Students, guests and senators debate morality of #RemoveRohini at SGA meeting
CORRECTION: Due to some confusion, an earlier version of this article claimed that press were forced to leave the room. Actually, the SGA exempted press from their motion to remove non-University affiliates from the room.
The Student Government Association Senate could not finish voting on its first bill of the night.
Nearly five hours into SGA’s Wednesday night meeting, the Senate realized so many of its senators had left that the congress broke quorum. The meeting adjourned with five new appointments to the judicial branch and an Attorney General and Chief of Staff in the executive branch.
Many spectators and speakers remained frustrated by the fallout from the movement to remove SGA Vice President Rohini Sethi from office.
“This isn’t just something that you slap somebody on the wrist for,” said communications junior Destinie Holiday. “We’re addressing systematic racism, institutional racism, and many other things. Why is it that it took this for you to recognize and hear our voices? Why is it that this had to go all over the news or become a hashtag for African Americans to be heard on this campus?”
Enough students, administrators and other spectators packed the Senate Chamber that the fire marshal forced some people to stand outside the doors. To make room for UH students, the Senate started its meeting by passing a motion to expel any non-University affiliated parties and press from the chamber. After some confusion, press was allowed to stay in the room.
Many spectators hoped to see the Senate rescind the bill it passed on the July 27 meeting that allowed SGA President Shane Smith to sanction Sethi. They voiced concern for Sethi’s First Amendment right to free speech at a public university and for the bill’s legitimacy under the SGA constitution.
“Saying that I’m allowed to be physically and culturally diverse but being intellectually diverse is a no-go is the basis of every totalitarian government in history,” said Matthew Wiltshire, a history senior and former justice who resigned last month over the controversy. “What you did during the last meeting was fundamentally wrong. I have lots of letters from people saying they are withdrawing donations to this University. I got one from a guy who donated $50,000 last year.”
In an effort to throw out Smith’s sanctions for Sethi, the Internal Affairs committee suggested Speaker Pro Tempore Leen Basharat was an illegitimate presiding officer. This would make illegitimate any bill, such as the one that allowed for the sanctions, passed under her.
The Senate voted to remove Basharat, then Smith attempted to reinstate former Speaker of the Senate Hugo Salinas as Speaker. When a judge watching the meeting via live stream said he thought the proceedings to remove Basharat were illegal, Smith suggested she simply continue as Speaker for the remainder of the meeting.
Andrew Bahlmann, former Chief of Staff under the current SGA administration, urged the senators and executive branch to act more professionally and to better organize their efforts.
“How many of you senators have read the bylaws and the constitution? How many of the execs have?” Bahlmann said. “Because, frankly, the last three weeks scare me. You’re an organization that has so much power. I’ve gone to every single meeting, and what I don’t see is a unit. I don’t see a team, and that scares me. Right now, this meeting is an exact example of what not to do.”
Kadidja Koné, the marketing sophomore and president of the Black Student Union who has been a frequent advocate for Sethi’s removal, said she respects Rohini as an engineer and “woman of color” but cannot allow the issue to go unpunished.
“The freedom of speech is not what is being questioned or punished,” Koné said. “The problem is: If you represent me, I expect you to understand my struggle, and I expect you to be correct. Do I believe that she’s a racist person? Absolutely not. But do I believe she was an accurate representative of me when she put that post out? No. I gave her my vote. When you no longer can represent your student body, you should not be in office.”
The Senate confirmed the appointments of five alternate justices to the SGA Supreme Court. One of the new justices is MBA candidate Charles Haston, who was SGA president two years ago during the 51st administration.
“I took time off from work and hopped on a plane (to be here) because this organization needs some help,” Haston said. “This has been a rough month for this organization. Clearly this organization needs a little leadership, and I hope that I can provide that on the court.”
The Senate approved Management information systems junior Robert Comer for the Chief of Staff position and political science sophomore Danielle Niangar as Attorney General. Communications junior Seth Crawford, management information systems junior Chris LaMonte and juris doctor candidates Meagan Gann and Dennis Nall were all appointed as alternate justices.
For 20 minutes, the Senate discussed a bill titled “Accountability of Paid Positions,” which would give the SGA Supreme Court sole ability to impose sanctions on other members of SGA. In the middle of voting procedures, the Senate lost quorum, which is the minimum number of senators required to be present to vote on any motions or bills. The meeting adjourned soon after.
The next SGA Senate Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Wednesday in the Senate Chamber.