Senate confirmation hearings bring up concerns that “rules are being applied willy-nilly”

Senate confirmation hearings bring up concerns that “rules are being applied willy-nilly”

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE FILE

Contention over bylaws, cultural tensions on campus arise in hearings for Judicial Council, Ethnic and Cultural Commission

The May 14 ASUCD Senate meeting was called to order at 6:11 p.m. Vice Controller Alexis Lopez was absent and Chief of Staff Justin Hurst stepped in for Academic Affairs Commission chair Naomi Reeley.

Vice President Akhila Kandaswamy clarified that the ASUCD Judicial Council ruled that Senator Samantha Boudaie could continue as senate pro tempore.

Second-year international relations and history major Jenna DiCarlo, who was recommended by Boudaie, was confirmed as a Judicial Council (JC) member. DiCarlo’s confirmation hearing sparked debate over her previous slate affiliation and her ability to remain impartial as part of the neutral JC.

“What steps have you taken to make yourself unbiased and prevent any association with any slate affiliation?” Senator Khalil Malik asked DiCarlo.

“I like to get both sides of every story,” she said. “Last week, I did say that I had previously run on a slate, but I don’t think that will affect my impartiality at all.”

DiCarlo outlined her experience disaffiliating from her Panhellenic chapter during her time as a Panhellenic recruitment counselor to emphasize her ability to remain impartial. 

“Given that a lot of cases in JC don’t have hard evidence, because it is the word of one student against another, what measures are you going to take to make sure you’re really upholding this welfare of the entire student body when you’re making a decision?” Senator Shreya Deshpande asked.

“Your question actually relates to the trial back in 2019 that I served as a jury on,” DiCarlo said. “A majority of the evidence in that trial was oral evidence, so it was really a matter of what was being said rather than who was saying it.”

When Deshpande asked DiCarlo to name an article and clause in the ASUCD Constitution that outlines the goals of the JC, DiCarlo was unable to provide a clear answer.

“I’m not the best public speaker,” DiCarlo said. 

She again provided an example of her experience on the Panhellenic judicial council as her response to Deshpande’s question.

Senator Camille Randolph asked what DiCarlo thought about last year’s Judicial Council’s ruling that Senate Resolution #17 was unconstitutional on the basis that it benefitted one group of students at the expense of another group. 

The resolution, passed in 2015, urged the UC to “divest from ‘corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.’”

“If I’m presented a case in the future, I will make sure to consider all the evidence and the UC Davis Principles of Community to ensure that my ruling is as fair as possible for all students on campus,” DiCarlo responded. “SR #17 is a precedent, but precedents can be changed.”

In response to DiCarlo’s answer, Randolph said “saying fair and equitable doesn’t have anything tangible.”

“I think having concrete ideas and decisions in the future is something that we, as a table, can agree upon,” Randolph said.

Senator Lucas Fong motioned a roll call vote to confirm DiCarlo to the Judicial Council. DiCarlo was confirmed in an 8-4 vote. Senators Malik, Randolph, Deshpande and Tenzin Youedon voted no — all are members of the BASED slate. Senator Laura Elizalde was the lone BASED senator to vote yes to confirm DiCarlo.

Randolph said they voted no due to DiCarlo’s lack of clear answers to several interview questions. 

The table then moved to quarterly reports.

The DREAM Committee informed the table of efforts to arrange cap and gown rentals in Davis through a drop-off and pickup system, adding that graduating seniors can still take graduation pictures amidst campus closures.

Unitrans General Manager Jeff Flynn delivered the Unitrans quarterly report, addressing reduced lines and a transition to an hourly schedule. 

“In the category of happier news, we are taking advantage of this time to kick off construction on our new unitrans facility that will support electric buses,” Flynn said.

He reported that Unitrans will be operating six electric buses by 2021 and its goal is to operate solely electric buses by 2030.

Elections Committee Chair Karolina Rodriguez delivered the committee’s quarterly report, during which she announced that the committee is searching for students to fill vacancies. She emphasized the importance of continuing to promote ASUCD elections throughout the transition to distance learning.

Aggie Public Arts Committee (APAC) Chair Kinu Koide then delivered the APAC quarterly report. Koide said APAC is working with multicultural clubs and campus organizations to spearhead campus murals celebrating UC Davis’s diversity.

