Internal Divisions Surface over SGO Impeachments, Nominations

This past Sun., Dec. 9, after a heated appeal process, the executive board of the Student Government Committee voted 3-2 to reverse Class of 2019 senator Cam Wiley’s impeachment. Shortly after Wiley regained his standing, President Gilbert Orbea ’19 nominated him for the newly open position of Appointments committee chair, a nomination which the Senate failed to confirm. After a night of acrimonious debate that divided many of its members, its leaders look to prevent similar turmoil in the coming semester.

Before Wiley presented his appeal to the board, members were at odds regarding the nature of the previous week’s impeachments. They had voted to impeach Wiley seven days prior, along with two other senators. All three had become eligible for impeachment as a result of the attendance policy stating that senators can miss no more than four out of nine total general meetings. 

The board had voted on three of the impeachments in person and voted not to impeach two other eligible senators over Facebook. Some members of the Senate, including Wiley, felt that this was an unequal and unfair implementation of the process. Though both Capossela and Orbea agreed the impeachment process had not gone smoothly, they went back and forth about which plan of action to take during the meeting.

“We shot ourselves in the foot by taking the organization seriously for the first time ever,” Orbea said.

When Orbea invited Wiley to the stand to give his appeal, Wiley pulled up the attendance policy on the projector, emphasizing its provision for extenuating circumstances, and detailed his medical excuses for two absences, those on November 4 and November 11. He mentioned that he had missed classes on those weeks as well.

Orbea, Academic Affairs chair Siddharth Ramachandran ’20 and Durkson voted in favor of repealing Wiley’s impeachment; Capossela and Student Organizations chair Akshay Srinivasan ’21 voted against it.

“My view of extenuating circumstances was, ‘My mom passed away and that’s why I had to miss a total of five,’ because I think missing four in a semester allows for mental health days, a visit to the doctors’, you know, that’s half of our meetings…which is why I didn’t vote for Cam to come back into the institution,” Capossela said.

However, the executive board members who approved Wiley’s appeal interpreted the language of the constitution differently.

“To the matter of Cam’s impeachment and hearing, I think the facts stand that on the raw technical basis of constitutional review, Cam was not eligible to be impeached and a vote in favor of his impeachment would have been unconstitutional and biased,” Diversity chair Ken’delle Durkson ’20 said.

The meeting demonstrated that the upper ranks of SGO also struggle with attendance. Only five members of the ten-member board were present to vote on the appeal. Two, impeached Environmental Affairs chair Austin Yanez ’21 and former Appointments chair Joshua Siegel ’20, are no longer part of the board, while Student Life chair Kanhav Thakur ’20, Student Outreach chair Pei Yi Mei ’21 and Visual & Performing Arts Chair Will Bein ’21, who was ill, were absent. Siegel, who was eligible for impeachment because he had accumulated five absences, vacated the Appointments seat last week after announcing plans to study abroad next semester.  Mei will resign from her position next semester.

The subsequent general meeting was even more contentious than the executive board meeting, as the Senate began the process of filling multiple open seats left by impeachments, resignations and unexpected departures. Orbea announced his nomination of Wiley as Appointments chair. He stated that he nominated Wiley because he has the most seniority on the committee, having been a member for two years, and because of his interest in taking on the position during his last semester at the college.

“I think that [Wiley] would have put in the amount of work required and he would have stepped up into the demands of the position,” Orbea said. “I just said if it’s the last semester and he wants to do this, he doesn’t have to, so I’m going to take it as a sign that he’s motivated enough to want to.”

The constitution makes an exception to the special election policy for the chairs of the Appointments and Student Organizations committees, giving power to the President to nominate a current member, whom a two-thirds senate majority the confirms. Patrick McAnally ’21, Ash Shukla ’22, Dawson Epstein ’21, and Wiley are the current members of the Appointments committee; Epstein, Wiley and Shukla have expressed interest in taking on the position.

The Appointments committee selects students to be members of college committees that include administrators and faculty members, most recently the Task Force on Student Social Events and Community Standards (often referred to as the Greek Life committee), the Dining Advisory Committee and the Title IX transition team, from applications that students submit.

