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Impeachment hearing unprecedented

Eileen Duffy | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

While Morrissey senator Greg Dworjan’s impeachment is not the first decision of its kind for the Student Senate, impeachment due to ethical infractions – such as the two Dworjan committed – is unprecedented in the group’s 38-year history.

Last year, when Stanford senator David Thaxton went abroad, the Senate was forced to officially impeach and remove him from office in his absence, simply to find a replacement.

“That wasn’t very contentious,” said student body vice president Bill Andrichik. “In fact, I’m pretty sure it was unanimous.”

Dworjan’s case, however – which will come before the Senate again tonight – has required a bit more thinking on student government’s part.

The senator was found guilty of violating two articles in the Constitution of the Undergraduate Student Body. First, he used the LaFortune student government office’s copy machine to make flyers urging voters to abstain in the run-off election – but the Constitution prohibits campaigning anywhere in LaFortune outside of the basement and first floor.

Second, he posted the flyers without the required stamps of approval from the Office of Student Activities and the Judicial Council.

But when Andrichik discovered the incriminating flyers next to the copy machine and again stumbled upon them in the Hesburgh Library, he had no idea who had broken the rules.

When he brought these allegations to the Executive Committee of the Judicial Council, the group determined they were not actual election violations – but that it was clear, from the presence of campaign materials in the student government office, that unethical behavior was going on. At that point, Dworjan came forward to accept responsibility, and the case was sent to the Student Union Ethics Committee.

Dealing with the case has been a foray into uncharted waters for student government – Observer archives show no history of a senator being impeached for an ethical infraction. “This is the first type of impeachment hearing procedure I’ve seen,” said Director of Student Activities Brian Coughlin, who has been at his post for six years.

What’s more, the Ethics Committee’s main purpose is usually to select a member of the Student Union to receive the Michael J. Palumbo award for service and dedication to the Student Union. As Kozlow said, “We rarely ever have hearings.”

Still, it was decided Andrichik and Dworjan would present their cases before the Ethics Committee, which they did last Tuesday. The Committee then voted 7-1 that Dworjan’s use of student government resources was a violation of ethics and decided in a vote of 4-3-1 to recommend the Senate impeach Dworjan. As a testament to the newness of the event, Kozlow drafted a Bill of Impeachment.

A majority of the Senate signed that bill last Wednesday, officially impeaching Dworjan.

“A lot of people didn’t know abstaining was an option that still counted as a vote. It was more an educational thing than out of spite – I didn’t dislike any of the candidates personally,” Dworjan said of his actions. “I didn’t hide the fact that I made the posters.”

Dworjan also said that while he was familiar with most aspects of the Constitution, he probably hadn’t read the entire 59-page document “cover to cover.” He said he figured the part about getting certain approval to post flyers would never pertain to him.

“But every senator, at the beginning of [his] term, swore an oath to uphold that Constitution,” Andrichik said. “So … it’s probably a good idea for life in general, if you’re going to swear an oath to uphold something, to be fairly familiar with the document.”

Tonight, Dworjan faces removal from office – a verdict that requires the support of two-thirds of the Senate’s voting membership (that is, dorm senators and one off-campus senator).

“I think the question is whether or not the violation warrants the punishment. I’m taking part in the democratic process by helping educate voters about their options, and I might get kicked out of Senate for that?” Dworjan said. “That’s like having a $100 punishment for a two dollar crime.

“It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

In the speech he gave before the Senate last Wednesday, Dworjan lamented the group’s inability to enact significant change – a concern that’s persisted through Notre Dame history.

In fact, in 1972, three years after its establishment, the Student Senate was abolished because it was considered ineffective. It was reinstated in 1981, but in 1985, then-student body president Bill Healy, his vice president Duane Lawrence and other student leaders again made a push to disband the Student Senate.

“Student Senate doesn’t do anything,” Lee Broussard, manager of the Student Activities Board – the former Student Union Board – told The Observer in an Oct. 15, 1985 article. “A bunch of people debate things and they don’t accomplish anything.”

The 1985 proposal ultimately failed – but concerns about the Senate’s role in student government remain.

On Wednesday, Dworjan criticized the “overly specific” provisions of their Constitution, calling for a complete re-drafting of the document and proposing the creation of student government laws. He also asked Senate members not to sanction those who celebrate the democratic process.

“In this Senate, which is sometimes criticized for doing so little, I hope that our contribution to the Senate is that we may again find the voice of the people in this body,” he said. “I invite all of you to join in the search for that voice.”