Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty. -Henry M. Robert
…So reads the epithet from the 644 page door-stop that is Robert’s Rules Of Order. This book maps out parliamentary rules followed by our Nation’s trusted legislative bodies and serves as the backbone of operations for the UA’s own RIC and ASG.
Any fool who’s laid one eye on The Traveler might be aware of the heated climate of politics and power this semester with such issues as Ann Coulter’s visit, University Programs and now, the ASG executive elections. There’s been a poisoned stream of consistency running through all three events, which threatens to harm the virgin-pure process of our little campus experiment in democracy.
The problem lies in the power of voting that senators from both organizations have, when concerning serious and potentially abusive problems that incur with conflict of interest.
Robert’s rules state one should abstain from voting on “a question in which he has a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the organization.” But the rule also acknowledges no member can be stopped from voting on such circumstances.
But in a community as small as the UA, problems arise from allowing this sort of ethical decision to be left to a power hungry politician-in-training. The recourse for not having specific rules in both organizations to address clear conflicts of interest results in the potential inbreeding of money and power.
I’ve seen Deliverance. I know the consequences.
At a previous ASG meeting, ASG Senator and UP President, Dwayne Bensing, spoke eloquently against a resolution to cut UP funds and then voted similarly. The resolution failed by a significant margin, true. But as president and, effectively, a paid representative of UP, Bensing should have been barred from voting, if not speaking.
I spoke to Bensing last week and asked him if he thought there was a problem of conflict of interest with his vote. His answer was a confident “No.” He said the cuts would have occurred the following year, at which time he would have no involvement with UP. In that case, he’s right by the law, but in principle he has abused a hole in the legislative system of our campus.
Similarly, a resolution was introduced to RIC last week to officially support the ASG Prez ticket of its current president Greg Ziser. The resolution, written by RIC’s Vice President imploded, and Ziser had no bearing on the voting. But speaking with him later, he said he saw no conflict of interest with the legislative body of campus residents supporting a single person for an elected position.
His main argument was that RIC should be able to endorse candidates because its role is to, “provide direction [and] help [students] make an informed decision.”
This was not a technical problem; it was flat out ignorance of the principle of conflict of interest.
If politics is the art of controlling your environment, Matt Heath is UA’s best politician. As the College Republicans’ treasurer, UP cultures and concepts committee chair, ASG senator and member of its appropriations committee, Heath managed to get funding for the successful Ann Coulter event and be present for the “No” vote on the ASG resolution on UP funding. In all these voting sessions, however, Heath abstained. On the issue of conflict of interest and his involvement with those issues, Heath told me it simply “wasn’t right” for him to vote. He’s a man of few words, but those were the ones he spoke.
Another guardian of principle was Blake Lawrence, RIC senator and Northwest Quad Prez. Following RIC’s decision to not endorse Ziser, or anyone, in the ASG elections, Lawrence was quoted as saying that “as a legislative body, [RIC] has the obligation to remain neutral” and not influence its constituents. He wasn’t trying to offend Ziser or even debate whether Ziser would make a good ASG president, it was the principle of the matter.
Recently, at an ASG meeting, one senator withdrew her nomination for next year’s Chair. I asked her later why she did it, and she brushed off the question by saying there was some “obscure” – or nit-picky – rule not allowing a member of the elections committee to nominate someone for an ASG office.
The rule is Letter E under the very clear headline of “The Elections Committee,” and states very simply that, “No Elections Committee member shall endorse or campaign in any manner for any ASG candidate other than himself.”
Although the cases above are minor examples, both RIC and ASG need to pass permanent legislation against similar conflicts of interest. While there might be a few with a documented practice of ethics, UA needs to safeguard against intentional acts of abuse, and in the case of the ASG’s elections committee, unintentional acts of unadulterated ignorance.
[Original piece available here.]