Alexander Cohen delivered the Student Health and Wellness Committee (SHAWC) quarterly report. Cohen announced that SHAWC has seen a recent significant growth in membership. The committee currently has 15 members, which he said is a substantial number considering its relatively new presence in ASUCD.

The next item addressed was the confirmation of the Ethnic and Cultural Commission (ECAC) chair, which sparked heated debate over cultural and ASUCD constitutional issues. 

 Former ECAC Chair Jonina Balabis recommended third-year sociology major Yalda Saii for ECAC chair. Deshpande also recommended Saii for the position. 

“She goes out of her way to make sure she’s listening to other people,” Deshpande said. “She has a strong head on her shoulders.”

Saii was asked about her involvement with ECAC and community outreach.

“There’s always room for improvement in how effectively and how often we reach out to community members on campus,” she said. “At the end of the day, while it is great that we bring our own ideas to the table, we exist to work with marginalized communities on behalf of their interests. The more we reach out to those communities, the more ideas we have for projects.” 

Boudaie asked Saii about her experiences working with the Jewish community on campus, noting that Jewish students have, in the past, felt that ECAC’s outreach to and involvement with the Jewish community has been lacking. Boudaie referenced recent incidents involving anti-Semitism on campus. 

“I don’t know if you know this, but UC Davis has continually ranked as one of the top anti-Semitism universities in the nation, so I think it’s really important that ECAC recognizes that Jewish students are marginalized and deserve respect as well,” Boudaie said.

Saii said ECAC was “very dedicated” to eliminating anti-Semitism at UC Davis. 

“I was part of the commission where we reached out to the Jewish community leaders [following anti-Semitic messages posted around campus], so in that regard, yes,” Saii said, addiing that that effort was done by the commission and not an individual effort.

When Boudaie asked how familiar Saii was with issues surrounding the Jewish community, Saii said she knew Jewish students were being targeted and was open to learning more. 

Boudaie’s next question — about whether Saii believed Jews were indigenous to Israel — received contention from the table. 

Balabis asked for a point of clarification on whether nominees could be questioned on their political ideologies. 

Rotenkolber responded that such interrogation was unconstitutional and Saii could refuse to answer questions if she wanted to do so. 

Boudaie withdrew her question and yielded her time, offering to be a link between the Jewish community and campus organizations to the ECAC.

Senator Roberto Rodriguez Ibarra then asked Saii how she would address celebrations and the stigma that exists around Cinco de Mayo.

She said she would love to make a flowchart about how to respectfully celebrate Cinco de Mayo and all holidays.

Deshpande moved to confirm Saii as ECAC chair. The motion was seconded by Randolph.

Boudaie objected to Deshpande’s motion on the grounds that Saii’s interview process was unconstitutional. 

“While I do think Yalda is a great candidate, the interviewing process was done improperly,” she said. “I think we recognize the due diligence was not taken care of here. Why would you have six different interviewing committees for six different candidates if you wanted to make sure that all the factors are the same if you’re interviewing someone?”

Balabis interjected, announcing to the table that she was not notified of the issue surrounding the interview process until after the interview. Balabis displayed screenshots of messages between herself and all senators involved in Saii’s interview.

Boudaie’s inconsistency sparked backlash from commission chairs, who said Boudaie addressed the constitutionality of the ECAC confirmation, but not the JC confirmation.

Gender and Sexuality Commission (GASC) chair Elena DeNecochea said she didn’t feel the table’s support, calling the commissions similar to lobbyists.

 “A lot of us commission chairs feel completely isolated by this table, and I feel like a lot of you don’t understand your privilege of having a vote at this table,” DeNecochea said. “We [commissions] don’t have voting power at this table, so all we can do is our best to represent our respective communities on campus and bring legislation forward and bring points of clarification forward to make sure we’re not being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist and so on.”

She added that she felt for Balabis given that she had to show receipts as proof of how difficult organizing interviews was due to COVID-19 public health restrictions. 

Elizalde agreed with DeNecochea, saying Boudaie sat in during the two interviews and still didn’t say anything.

Boudaie said she now realized it would not be fair for ECAC to violate the bylaws.

“If you want to talk about being fair, I don’t think it’s fair that you’re picking and choosing when to follow these rules,” Elizalde said. “Earlier with the JC confirmation, you didn’t follow the 48-hour rule there. I didn’t receive my 48-hour notice for my seat on the interviewing committee.”

