said Sen. Corsi referred to a racist Snapchat posted from a former sorority president’s account as “just a joke” and called the community forum held for black students after the Snapchat a “segregated event.”

“That type of rhetoric brings up a lot of contrasts to slavery,” Hill said. “We feel like both of those qualify as discriminatory harassment under the Student Rights and Responsibility by the Student Code of Conduct because it creates a hostile environment.”

After the SA senate decides to begin censure proceedings against a senator, the body is required to notify the accused senator at least five days prior to the vote, according to the body’s bylaws. But neither the bylaws nor constitution state a mandatory timeline for when a censure hearing must take place after proceedings are initiated.

A censure would pave the way for the senate to formally reprimand a senator but does not automatically remove the senator from their post, according to the SA bylaws.

SA Sen. Raina Hackett, CCAS-U and the chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Assembly, initiated the motion to begin censure proceedings, which Hill seconded at the SA senate meeting in September. Hackett did not return multiple requests for comment.

Hill added that Corsi should be censured for failing to hold required meetings for a special committee he called for in September to work on infrastructure projects on campus. SA governing documents state that a senator can be censured for not fulfilling their duties.

He said the senate’s censure vote, which requires approval by at least two-thirds of the senate, will likely be a close call because conversations about Corsi’s speech are “bordering the free speech argument” that some people want to protect.

“If the SA does not censure him, I think it is a failure on our part to do our jobs, he said. “It’s deterring people from being members of the Student Association, and frankly I think it will make us look bad.”

Corsi, CCAS-G, said he had heard rumors that senators wanted to remove him and filed a motion to censure him based on comments or actions he has made in the past. He said the censure preceding will demonstrate inconsistencies in the organization’s bylaws and constitution, regardless of the outcome of the hearing.

“The issue at hand is not whatever happens to me, like if they vote to censor and give me A, B or C punishment – it’s more about in the future and how this applies to future students,” he said. “The bylaws and constitution are not clear on how this unfolds, is where I have issue.”

Corsi said the SA granted him an extension to prepare for the upcoming hearing, which delayed the proceeding, because SA members only notified him three days before they planned to hold a hearing. The SA must notify a senator about a hearing they are involved in at least five days prior to the meeting, according to the group’s constitution.

But Corsi said he will only respond to charges SA Executive Vice President Amy Martin or SA Sen. Josh Kim, CPS-G and the senate’s pro tempore, bring against him, because only leaders within the SA senate have the authority to bring on formal charges against a senator.

“How the constitution and bylaws are written now is that the instructions for starting a censure says ‘the senate’ will send the charges,” he said. “So however you want to interpret ‘the senate,’ is there a person who can be representative of the entire body? If I take the article to be the person who speaks for the institution, to me that would be the EVP or the pro temp.”

Martin said the delay in holding a censure hearing is a result of the “conflict of language” in the SA’s constitution and bylaws, which the Student Court relied on when they wrote rules and informed SA members about the censure proceedings.

The SA’s constitution states that the SA Senate must notify a senator of the censuring charges against them least five calendar days before the body votes. But the bylaws dictate that the senate only has to notify a senator that they are the subject of a censure hearing – without mentioning the charges to be brought against them – at least five calendar days before the vote.

“Those timelines are set up to ensure that because we only have two weeks between a meeting, somebody’s getting that full five days to prepare, but we’re going on two months,” Martin said. “There are certain preparations that likely did not change between last meeting and this meeting, but I understood that the conflict came from conflict of language in our governing documents.”

SA Chief Court Justice Wayne Arminavage said he originally drafted rules for the upcoming hearing – and for future censures – declaring that a senator must know the charges against them at least three days before a hearing. 

Arminavage said he assumed Corsi knew about the charges against him without special notification because Corsi attended the September SA meeting, at which senators discussed why they wanted to censure him.

But he said SA and student court leaders decided to delay Corsi’s hearing to give him the five days specified in the senate’s governing documents.

“That’s also why we didn’t push it at all and didn’t want to risk any sort of interpretative error where we pushed through and he wasn’t ready,” Arminavage.

Ella Stern contributed reporting.

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