A recent Op-Ed in the Madison Capital Times
, coauthored by this blogger and one M. Samir Siddique, highlights an issue which may soon be before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Can a student who defied then University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell and was disciplined for doing so be reimbursed for the legal fees that were necessary for his vindication?
And “defied” here means nothing more than taking seriously Wisconsin statutes about student governance and Constitutional guarantees of free speech and association
Here is the backstory.
People at Marquette are used to the notion that student government doesn’t have much real power. It mostly just does what the administration wants. But the reality in the University of Wisconsin system was, until very recently, supposed to be quite different.
Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5), passed in 1973, states:
The students of each institution or campus subject to the responsibilities and powers of the board, the president, the chancellor and the faculty shall be active participants in the immediate governance of and policy development for such institutions. As such, students shall have primary responsibility for the formulation and review of policies concerning student life, services and interests. Students in consultation with the chancellor and subject to the final confirmation of the board shall have the responsibility for the disposition of those student fees which constitute substantial support for campus student activities. The students of each institution or campus shall have the right to organize themselves in a manner they determine and to select their representatives to participate in institutional governance.
This provision was amended in 2015, but it was in effect in when students on the University of Wisconsin campus clashed with the Chancellor Michael Lovell.
And what do you suppose happens when those students, organized as a student government, decide they want to exercise these powers in a way Lovell doesn’t like?
The chancellor simply dismisses the elected student government and installs a bunch of toadies that will give him what he wants.
Yes, that sounds just like politics under a military junta, because it is just like politics under a military junta.
It all began in the 2012-2013 school year. A big issue was “segregated fees.” These are mandatory fees collected from students and earmarked for services to students, such as the Klotsche Center, campus speakers, health services, and so on. Chancellor Lovell wanted to use a large block of these fees for a new student union, and the student government was demanding input on the facility. Frustrated by the response of the administration, the student government eventually voted against building a new union. But there were other conflicts too, including control of Student Affairs staff, control over campus programming, and just how 36.09(5) would be implemented.
In April of 2013 student elections were held, and the student government representatives who were elected included a large number of those who had been most assertive during the past year.
Facing this resistance, UWM officials then recruited two people from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to do an “investigation” of the election. They produced a list of supposed electoral “violations” that allowed Lovell to kick out the elected student representatives.
Closely reading the report of the Whitewater officials
suggests the election was unfair to the party (People of Change) that opposed the incumbent party (Allied Student Voice), but the unfairness looks to be more the product of the disarray typical of undergraduate student organizations than of any nefarious machinations. The report did recite some unsubstantiated charges, such as the claim that the People of Change party’s place on the ballot was denied because of an intentional lack of a quorum at the meeting that had to approve it. The Whitewater bureaucrats (Dean of Students Mary Beth Mackin and and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Thomas Rios) were terribly naïve if they believed that student organizations always get a quorum.
Indeed, in a comprehensive response to the report
, the students note that:
The Senate has
failed to reach quorum on several occasions and this proposed special meeting (February 17th) was
scheduled with the least amount of notice respectively.
The Whitewater bureaucrats, who of course would identify with UWM bureaucrats rather than students giving their colleagues at the Milwaukee institution trouble, seem to have reached the conclusion they obviously were supposed to.
People of Change had to wage a write-in campaign, but there is little doubt that the incumbent Allied Student Voice had stronger support. Election turnout was 12.9 percent
(huge by the standards of UWM student elections) and many of the ASV candidates were incumbents, who had already proven their ability to win a student election. Further, as attorney Gary Grass (an attorney who later came to represent the students) explains:
The winning party recruited a full, diverse slate of Senate candidates and did the kind of vigorous promotion and campaigning that typically wins elections. Their opponents were at a slight disadvantage because voting for them required actually typing a name, but the real difference was that they did not put in anything remotely close to comparable effort. They had hardly any candidates on their slate, so they had a very small crew. They were a freshly invented new party with no record or history. It was not the lopsidedness of the result that proved the violations made no difference. It was the lopsidedness in organization and popular support.