Senator Mahan Carduny then questioned if the argument was in decorum.

External Affairs Commission chair Shelby Salyer joined DeNecochea and Elizalde in agreement. 

“I’ve been disappointed with this process and I’ve been disappointed with the JC process,” Salyer said. “It feels like rules are being applied willy-nilly. Nobody’s agreed on when to apply rules and when not to apply rules.”

Boudaie said her concerns had nothing to do with partiality and added that when mistakes were made, the table and commissions should be able to work together to fix them. 

“I think that Senator Boudaie brought up a lot of really good points about respecting the bylaws,” Randolph said. “And I think that respect should be continuous.” 

Randolph then moved to suspend bylaw 502(B)(4) to confirm Saii to ECAC chair.

The motion received a 10-0-2 vote. Fong was absent and Senator Juan Velasco abstained.

A second roll call vote to confirm Saii was moved by Randolph. Saii was confirmed as ECAC chair with no objections.

Next, Student Advocate Ashley Lo recommended Emily Barneond as Internal Affairs Commission (IAC) chair.

“I look forward to improving the bylaws in the constitution,” Barneond said.

Lo asked whether the bylaws would be suspended for the IAC confirmation given the controversial JC and ECAC confirmations.

Hurst moved to suspend bylaw 502(B)(4), and Barneond was confirmed.

DeNecochea then presented the candidates for GASC committee member confirmation. Two candidates were present and two others, who were absent, prepared written statements.

The table suspended bylaw 503(B) to allow the two absent members to present their statements.

Jane Casto, a first-year political science and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major, and Nora Martinez, a third-year gender, sexuality and women’s studies major, were present to deliver their statements.

“It is my hope through GASC, we have the opportunity of bridging gaps and building coalitions that we could further educate the members of our community, and turn that education to policy,” Martinez said.

DeNocochea shared written statements by Hailey Lynch, a fourth-year gender, sexuality and women’s studies major and Laura Nickol, a fourth-year international relations major.

Malik moved to confirm all GASC nominations. All candidates were confirmed with no objections.

Kandaswamy moved to consider ASUCD Senate Bills #55, #56, #57 and #58. Krueger signed and passed all legislation in consideration.

Randolph moved to consider Senate Bill #62 as emergency legislation. The emergency legislation was drafted to define the resignation process for ASUCD Senate Pro Tempore in the event that one steps down again.

Senate Bill #62 passed in a 9-1-1 vote. Senator Velasco abstained.

Senate Bills #53, #55, #58 and Senate Resolution #18 were then introduced and considered.

Senate Bill #53 addressed Robert’s Rules, the standard set of parliamentary procedure that the vast majority of all legislative bodies in the U.S. use. Under SB #53, the rules will now work as suggestions rather than as mandatory procedures.

Senate Bill #55 passed with an 11-0-1 vote, with Fong absent. SB #55 serves to update the bylaws to respect constitutional changes to the ASUCD Vice President position. 

Senate Bill #58 passed with an 11-0-1 vote. The bill reforms the way that stipends work in ASUCD and classifies students receiving stipends into four categories, each with its own maximum and minimum pay rate. 

Senate Resolution #19 was introduced by GASC and demands compensation for student employees affected by the UCPath payroll failures during Fall Quarter. The resolution asks for a minimum compensation payment of $450 to all employees affected. Students who were affected by UCPath payroll issues already received a $50 gift card as compensation, but this resolution says that was not enough. The resolution passed in an 11-0-1 vote.

Senate Bill #57 was also passed by unanimous vote. The legislation updates the roles and duties of the ASUCD management team, the controller and budget hearings procedures, requiring that all senators be present at budget hearing meetings. 

The Business and Finance Commission introduced Senate Bill #56, which passed unanimously, to create a budget for the “Better Business Practices/Pilot Program.” The reallocated budget ensures that ASUCD units will have access to the resources needed to start new programs and different business models.

Written by: Hannah Blome — campus@theaggie.org

Editor’s Note: The California Aggie will be directly affected by SB #58. The Aggie is a unit of ASUCD and must follow its rules around pay. Aggie guidelines explicitly prohibit Aggie staff from being a member of the ASUCD government or from working on the team of a member of the ASUCD government.