Graduate student Reps. Shalmi Barman and TCA Achintya announced their resignation from the Honor Committee in a committee-wide email Thursday, citing frustration at the way the Committee and its leadership have functioned over the course of the previous year and how University-wide elections were conducted this spring.
This election cycle, the position for Honor representative for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences appeared on the ballot, with one candidate running uncontested for one of two seats. Previously, Achintya and Barman said the Graduate Council has nominated Honor representatives internally — not through student-wide elections. The Graduate Council is an elected group of Graduate students who are responsible for facilitating interactions of graduate students across departments and schools, manage the GSAS activity fee and overall represent the interests of graduate students at the University.
The Graduate Honor representative position has not appeared on a publicly released University Board of Elections ballot in recent years. If nobody runs for the Honor Representative position, the Graduate Council may elect those positions internally, as they have in the past.
Max Bresticker, chair of UBE and third-year College student, explained the ballot and candidate and registration process in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
In November, Bresticker said he sent student leaders a document containing the rules and regulations for the elections, including positions which would be up for election. The copy Bresticker sent to these leaders was based off of a “legacy spreadsheet” from 2021, and Bresticker said he had made no changes from that document. Students register to run for positions they are interested in based off this list.
Student leaders of organizations which appear on the ballot were then given a chance to provide corrections to Bresticker, who said that the Graduate Council requested positions for the Council itself not be included on the ballot, a change which Bresticker made. Per the Graduate Council’s constitution, voting members of the Graduate Council are elected by each department or degree-granting program in the Graduate School.
The position of Honor Representative for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences was listed under the Honor Committee’s seats — as were all of the other representatives to the Honor Committee — which were then approved by Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student. Andy Chambers, chair of the Honor Committee and fourth-year College student, did not make changes to the document regarding the Graduate School’s representative.
“[Chambers] confirmed that the list of electable Honor seats was correct within the guide," Bresticker said in an email obtained by The Cavalier Daily. "As Honor governs Honor, Andy's confirmation formed the basis for us creating the ballot.”
Bresticker said that his understanding as to why the position has not appeared on visible released ballots over the past years is because nobody ran for it — the seat still appeared on the list of electable positions which had been disseminated, and eligible graduate students may have registered to run for the position in any previous election cycles.
“[There have been] several years of no one actually registering for these positions, and as a result, I think [the Graduate Council] just assumed the default was for them to just go through this whole entire appointment process that it seems to be what they did in the past,” Bresticker said.
Barman and Achintya also cited concerns that the newly-elected Honor representative is not currently a graduate student, but a fourth year.
“We were quite surprised to learn that an open election was being held, not to mention that a student who was not even a graduate student was on the ballot to represent the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences,” Barman and Achintya said.
The new representative is a current fourth-year College student planning on completing a master program during the 2022-23 academic year. Bresticker said that while the candidates were undergoing verification stages to ensure they were eligible to run, the candidate had been flagged as an undergraduate.
Bresticker approached Chambers about the issue — Chambers said he ultimately allowed the representative to run, as he would be enrolled in a graduate program by the time the term started.
However, Achintya and Barman — as well as the Graduate Council — maintain that they do not think the new representative qualifies as a graduate student.
Aaron Thompson, president of the Graduate Council, said in an email to Bresticker obtained by The Cavalier Daily that he thought the election was “offensive and unacceptable.”
“As I understand it, nobody checked the eligibility or history of the position, and now a representative has been thrust upon the Graduate School and Council that we did not approve and whom we've never even met,” Thompson said.
For Achintya and Barman, however, this instance was just one in a “year-long pattern” of “bad faith” leadership in the Honor Committee. The pair cited the Honor Executive Committee “arbitrarily” reverting to in-person meetings following a period during which the Committee met virtually due to the pandemic and subsequently a declaration of all virtual meetings as invalid.
“No votes were taken,” Barman and Achintya said. “No consultation was done.”
Throughout the fall, representatives suggested holding meetings over Zoom to make voting accessible for those unable to attend the meeting in person. Ultimately, Chambers said this would conflict with Robert’s Rules of Order and would not be accepted by the University administration.
Other student groups have met virtually since the beginning of the pandemic and many continue to meet in a hybrid format, including Student Council — the group continues to hold hybrid meetings, during which Student Council’s representative body has voted on and passed legislation.
In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Chambers said he never declared former meetings invalid, and that bylaws enacted while meeting virtually are still on the Honor Committee’s website and have stayed there for the duration of the term.
“I wanted the in-person Committee to ratify all bylaw changes made during virtual session since they were enacted under a governor-mandated state of emergency,” Chambers said. “I did not pull those bylaws, but I wanted the Committee to be answerable for those changes in a public forum for at least their ratification.”
The Honor Committee has been unable to meet quorum since the meeting held Nov. 3rd. In order to internally pass by-law changes or constitutional amendments at least 19 members must be in attendance and 19 of those must vote in favor of amendment or by-law. The meetings have regularly been attended by between 14 and 19 members out of 28 total making it difficult for the committee to hold important votes.
On March 4 referendum to reduce the guilty sanction of expulsion to a two semester leave of absence passed with 4,811 — 80.5 percent — votes in favor. A referendum group has been preparing by-law changes to accompany the referendum.
However, on Monday Chambers announced that he would no longer be calling meetings to order, leaving the responsibility for calling meetings to representatives who desire to hold special meetings for the rest of the term. Benos wrote the Committee Tuesday to notify members that he does not plan to call any special meetings.
“The position espoused at Committee a few weeks ago was that we must meet in smaller groups to create policy and cannot expect the time commitment of a weekly meeting from Honor representatives,” Chambers wrote in an email to the Honor Committee obtained by The Cavalier Daily. “In the interest of dedicating all efforts the Committee can muster toward creating a range of bylaw options for the incoming Committee to decide upon, I will not be calling any more meetings for the rest of the term.”
Barman and Achintya went on to say that they felt “repeatedly silenced and obstructed from carrying out our tasks” in the Committee.
“The organization itself seems determined to do the exact opposite of everything it supposedly expects of the student body,” the two said. “We cannot continue working with a body that inspires no trust in the organization and the values it enforces on others.”
The new Honor Committee will meet publicly for the first time April 9, when it will be responsible for managing the adaptation of the bylaws and case processing that has been left for them by the current Committee.