Committee: CSG should not punish member

Monday, December 7, 2015 - 8:52pm

In a report released Monday, the Central Student Government Ethics Commission recommended that the full assembly take no action toward CSG Rep. Jesse Arm, an LSA sophomore whose conduct at a Diag demonstration last month generated criticism from members of the group Students Allied for Freedom and Democracy.

The report, which will be considered by CSG on Tuesday, details the findings of what is likely the commission’s first ethics investigation.

Public Policy junior Thomas Hislop, chair of the CSG Ethics Committee, said the assembly can adopt the recommendation with a majority vote.

In the report, the committee said their recommendation resulted from the testimonies of all involved parties and a review of a video of the scene recorded by SAFE. Citing Article VIII of the Student Body Constitution, the report concludes each party had equal rights both in the demonstration and the display of grievances.

“Representative Arm did not engage in unethical behavior or engage in conduct unbecoming of a representative,” the report stated. “Just as the SAFE had the right to peacefully assemble in the Diag, Representative Jesse Arm had the right to voice his opinion.”

According to the report, such an investigation had no precedent, as no records of previous ethics investigations were identified during the process.

“The Rules Committee Chairman, (Rackham student Jared Ferguson), informed me that this is the first ethics committee hearing that CSG has had that he is aware of,” Hislop said.

The report said having the committee move forward with an ethics investigation initially seemed appropriate given the video evidence, though ultimately the committee questioned whether the actions called for an investigation. Arm said earlier this month that he was particularly surprised to hear the incident would result in an ethics investigation.

“The implications that a student representative must either shed all ideas or stop expressing them and that a basic requirement for leadership in CSG is either to have no ideas or to remain silent is foreign to the underpinnings of a free democracy,” Arm wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily on Monday.

Arm said the protest’s purpose was to provoke thought and expression, and that he was responding to the protesters’ invitation to look at their display and produce a response.

“I am a fervent believer in political pluralism and freedom of speech,” he wrote. “It is impossible that all members of Central Student Government will please all students all the time. Some students will inevitably disagree with us and even disdain us for the decisions we make and the votes we take.”

Whether it was regarded as a matter worthy of investigation, Hislop said there will be positive takeaways from the experience.

“This investigation will allow for CSG to improve our Operating Procedures, which at the moment lack a clear definition as to how and when the Ethics Committee should be used,” Hislop wrote. “We need to improve the rules we operate by so future cases are not marked by this same confusion.”

One such improvement in the rules would be whether or not a student has right to legal counsel in ethics hearings, which the ethics committee requested the rules committee determine. Hislop also wrote the investigation can lead to a dialogue on counter-narratives through the University.

Arm said in an e-mail he was happy the committee confirmed that his right to free speech was protected under the Student Body Constitution.

“It is a shame that those who disagree with me politically tried to make me the first because of my public support for Israel,” Arm wrote. “Freedom of speech is of critical importance and all students should recognize that truth.  I hope that in the future all students will be able to engage in respectful dialogue freely without fear of repercussions for their ideas.”

The ethics committee wrote in the report that while representatives should be held to higher standards than the average student, Arm’s words should not be held against him.

“We as an Assembly cannot let hurtful words stop us from having important dialogue and from making difficult decisions,” the report said. “The Ethics Committee encourages students and representatives to continue to passionately and respectfully advocate on behalf of the causes they believe in.”

Arm said he was pleased by the results of the investigation, and is eager to continue his work in CSG.

“I hope that in the future all students will be able to engage in respectful dialogue freely without fear of repercussions for their ideas,” Arm wrote. “In the future, I hope we can vet these accusations more seriously before conducting big investigations and bringing a student’s name into the media.”