Further, the report by the UW-Whitewater officials did not recommend that the election be thrown out, but rather merely listed from process improvements that should be made going forward. But in a dictatorship, you sometimes have to make do with a transparent pretext.
Planning a Coup
Given that the elected representatives had been kicked out, who was then going to be the student government?
A leaked recording
shows Chancellor Lovell discussing (plotting, actually) the future course of events with one Anthony DeWees, who was the Chief Justice of the Student Court. Also present were Michael Laliberte, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Tereza Pelicaric, President of the Student Association, and Nik Rettinger, Vice President of the Student Association.
We have added emphasis to particularly egregious statements.
Lovell explained the need for an “interim body” to govern until new elections could be held. DeWees notes that “there isn’t elected officials” [sic] to fill student government offices, but there is the court, and “we’re still there.” Lowell prompted saying “it would be great if you all adopted what the court’s saying” and DeWees said “Essentially the Court’s going to say ‘this is what we’re doing.’” Pelicaric responded with “we can’t do it any other way because those people that are in the Senate need to go away.”
Some discussion about choosing people to constitute student government followed, and DeWees noted that “essentially this group would operate through the court so it would be subject to the court’s review.”
Lovell noted a problem might be “students that are just . . . complete animosity to the administration, and some of those officials are still around.” He then said “what I wanted to ask you was is there a way we can minimize people who may be trying to inflame the relationship [between students and the Administration] and not have them be part if this.”
DeWees responded “That’s what I’m getting at with the Court. The Court is going to do this stuff.” And further “those people that . . . they don’t really have a role.”
After some further talk, the discussion turned to the assertive student activists – the ones who had defied Lovell and been reelected in the overturned election. Laliberte, talking to DeWees and Pelicaric, noted that “I think there are people who don’t reflect your values, and want to do what we need to do. Even if they want to be involved, here is your opportunity to say they’re not welcome at the table. So you don’t have to include everybody, so keep that in mind.”
And further, if you are “moving ahead” on something and people disagree, “People who can’t align themselves with that way of thinking won’t be able to participate.”
We’re pretty confident that, when speaking publicly, Laliberte mouths all the politically correct clichés about “diversity” and “inclusion.” Here he is revealing the dirty little secret about “diversity” bureaucrats: they want to exclude anybody with a different opinion.
The Attraction of Power
DeWees observed that “We know what needs to be changed. We’ve never been able to do it, the three of us, because of the other people. So this gives us an opportunity to involve the people who want to work on changing the stuff to make it better.”
Laliberte then asked “what do you do, what do you all do, with the people you don’t want. Who want to fight . . . who want to say ‘the Administration is trying to screw us over?”
DeWees responded by saying the court, given its constitutional power, could handle the issue.
The Coup Implemented
DeWees was allowed to appoint the student government. He proceeded to appoint a new group – dubbed a “Board of Trustees” – favorable to the UWM administration. Members of the old student government were excluded, in spite of their experience and record of winning elections. He issued a series of “Emergency Orders” in response to an imaginary case, “Lovell v. SA” which suspended the constitution and bylaws, set budgets, established new election dates, set up an interim legislature, whose decisions were subject to his final approval, and so on. This “Board of Trustees” was effectively controlled by Lovell. It was told it must completely reorganize itself before any new election would be accepted by him. When the first Chair of the group was not sufficiently “cooperative” with the administration, he was thrown out. The Board of Elections was changed to include faculty (in spite of statutory language – see above – demanding that students have a responsibility to organize themselves).
While people who know little about academia might assume that faculty would defy the administration, in reality faculty are inclined to give administrators (who control salaries, promotions, grants, teaching loads, and so on) what they want.
Some members of the new “Board of Trustees” quit, recognizing it was a sham.
So far, so good for the UWM administration, which had a pliable student government. But whenever there are elections, there is always the possibility that troublemakers will win, so the administration proceeded to seek a new student government constitution.
The New Constitution
The key point was to shift power away from those (potentially) pesky students into the hands of more pliable campus bureaucrats. First, a faculty member and an administrator were required to serve on the Election Commission. Then, power was shifted to the Student Association Professional Services office. While these staffers are paid out of student fees, they are basically bureaucrats controlled by the Chancellor. They have the power to (for example) veto checks going out.
