The University of Tulsa’s Student Association spends more time making problems than fixing them, leading to petty internal debates.
We have a contentious election upon us. Alert the media! Send out your journalists! Did you know the University of Tulsa was so distraught with electoral conflict? Me neither.
Every time I look at my semester bill, I’m mildly surprised to see a Student Association fee. Then, of course, I realize that every student is a member of SA, thus prompting semesterly member fees. In being so, we are to be properly represented, active and agentive in this significant organization.
Or, at least, that’s the ideal. However, in practice, SA appears rather insular and enigmatic to many students, SA’s very own members. With their stratified positions, SA executives, cabinet members and senators attempt to serve purposeful roles on campus. Yet, the student body at large has no understanding as to what SA actually does, who to go to for specific help and what any of these priggish titles even mean. This is not necessarily the fault of any SA members, senators or executives. Much of this lack of awareness on SA activity and efforts simply comes from a lack of interest in their actions. If SA isn’t giving out shirts, do students think twice about the organization? Does Senate take the bills sittin’ on Capitol Hill and turn them into laws? Would I, as a student, know and care about it?
On the other hand, SA activity also appears veiled in bureaucratic procedure and nonessential busyness (though there is much to commend the institution for its attempts at creating a stratified, rules-based and inefficient bureaucracy). It makes a difference whether I submit my concerns as complaints instead of appeals. Any student concerns need to be funneled through a complicated, inefficient tunnel of SA committees, officers and advisors. Which of the Senate committees do I go to in order to voice my concerns? The MAC, GOC, UIC or SOC? How much paperwork does it take to get five pizzas for my club? Why am I scared that I’ll lose pizza funding if I criticize SA? Should I use my personal connections so I can be heard within SA and resolve my organization’s issues? Is that patron-clientelism? Is this corruption? Does it matter?
Because of both disinterest and inaccessibility, students know little about the SA Judicial’s latest court opinion in Splain v. Williams. Justices, after a long night of arguments, deliberations and discussion, summarized and published their Opinion on Fall 2021 Senate Elections Certification in an eight page document to prove their efficacy and earnestness in interpreting the preeminent SA Constitution.
On Sept. 18, Chief Justice Lauren Agpoon and Director of Membership and Chief Elections Officer Caroline Williams certified and finalized the results from the Fall 2021 Senate Elections. In doing so, one particular election result for the Commuter Senate seat contained a mistake: one candidate’s name and voting results did not appear on the certified results. This student emailed Director Williams, inquiring on this omission and upon further investigation. Williams found the error; the student’s name and results were not copy-pasted to the final results document. She then “proceeded to respond to the candidates involved, assess the alleged error with Chief Justice Agpoon, and post the newly certified results.” Williams apologized for the error and referred to the disclaimer noted on the certified results documents stating that results are subject to change pending complaints.
Then, on Sept. 19, Hunter Splain (who had previously won the seat before the results were amended) filed a Writ of Election, claiming the former results ought to stand. Stating Williams violated Elections Code and Certified Elections Code by publishing new results post-certification of the original ones, Splain argued that the corrected results were “null and void on the basis that the previously published results were already certified by Director Williams and Chief Justice Agpoon.” Splain “demanded that Director Caroline Williams resign from her position as Chief Elections Officer” while requesting her to issue a public apology and explanation.
First, what a procedure! We love that our precious votes matter and are properly accounted for and certified by two SA officers. What a beautiful testament to this rules-based procedure. Second, I understand that mistakes happen, but a copy-paste error? Child’s play. That mistake within itself seems quite unattentive, but I do appreciate its quick and deliberate correction. Then comes the drama.
Despite Williams’ issued apology and the fact that the results were not altered, Splain demands a resignation? Hunter, you pretty clearly lost. With Senate seat winners gaining more than 20 votes each, Splain earned 11. (Also, I’m pretty sure we have more than 71 commuters on this campus; why were there only 71 total voters for the Commuter Senate seat?) This demand for a resignation and appeal to the Judicial Council to overturn the new results among other demands is quite the overreaction. The Judicial Council stayed up past midnight so that Splain could complain and express grievances over a Senate seat that people don’t even know he lost. In doing so, SA had to close in their ranks, defending their internal procedures and bureaucratic mandates. What a committed organization!
After a multiple hour deliberation, SA Judicial Council concluded that the original results were incorrect by an unintentional mistake, Director Williams justifiably published the new results and that the new results stand. In doing so, the Judicial Council published their court opinion, writing in the most legalistic jargon, quoting directly from the ever significant SA Constitution and even referencing Marbury v. Madison in an eight page document. The opinion included numerous quotes from the Election Codes with meticulous citing of the specific section, subpart and paragraph. The justices flooded these pages with countless references to the Elections Code and SA Constitution in order to defend their authority in this ruling. It makes me wonder: who was this opinion written for? Is it an exhausted attempt to combat Splain’s petty complaints with forceful assertions of SA authority? Does SA expect us, as students, to have read this Code? Are they merely trying to earn respect? Or, do they simply take themselves too seriously?
In my opinion, this case is an attempt at pronouncing the tireless, serious work of SA as an institution. Asserting their objectivity in this court ruling, they write, “This judicial body serves to protect the integrity of Student Association and its members, and to do this, the SA Constitution and supporting documents must be upheld to the highest standard.”
What a climactic event, right? How intense! How provocative! Though I commend SA Judicial for their detailed and careful deliberation of this appeal, why does this matter? Does the SA Constitution require such judicious protection? How does this matter ultimately impact the student body at large?
I would like to acknowledge that SA executives put in long hours for this university, planning events, working through university-wide issues and attempting to improve the campus environment (i.e. Homecoming week and University Improvements Council’s work on the blue light poles). However, at what point is their work meaningful for students beyond their bureaucratic structure? At what point does the SA Judicial Council resolve external problems that concern multiple students? This case is a prime example of SA working on SA problems. This does not affect the student body as a whole. It is a petty dispute between an individual within the organization, against the organization.
I commend them for their tireless work defending the SA Constitution, but I am wary about whether their work in Splain v. Williams serves a meaningful purpose besides resolving an individual, internal dispute that affects minimal parts of the student body. This case entailed a SA Senate seat whose very constituency (TU commuters) probably know little about who holds that seat, how to communicate with them and what they can do for them. Despite the view that SA Judicial intends to work for the student body at large, how often do (by virtue of their job description) they simply resolve internal SA disputes that do not concern other students?
And if you’re worried about Hunter Splain and his overturned Senate seat, don’t worry. Per the Judicial Council’s recommendation that “if there are any vacant seats for the Fall 2021 Senate Elections, the Vice President should appoint the Plaintiff, Hunter Splain, to a seat”, Splain was appointed to another position, without a vote, given this debacle and his past work within SA Senate.
SA resolves itself, within itself. And students at TU don’t know nor care about it. SA may take themselves too seriously, but I guess the same could be said about me concluding this article.
Last issue, The Collegian published an article, “SA takes themselves very seriously,” in the commentary section which included factual errors we wish to clarify. The original article misstated that the 71 votes in the commuter election reflected 71 voters, when in fact each voter is allotted two votes; in fact only about 35 voters participated in this election. The article also misnamed the University Improvements Committee, erroneously calling it the University Improvement Council. The article stated that Hunter Splain was appointed to his position in the Senate without a vote; Splain was approved through committee and senate body without a student vote. Lastly, while the judicial council does exist to resolve disputes within SA, every student’s automatic membership in SA should qualify them for potential litigation. We did, however, elect to add a sentence which will hopefully clarify matters a little.