Additional reporting for this article done by Alex Wilson.
In the past two weeks, the Vassar Student Association (VSA) has found itself at the center of controversy surrounding accusations of misused funds, a lack of transparency and misconduct during procedures. On Sunday, April 18, the weekly VSA Senate meeting devolved into chaos after a student representative made a motion for impeachment of the entire VSA Executive Board, with support from some VSA Senators. Their concerns included a lack of transparency concerning financial transactions and insufficient communication. This controversy continued into the meeting on April 25, in which the VSA eventually voted to not indict the VSA Vice President for allegedly mishandling the impeachment procedures.
According to the Miscellany News’ account of the meeting on April 18, conflict began when the College Planning Senator and a student representative came forward with frustrations that the VSA does not adequately represent the interests of the student body, disappointment in the VSA Exec’s lack of communication with the Senate and suggested the executive board had overstepped their powers. They provided recent examples, such as the purchase of a $500 fish tank, a blue lobster and recent renovations to the VSA office. They claimed that students avoid coming to VSA meetings over fears that their concerns will not be heard. The student representative then called for the impeachment of the entire VSA Executive Board.
The VSA Vice President then defended the decision to make these purchases, arguing that the VSA budget is normally used to purchase food for weekly meetings, but since COVID-19 regulations require that meetings occur on Zoom, they instead decided to use those funds to improve the VSA office and create an enjoyable gathering space for students. The renovations were financed by the VSA Operating Fund, which according to the VSA bylaws, the Executive Board can distribute at their discretion without approval once the overall budget is approved by the Senate. The VSA president further explained that the idea of renovating the VSA office started in the 2018-2019 school year, during which time the VSA painted their office walls and purchased its current furniture. The renovations from this current school year included repairing furniture and purchasing more furniture.
A Class of 2021 Senator defended these decisions, saying: “The renovations project was something that had actually been started by a previous executive board, but they were not able to complete the project due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I think this current Executive Board has put in a lot of hard work to try and fix up the lounge because it was pretty nonfunctional before, and the space looks a lot better now.”
A central point of this controversy is whether or not this use of funds was brought up for discussion during the fall semester. The VSA Vice President claimed that this use of issue had been brought up to the Senate at a previous meeting. However, Mohtad Allawala ’23, a College Planning Senator, and Joe Mangan, a Class of 2023 Senator, dispute this. Miscellany News live tweets of an Oct. 25, 2020 meeting mention discussion of the renovations. Specifically, that the Chair of Finance objected to repairs to the VSA office beyond those necessary to make it functional. A Class of 2021 Senator specifically remembers this topic being addressed. However, there is no specific mention of the fish tank in either Miscellany News tweets or the Senate notes from the Oct. 25th meeting, because the VSA requested that the discussion take place off the record.
According to Mangan, the fish tank controversy is representative of larger issues within the VSA. Mangan and Allawala cited a series of alleged issues including a lack of communication with both the Senate and the student body and not responding to the requests of the student body.
The controversy surrounding the renovations and impeachment culminated at the VSA meeting on April 25. According to the Miscellany News’ account of the meeting, the topic of discussion shifted from renovations and purchases to the actions of the VSA Vice President. The College Planning Senator brought forth accusations that during the previous meeting on April 18, the Vice President, who was leading the meeting, did not follow proper impeachment procedures and thus deserves to be impeached, citing violations of the bylaws which state that VSA Senate members cannot vote on subject if they have a conflict of interest. Allawala noted, “It failed to be a conversation about if they should be impeached, it became a conversation about if we had the authority to impeach them in the first place.” The central point of the controversy is that according to those same bylaws, impeachment proceedings are undertaken by the Judicial Board, which was removed by the VSA (two years ago, according to the meeting notes from last week.) Additionally, members who are being impeached must be present for the proceedings, and several members of the VSA Exec Board were not present.
The College Planning Senator also alleged that the Vice President changed bylaws without permission of the Senate, although the Vice President countered this point and said he only altered bylaws within the Operations Committee, which at the time had permission to do so according to the bylaws. He further explained that the Committee altered the bylaws to more accurately represent the current processes of the VSA, but that nothing these changes did had any large impact. He further explained that he is trying his best to do a good job in this role, and he is figuring it out as he goes. He requested the benefit of the doubt.
The College Planning Senator continued, and said that this current impeachment is not based on breaking a few bylaws, but is instead representative of how the VSA has failed to properly communicate for the past year. Although, according to the VSA President, the VSA did not at the time have a judicial board which made impeachment unfeasible, they continued with the indictment. The VSA Senate voted 13-4 to acquit the VSA Vice President of these charges.
However, several senators are annoyed with the calls for impeachment, and argued that those wanting for impeachment did not seem to have concrete reasons for doing so. A Class of 2021 Senator explained: “I think people have frustrations about the structure of VSA and with admin in general, and they want to find someone to take that out on. Even in the Senate meeting today, the individual bringing up the impeachment charge did not seem to understand on what grounds he was presenting the argument for impeachment.”
They continued, “I also don’t think it’s representative of the student body or fair when a couple of senators decide some exec members are ‘incompetent’ and that they should be impeached when so many people voted these members into their position and there was no consensus from the student body available as to whether they thought exec members should be impeached.”