In the past, Appointments has also selected the members of the Student Budget Committee, but as of this Oct., this responsibility instead belongs an ad hoc committee consisting of the SBC chair and chairs emeriti, the SGO president and two Office of Student Engagement administrators.

Wiley spoke to the Senate about problems with SGO that he intended to fix as chair as well as his qualifications.

Capossela then implored the committee not to confirm Wiley. She said to the Senate that in a private conversation with her, Wiley had threatened to resign and publish a statement through The Phoenix about these inadequacies and his disagreements with the impeachment process of SGO if he were not confirmed. The Phoenix has not received these statements as of the publication of this article. Wiley also declined to comment to The Phoenix.

Another aspect that surfaced during Capossela’s speech was the fact Siegel had recommended that Shukla be nominated as Appointments chair in his place. Though Orbea and Capossela approached Shukla about chairing the committee on Dec. 2, Orbea and Capossela met again with Shukla on Dec. 7, after Wiley had notified Orbea of his desire to chair the committee on Dec. 6. Orbea told Shukla that he was inclined to nominate Wiley as the chair because of his two years of experience on the committee on Dec. 7, according to Shukla.

“What I said [to Orbea and Capossela] was, basically, it would be cool to take over as chair of Appointments or one of the other committees, but if I had an option, I would want to maybe take over as chair of Student Outreach, because now that we don’t appoint people to SBC, it feels like there’s not a lot of room for growth in the Appointments committee,” Shukla said. “We really only complete tasks that are delegated to us by other people.”

Throughout the discussion about the nomination during the general meeting, according to present senators, Orbea pushed for a vote and reminded the delegation of his constitutional power of nomination.

“Gilbert didn’t really want to debate or anything about whether or not Cam should be appointed to the committee, he just wanted to vote,” Class of 2021 senator TJ Thomas said. “I was like, ‘Why didn’t Gilbert tell us this, that the appointments chair literally recommended someone else to be the chair of appointments… If [Cam] hasn’t done anything in his entire time here, why should we be rewarding him with this position?”

“The president nominating someone and everyone immediately voting on it isn’t the most democratic process,” Shukla said.

The Senate voted against Wiley’s confirmation. Six members voted in favor of appointing him, twelve voted against and four abstained.

A significant part of the pre-vote discussion centered around the format of the meeting itself. Some senators felt that they did not have enough time to consider the replacement for the position and the nature of the meetings on Sunday. Durkson feels that the process disadvantaged Wiley.

“I think the meeting was extremely intense and confusing for many and that was because we didn’t have a calm and collected conversation where two candidates could present their case to the senate,” Durkson said. “The impeachment proceedings— and the subsequent conversations after—really took a toll on Cam’s chances of becoming appointments chair.”

As SGO has no more meetings this semester, the Appointments chair position will remain vacant until January.  Combined with the departure of Amatullah Brown ’20 to study abroad, there will be five or more new positions to fill out of 30 total Senate seats.

According to the constitution, “the holding and manner of special elections will be at the discretion of the President, including the ability to form an Elections Committee.”  The constitution states that open elections must be held for positions that vacate in the first semester of a term, excepting for the chairs of the two committees previously mentioned. However, the senators who will replace those moving into the executive board will be determined by closed election.

Orbea and Capossela stated that next semester, they will clearly lay out the attendance policy: there are no excused absences. Five absences means a senator is automatically impeached — not just eligible for impeachment — and they then will have the chance to appeal. Capossela also intends to create a point team to handle impeachment proceedings in meetings separate from weekly Sunday meetings.

“This will never happen again under my watch,” Capossela said. “We will never again waste so much time talking about one individual during main SGO meetings. I think we need to start prioritizing bigger-picture issues rather than micro-dramas that occur within our own institution.”

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to more accurately reflect the nature of the departure of certain members from SGO.

Bayliss Wagner

Bayliss '21 is from Vienna, VA. She is majoring in English literature and minoring in computer science and French.

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