In the wake of a decline in attendance at meetings, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) is considering the proposal of a new constitutional amendment regarding attendance and impeachments, according to an email sent by the Vice President of the WSA Aidan Martinez ’17 to the WSA representatives on April 19.
“I will be proposing a constitutional amendment which will give some punitive teeth to the Chief of Staff,” Martinez wrote in the email.
Presently, Article II, section VI.05 of the WSA bylaws states that any member who accumulates three total absences from General Assembly meetings during one semester that are not excused by the Chief of Staff shall be subject to impeachment proceedings and potential recall. Impeachment, according to article VIII, section VIII.01, can occur if members of the WSA fail to fulfill their responsibilities to their constituents, the College Body, and/or the assembly.
According to the email, there was “dismal” attendance at the last Sunday’s meeting, which did not meet quorum. This seems to be part of the reason these proceedings have been set in motion.
“I missed a lot of meetings this semester, but none were in my control,” Martinez wrote in his email. “….I fear that my absence may have encouraged some of you to do the same, but that’s inexcusable…. To those of you who contact[ed] [Chief of Staff] John Henry [Vansant ’18] and were excused, great, but to the rest of you, I’m going to bring up impeachment for those who missed three meetings.”
Martinez explained in this email that if a member is impeached, the attendance records will publicly reflect that action. He further implied that he would contact members’ future employers regarding attendance issues at assembly meetings.
“Those of you who are ditching, you will not have an ally in me, and I have been known to contact employers to not hire people,” he wrote.
Martinez followed up on the evening of April 21 in a second email to the WSA representatives.
“While the email I sent out was strong, I in no way intended to jeopardize anyone’s employment,” he wrote in the email. “….I realize I should’ve given it a second look over to make sure my message was coherent.”
In the original email, Martinez also stated that those who had an unexcused absence from the last meeting will be required to attend Bystander Intervention Training. This training will also be mandatory for those who have been missing committee meetings.
“I will be talking to committee chairs, and to those of you who have missed committee meetings but not WSA meetings, you must also attend [Bystander Intervention Training],” he wrote.
One WSA senator, who wished to remain anonymous, objected to the idea of punishing students with Bystander Intervention.
“I also think that [the mention of] Bystander Intervention was unnerving because it trivializes Bystander Intervention,” the senator said. “If Bystander Intervention is a punishment, then what is the message we are sending about Bystander Intervention? It’s a quid-pro-quo: If you don’t go to meetings, we will punish you by making you go to Bystander Intervention.”
Previous representatives on the WSA weighed in on this new proposed amendment, as well as on the email. George Pollack ’17, a former member of the WSA, spoke about his feelings regarding the original email, specifically the idea of threatening to call future employers.
“While I fully respect that there are situations out of people’s control, I think it was hypocritical to concede to missing quite a few meetings and then condemn others for doing something similar,” Pollack said. “In addition, threatening these peoples’ respective futures by calling their employers goes against the spirit of Wesleyan and is unnerving to me.”
Another member of the class of 2017, who has previously worked with Martinez and wished to remain anonymous out of concern about retaliation, expressed that the original email was not entirely unexpected.
“Unfortunately, this email represents exactly what we’ve come to expect,” the student said.
On April 19, after The Argus reached out to several WSA members for comment, Martinez expressed his opinion about any alleged complaints in a voicemail to an Argus editor.
“I think these attacks against me are ridiculous,” Martinez said. “And honestly this needs to end now because I am not about to put up with this for the rest of my senior year.”
Martinez suggested that an article on this subject could result in legal action.
“I hope that this doesn’t have to go to court,” he said.
Martinez did not respond to initial requests made for further comment on April 19, though in response to a second request he forwarded to The Argus the April 21 email in which he stated that he does not intend to contact employers.
The WSA senator weighed in on the new proposed amendment and the fact that attendance has been dismal. The attendance records, available in full online earlier this week, have been amended to only reflect attendance beginning at the March 27 meeting.
“First and foremost, attendance has been poor, so that’s not contrived; it’s totally true,” the senator said. “And I think that the WSA, like any group, organization, whatever, has a responsibility to encourage and mandate attendance and has the right and responsibility to give out punitive measures for people who don’t attend regularly. [Impeachments] are necessary to maintain a level of seriousness for the WSA.”
The WSA has impeached members before. On Jan. 31, 2016, the WSA voted to impeach a member for attendance issues.
However, the WSA senator added that he was caught off guard by certain parts of the email and the threat of punishments for lack of attendance.
“I think that where it crossed a line with many people was when allusions were made to contacting future employers,” the senator said. “I think that whether that comment was made in jest or satire…it was incredibly bad form, it was inappropriate. It’s a disservice to the entire [WSA] body—and I mean the institution, not the people in it—because it disincentivizes participation.”
WSA President Kate Cullen ’16 discussed the dynamics on the WSA.
“I’ve tried to be diligent this year about bringing those conversations into the open by creating an in-depth mid-year feedback survey…inviting all new members to have lunch, holding weekly Open Forum sessions during Sunday meetings where members can speak their minds, and generally checking in with all members to see how we can improve,” Cullen wrote in an email to The Argus.
She added that the impeachments are by no means a threat. Rather, she wrote, they are part of a mandated procedure to ensure all members are attending meetings.
“Every year the WSA…struggle[s] with maintaining high attendance through all meetings, but addressing this problem is mandated in our bylaws and stricter because we are an elected body,” she wrote.
Rebecca Hutman ’17 and Nila Ravi ’18, the newly elected WSA President and Vice President, respectively, spoke to the issue of attendance.
“Attendance is not a new issue for the WSA,” Hutman and Ravi wrote in an email to The Argus. “Next year, we hope to improve attendance by making the WSA a dynamic environment where members attend not from a sense of obligation, but rather because they see their participation as important and impactful. We think that the WSA already has the enforcement mechanisms necessary to ensure more robust participation in General Assembly meetings; the answer to low attendance is to create more opportunities for direct participation and contribution in GA so that members feel that their attendance is vital.”
The proposed constitutional amendment could be brought to the floor this Sunday at the WSA’s Constitutional Review.