In the year and a half since the denial of service attack on the Michigan Progressive Party’s website by members of Students 4 Michigan (the now-defunct party with deep ties to the currently dominant Michigan Action Party), MSA has done little to address the underlying issues of petty electioneering and the closed, isolated culture that fueled those attacks and has historically stagnated the assembly. President Zack Yost’s insistence that the facts of the case are yet to be revealed is a duplicitous defense of a person and system that clearly ignored the best interests of students.
Two weeks ago, MSA Rep. Anton Vuljaj was arraigned in the March 2006 attack on MPP’s website during that year’s MSA elections. Facing the felony charge of use of a computer to commit a crime and interference with an electronic communication device and with piles of evidence implicating him, Vuljaj could face severe punishments if convicted. However, speaking to the Daily’s editorial board on Monday, Yost, far from condemning a representative who feloniously worked to disenfranchise students, wasn’t prepared to commit to asking for Vuljaj’s resignation – even if the Washtenaw County Court finds him guilty.
This isn’t a question of innocent until proven guilty; not for an instant are we suggesting that Vuljaj is legally guilty before he is convicted in a court. Instead, the point is about MSA and its duty to students. We know members of S4M were guilty of the denial of service attack; senior party officials acknowledged the fact at the time, and no one has yet denied Vuljaj’s guilt. So, either Vuljaj is guilty and should be forced to resign, or someone else is guilty and Yost and MSA must work actively to bring that person to justice. Simply sweeping the whole situation under the rug is not an option.
Considering MSA’s treatment of Vuljaj and the scandal up to this point, Yost’s response is hardly surprising. Vuljaj, an S4M supporter at the time, resigned from his position on LSA Student Government after the scandal erupted. S4M officials, including then-party chair Robbie O’Brien, condemned the attack and those involved in it, promising reforms (O’Brien resigned in light of the scandal, but insisted that he was not involved). Inexplicably, Vuljaj was still nominated for and confirmed as chair of MSA’s Community Service Committee in December 2006. Under what circumstances is it ever acceptable for someone tied directly to tampering with MSA elections to be appointed to an MSA committee?
It gets worse.
The Michigan Action Party was formed in time for the March 2007 MSA election. Yost, running for president on the MAP ticket, assured us in his endorsement interview that the party was different and that the antics of S4M were truly something MAP regretted and was committed to avoiding. Such assurances are difficult to believe, however, when we consider that MAP allowed Vuljaj to run for MSA representative on the party’s ticket. Again, this was while Vuljaj was part of an open criminal investigation dealing specifically with manipulation of MSA elections.
Even if MAP officials believed that there was a chance of Vuljaj’s innocence in the courts, there is no excuse for welcoming him into their party; he could have run as an independent. Furthermore, after Vuljaj won a seat on the assembly in March, MSA appointed him chair of the Budget Priorities Committee, one of the most important committees on the assembly.
Yost insists that he and MSA have stuck by Vuljaj because he is a great representative and “a great guy.” That may be so, but clearly the assembly didn’t lose much sleep over putting someone who may have willfully inhibited a student group’s success in charge of allocating crucial funding to other student groups.
Yost assured the editorial board that he had “done (his) homework” in this matter. When asked what changes MSA had made in response to the scandal, though, he cited a failed attempt at creating an election reform committee and some minor code changes, the specifics of which he couldn’t recall because they were “nothing huge.” Beyond Yost, not one representative on MSA has yet had the ethical epiphany to publicly call for Vuljaj’s resignation.
One would assume that MSA, an organization that is supposedly composed of some of the strongest leaders on campus, is capable of making productive election reforms, conducting an internal investigation to find those responsible and punishing those who do not abide by its ethical standards. Instead the assembly is once again behaving as a self-aggrandizing club whose members are too enamored with each other to respect their responsibilities as representatives.
On Oct. 30, Yost wrote in a viewpoint on this page (Proposed MSA reforms, 10/20/2007) that this is the perfect time “to take an introspective look at self-governance and how we can make MSA better.” He’s right, but he’s hardly the first MSA president to voice those words; the trick is acting on them in a meaningful way.
The process of nominating committee chairs must be overhauled. Although any student is eligible for some of those posts, only those with existing connections on the assembly, like Vuljaj, are likely to be nominated. Clarifying and publicizing the guidelines and requirements for becoming an MSA representative is also a good idea: Nothing in MSA’s current compiled code lays out a process for dealing with situations like the one involving Vuljaj.
Finally, though the assembly passed minor election reforms this week, more needs to be done to prove that it has learned from its mistakes and taken the necessary steps to avoiding them in the future. If nothing else, such initiatives would assure students that MSA has their best interests in mind – not just the interests of its own, as has too often been the case.