In a nod to political correctness, certain constituencies were given “set aside” positions as “advocacy senators.” – for example a Women’s Advocacy Senator and a People of Color Advocacy Senator. There was (of course!) no White Male Advocacy Senator, nor any Christian Students Advocacy Senator.
So how do you get the new constitution approved? You have a referendum among students.
Which is what the administration did. But of course, just as any military junta knows how to rig an election, so do administrators at UWM.
Students were asked to vote on the new constitution during the first six days they were back from winter break – and doubtless preoccupied with beginning of semester tasks. It was not hard to vote, (if you were already signed up for classes; those still enrolling were disenfranchised entirely) and multiple e-mails went out encouraging students to “Vote Yes,” but none of them suggested that there was anything controversial about the ballot question. One video from the new (appointed, not elected) Election Commission linked to a slick animated video showing how (supposedly) great the changes were. The new constitution won, getting 242 votes in favor, with 59 votes against
. This out of over 27,000 students. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but enough for the UWM administration to declare victory.
One M. Samir Siddique, an elected senator in the “uppity” student government of 2012-2013, decided to fight back. He helped organize a group of students who wrote a new draft constitution that gave students back the power they had lost, and went out to get signatures to support it.
His group got over 1,300 hundred signatures. Siddique was himself elected President of the new student group formed under the new constitution. He then demanded recognition from Chancellor Lovell, and submitted budget recommendations – approved by his organization’s Senate – to the Board of Regents concerning budgeting of segregated fees.
It might seem that Siddique had a lot of chutzpah to form a rival student government, not recognized by the university, and claim it to be legitimate. But Wisconsin State Statute 36.09(5) – see above – explicitly says that student have a right to “organize themselves.” That seems to explicitly rule out campus bureaucrats telling them how to organize.
And of course, the simple constitutional rights of “petition” and “free association” gave Siddique and his cohorts the right to do what they did. UWM, being a public institution, is fully bound by the Bill of Rights.
Had campus bureaucrats simply refused to recognize the unofficial Student Association, and ignored their attempts to influence policy, that would be one thing.
But instead, they set out to punish Siddique, finding him guilty of “Disruption of University and University authorized activities,” “violation of university rules,” and “false statement or refusal to comply.” Reading the “decision letter” shows that what Siddique did was claim to head the legitimate student government at UWM
. His organization called itself the “UWM Student Association,” which the university claimed was too much like the official, university recognized “Student Association at UWM” and thus somehow violated a rule. But they could not identify the rule. Yes, there was room for confusion, but if you are claiming to be the legitimate student government, then some permutation of “student association” is necessary.
Essentially, Siddique expressed opinions that campus bureaucrats didn’t like.
Because of the what the “decision letter” called “the harm that has been caused through confusion within the campus community” (the “harm” being merely the result of his challenging the administration and sitting student government) Siddique was ordered to undergo eight hours of community service, and to stop claiming to be the head of the “student association at UWM” (while in reality he had been claiming to be head of the “University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Association”). Worse, the Decision letter demanded that Siddique send an e-mail (to be approved by UWM Assistant Dean Freer) to members of his group, saying that the group is not the recognized student government at UWM (which was never controverted), and does not have a right to make recommendations concerning segregated fees, recommending student appointments to committees, or representation of the student body (from Siddique’s perspective, a lie).
Siddique was told that if he failed to comply with these demands UWM would refuse to allow him to register for the Fall, 2014 semester, de facto
expelling him. Further, with a “conduct hold” on his transcript, he was unable to transfer. But he found an aggressive lawyer (one Gary Grass) who went to court and on Aug. 29, Judge Glenn Yamahiro issued an order temporarily forbidding UWM disciplining Siddique.
Faced with de facto expulsion, Siddique did draft and submit the compelled statement, but Yamahiro’s order came in time to save him from having to disseminate it to his supporters.
Afterwards, the University agreed to place no hold on his records, then to drop the compelled statement, then still later to change the decision to “no violation occurred.” Siddique graduated from the university in the Spring of 2015, and is now a third year law student.