By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 23, 2012
With the November Central Student Government election just days away, CSG officials filed a preliminary injunction with the Central Student Judiciary to keep a survey question off the ballot designed to gauge graduate student interest in secession of Rackham Student Government from CSG.
Officially filed Wednesday — just six days before the start of the election, which runs online from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29 — the injunction argues that RSG has violated parts of its own bylaws and CSG's governing documents in attempt to put the question on the ballot, in addition to other more general violations.
Lukas Garske, CSG's legal counsel, said in an interview that he has spoken with CSJ Chief Justice Ryan Gersovitz concerning the injunction, though it remains unclear when the judiciary body plans to meet. If CSJ's proceedings are to take longer than the election, it is unclear if the question would be removed from the ballot in the interim.
CSG represents every student on campus, and individual schools and colleges have their own student governments. In September, RSG voted to create an exploratory committee to investigate student interest in graduate student secession from CSG.
At the time, RSG president Michael Benson said an all-graduate student government, splitting the more than 40,000 students on campus between two major student governments, could potentially split the $7.19 student fee that each student pays each semester. Secession could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars lost by CSG every year.
CSG alleges in its suit that RSG — which submitted the question on Nov. 15, 12 days before the start of the election — did not follow its own rules or CSG's rules in regards to when a ballot question needs to be submitted for inclusion on the ballot.
According to the CSG Compiled Code segments cited in the suit, ballot questions must be submitted 25 days prior to the election and the RSG bylaws cited in the suit state that ballot questions must be sent 14 days prior to an election.
“Twelve days is simply not enough time for adequate campaigning to take place,” the suit states. “Furthermore, this smoke and mirrors approach by the RSG Board to place the language on the ballot on its first read, while violating the deadlines, almost amounts to election fraud.”
While RSG sent the question 12 days before the start of the election, the election is described as taking place on Nov. 27-29 in the suit, meaning that RSG sent the question 14 days before the end of the election. The language in RSG's bylaws cited by the suit does not make clear at what point in the election ballot questions need to be submitted 14 days before. While RSG would still be in violation of the CSG compiled code, the suit does concede that “CSG has plenary authority to regulate the petition deadline.”
Nonetheless, the suit mentions other alleged violations unrelated to the filing date of the question. It argues that RSG has parts of it bylaws at odds with the governing documents of CSG and that consistently vacant seats in the CSG assembly set aside for Rackham students is a violation of the University of Michigan Student Body Constitution.
Garske — who had been working with members of the CSG executive board, rules committee chair Jeremy Keeney, assembly chair Michael Proppe and Rackham representative Patrick O'Mahen on the issue — said the injunction is in response to these violations, not in response to the intentions of RSG.
“We're not trying to disqualify them on any technicalities here,” Garske said. “There's multiple violations — they've modified their constitution in an attempt to gain supremacy over the all-campus constitution; they've failed to collaborate with CSG by failing to fill the Rackham seats on Central student government.”
Garske added that CSG is trying to be transparent going about this issue.
“This isn't something I'm blindsiding Benson with by any means, we let him know that this is going to happen and gave him a copy of the notice of the final case so he know's it's coming,” Garske said. “We just want to make sure that the rules are followed and that we can come to a solution here that is fair to the students really, especially the graduate students.”
Benson, however, did not feel similarly.
“My initial reaction was shock truthfully that the Central Student Government would attempt to do this a) so close to an election; b) right over the Thanksgiving holiday,” Benson said in an interview. “I realize that this is just a continuation of the mantra where the Central Student Government represents undergraduates and seems to throw graduate students to the curb.”
Furthermore, Benson stressed that the ballot question is simply a non-binding poll meant to gauge the interest of graduate students in secession.
Garske said that if the suit takes the question of the ballot, it doesn't prevent the question from being asked in the future.
“They can definitely put this back on the ballot in spring, there's nothing to stop them from doing that as long as they do it properly according to the procedures,” Garske said. “(The March) election typically has a higher turnout anyway.” The suit also says that the question can be taken off the ballot without RSG being “irreparably harmed.”
But Benson said that if graduate students were to vote in favor of looking into secession, a coalition of graduate student governments would try to place a binding question on the ballot in the March election.
“All we're asking students right now is whether or not they think it's worthwhile for us to look into on their behalf,” Benson said.
He continued, saying that if graduate students vote against pursuing secession, than any attempts to secede would be a “waste of time.” He added that other University college and school student governments will also have ballot questions for the November election, like LSA Student Government, which has three ballot questions.
“I'm a strong supporter of the Central Student Government,” Benson said. “But at the same point, it has a role and a purpose and trying to stifle a significant portion of the overall student body that you portend to represent is concerning.”
Benson said he was going to take a closer look at the allegations made by CSG in the injunction. But, after an initial review, he said he does not believe RSG has violated its bylaws's standards for submitting ballot questions, which he said only applied to binding questions.”
“The intent in the RSG bylaws is for binding questions,” Benson said. “We can survey the students however we want.”
Benson added that last year, RSG had a survey question regarding the grade point average scale that was put on the ballot seven days before the election.
Benson — the student general counsel when the Michigan Student Assembly, the predecessor of CSG, reformed the constitution in 2008 — added that he doesn't believe RSG has broken rules from the constitution or the RSG bylaws.
“We'll certainly check then and make sure we dot the 'i's' and cross the 't's,'” he said. “The main point here is that we will be going forward and asking our graduate, professional student body their opinion on something which is our right.”
Benson said the injunction filed by CSG puts their intentions in question.
“If CSG wants to stop us from doing that, I think they need to look at their motivation for that and see if they're really representing these individuals for which, again, they claim to represent,” he said.
Benson also said he wasn't sure yet whether CSJ has the ability to take the question off the ballot.
“We will take this is as seriously and with the attention it deserves,” Benson said. “If they want to waste time from helping our students to defend this in their court, then so be it. Game on.”