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Rackham secession question to be challenged again in judiciary

By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 18, 2013

Two months after being challenged by the Central Student Government, leaders of the Rackham Student Government will appear again before the Central Student Judiciary to defend the survey question on its November ballot that proposes graduate student secession from CSG.

Rackham student Elson Liu, who has held multiple positions in CSG since 2007, formally filed a suit against RSG on Dec. 7. He alleges that when RSG advertised its elections to Rackham students, the information provided was biased in favor of graduate student secession.

The suit claims the campaign material violates the CSG Constitution which necessitates elections to be “free from fraud and that open campaigning can take place.”

Of the 9.5 percent of Rackham students who voted in the Nov. 27-29 RSG elections, 69 percent voted in favor of pursuing secession.

In an e-mail exchange with RSG vice president Kaitlin Flynn, Liu submitted a document that outlined six reasons not to secede. He asked that it be included in RSG’s advertisement of the election. That document was sent to Flynn on Nov. 28 — elections began Nov. 27 — and was included as a link in two e-mails sent to Rackham students by Flynn on Nov. 29. It was also made available through the RSG website.

In the document, Liu argued that two separate governments would weaken the voice of students as a whole, that undergraduates and graduates have more in common than is commonly perceived, that secession wouldn’t equal greater participation in student government by graduate students and that greater funding for student organizations is not unilaterally beneficial for students.

Liu noted that it's unlikely the University’s Board of Regents would approve the split, as they hold the ultimate authority in this case.

All four election e-mails and the RSG website displayed a Frequently Asked Questions guide, which Liu argued was also decidedly biased in favor of secession.

“By presenting a purportedly neutral viewpoint on secession from official RSG mailing lists and the RSG blog, RSG promoted secession in a way that no other individual or student organization ever could,” Liu wrote in the suit.

Liu said that he wouldn’t have filed the suit if the FAQ guide wasn’t included in RSG advertisements about the election. He added that he would have rather seen two documents — one in support and one against secession — included in RSG’s advertisement.

RSG president Michael Benson declined to speculate on the result of the suit. He said “everything has a chance” in CSJ, but that, “(RSG’s) position is very strong.”

The suit pits Benson and Liu, both multi-year veterans of student government at the University, against each other.

“We’ve been joking for a few years now that we’d like to have a case opposite of each other and apparently it came to pass,” Benson said.

Benson added that he and Liu are friends and that Liu told him about the suit before filing it.

“I understand what’s he’s doing is by no means personal, it’s business and he has every right to do it,” Benson said. “I don’t feel one way or the other about it truthfully.”

Nonetheless, Benson did lament that Liu didn’t approach RSG directly about the issue before filing.

In a statement, CSJ Chief Justice Christopher Stevens acknowledged that the suit had been filed and that CSJ was working to schedule a pretrial hearing. The purpose of such a hearing would be to decide whether or not the Court has proper jurisdiction to hear the case, to dispose of any motions, to handle any requests for discovery and to set a date for the trial.

Follow Giacomo on Twitter at @giacomo_bologna and The Institution, the Daily’s new Student Leadership blog, at @TMDinstitution.


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