Dillon Hall senator to resign prior to impeachment proceedings
Observer Staff Report | Thursday, September 24, 2020
Senior Michael Dugan, who serves as Dillon Hall’s senator, has resigned from his student government position effective 6 p.m. Thursday, at the start of the senate meeting scheduled to take place at the same time.
(Editor’s Note: Dugan is a former News Writer and Systems Administrator at The Observer.)
The decision to step down comes amid controversy sparked by a Letter to the Editor sent by Dillon officials — including Dugan — in which they criticized the delay to hear a piece of legislation that would prevent Student Union organizations from utilizing funds in companies that profit from prison labor.
According to the Student Union Ethics Commission’s recommendation letter sent to Dugan, the Commission unanimously found him to be in violation of three expectations of ethical conduct, including showing “disregard for the authority of the Student Union,” injuring “the good name of the Student Union” and undertaking actions that are “deemed unbecoming by the Senate.”
The closed door ethics allegation hearing took place Tuesday at 9:45 p.m. over Zoom.
After reviewing such violations, the Ethics Commission moved to “unanimously recommend that a Bill of Impeachment be brought before the student senate,” according to a letter acquired by The Observer.
The Ethics Commission is chaired by Judicial Council President, junior Matthew Bisner, and comprised of “randomly selected members” of Student Union organizations, according to the Judicial Council’s website. This academic year’s members include Thomas Davis, Student Union parliamentarian; Curt Gouldin, Hall President’s Council co-chair; Mariah Horvath, Junior Class Council; Koryn Isa, First-Year Class Council; Sara Kirsch, Breen-Phillips Hall senator; Kyle McAvoy, Sophomore Class Council; Kate McLauglin, Student Union Board; Ryan Mullin, Senior Class Council; and Nick Poole, Club Coordination Council.
As stated in the Student Constitution, whenever the Ethics Commission finds a senator’s misconduct merits removal, a Bill of Impeachment is brought before the senate’s next meeting. A majority vote in this student government branch accounts for impeachment. If this is achieved, a hearing is subsequently conducted.
Facing this situation, Dugan sent an email to the Judicial Council expressing his intention to resign at the start of Thursday’s meeting.
“I believe that my fighting the [Bill of Impeachment] would be disrespectful to the time of the other members of the senate,” Dugan wrote in the email acquired by The Observer. “I believe, since these allegations have been brought against me in that capacity, that this would make the issue moot, and it would allow the senate to continue pursuing its agenda unimpeded by impeachment proceedings.”
According to the email, Dugan “firmly disagrees” with the Ethics Commission’s recommendations and said that removal from office was unwarranted given the situation.
Moreover, the senator expressed concerns about the consequences the decision could invoke within student government, particularly surrounding the lack of free speech protections in the Student Constitution.
“The decision is sure to have a chilling effect on free speech, and other senators who wish to speak out and contest the actions of the Chair of Senate may find themselves backed into a corner,” Dugan wrote. “I strongly recommend that [a free speech] clause be added to the Constitution in the future, so as to limit sorts of liability for speaking truthfully in a manner that does not breach confidentiality requirements.”
So, what happened in the Senate?
During the Sept. 17 meeting, members of the senate discussed three different pieces of legislation: an order to make $10,000 available from the Student Union COVID-19 Response Financial Account, another order to suspend late-comer elections and an order proposing an amendment to the Constitution replacing the Executive Programming Board with the Executive Committee.
According to emails obtained by The Observer, Dugan submitted a resolution entitled Order Amending the Constitution to Prohibit Student Union Investments in and Consumption of Forced and Prison Labor on Monday at 2:40 p.m. to be included in the senate agenda. Senior Sarah Galbenski, student body vice president and chairwoman of the senate, informed Dugan that his resolution would not be included in this week’s senate agenda because it was submitted after the Sunday evening deadline, and the meeting was already at capacity with three other orders to discuss and an additional presentation.
Dugan pushed back in an email response urging Galbenski to reconsider.
“I have a large concern about delaying this, as delaying this would continue to leave the Student Union without a concrete policy on profiting from forced labor and prison labor,” Dugan wrote in an email provided to the Observer. “I believe that this is a significant and weighty moral issue and that we have a moral obligation to swiftly take action to correct this.”
He cited Article III, Section 4(g) of the Student Union Constitution which reads, “Any member of the Senate, non-voting or voting, shall possess the right of agenda.” Galbenski agreed with the significance of the issue in an email, but cited her right as chairwoman to “set the agenda in alignment with what constitutes efficient and effective operation of the Senate.”
When asked for comment, Galbenski said she could only confirm Dugan’s resignation.
Dugan, along with Dillon Hall representatives, then wrote a Letter to the Editor describing Dugan’s intent to include the Order Amending the Constitution to Prohibit Student Union Investments in and Consumption of Forced and Prison Labor in the agenda to no avail. The order was spearheaded by Dugan and Club Coordination Council President, senior Ricardo Pozas Garza.
“Alas, this Thursday, the senate will not see this order for debate. Why? Because student body vice president Sarah Galbenski, who serves as the ex officio chair of the student senate, is refusing to allow the senate to hear this piece of legislation then,” Dugan wrote in the Letter to The Observer, titled, “Student government must not punt on addressing prison labor.”
However, other student government officials — including senators, sophomores Grace Franco, Margaret Allen, Michael J. Murakami, Patrick O. Lee, Henry Jackson and Sara Kirsch, and class presidents, sophomore Renee Pierson and senior Sam Cannova — saw this as a direct affront to Galbenski, and sent a Letter to the Editor as well.
“This letter, written by members of the Dillon Hall Council, was both misleading and inflammatory,” the officials wrote. “The senate attacks issues, not people.”
“Today we, members of the student senate, want to set the record straight,” the letter said.
The letter asserted Galbenski was not attempting to pick and choose bills to debate, rather, “the meeting was simply full,” something the student body vice president conveyed to Dugan in an email.
Nevertheless, Dugan expressed that Galbenski’s justification of having the right “to set the agenda in alignment with what constitutes efficient and effective operation of the senate in [her] judgement,” as the senator wrote in the letter, was problematic.
“This holding would allow for the student body vice president to simply deny debate time to any bill that she does not support, which fundamentally undermines the ability of the senate to be a free and open forum through which students can advance the position of the undergraduate student body on issues relevant to campus life,” the Dillon Hall Council members wrote.
In response, the student government officials commended Dugan’s “passion for fostering a better community,” but wrote that the “personal attacks” on Galbenski were unwarranted. Moreover, they criticized the senator for singling out the vice president in a social media post uploaded to Instagram — an action which the Ethics Committee perceived as a violation.
In the midst of such controversy, the officials called on the student body to listen to both sides of the debate before formulating personal opinions.
“With this in mind, we as the student senate would like to encourage the student body to view the recording or peruse the minutes from last week’s senate meeting and form their own opinions about the situation with full context,” they wrote.
After Dugan’s resignation is effective at 5:59:59 p.m. today, the office of Dillon Hall senator will be considered vacant.
The Judicial Council will move to begin vacancy election procedures under Article XIV protocols, Bisner said in an email.
Article XIV, Section 3(a) of the Student Union Constitution reads, “In the event of a vacancy in an elected office due to resignation or recall, a new election shall be held within two academic weeks.”
Editor’s Note: Notre Dame news editor Serena Zacharias and News Writer Maria Luisa Paul contributed to this report.