Columbia College’s University senators and the president of Columbia College Student Council are standing by their decision to hold an indirect election to fill a vacant Columbia College senate seat.
Senators Matthew Chou, CC ’14, and Jared Odessky, CC ’15, emailed the Columbia College student body on Wednesday to announce the vacancy. On Thursday, Bwog published an email from CCSC’s class of 2014 council questioning whether Chou and Odessky had withheld news of the vacant seat until after first-year elections in order to force a indirect senate election.
Per the CCSC constitution, Senate seats vacated before first-year elections in the fall are filled by a student body vote. Seats vacated after first-year elections, but before spring elections, may be filled through a two-thirds vote of CCSC, or through a special election.
Chou and Odessky emailed the student body about the vacancy about two hours after polls closed in the CCSC first-year elections on Wednesday. In its email, the senior class council speculated that Chou, Odessky, and the CCSC executive board might have known about the departure of Senator Cleo Abram, CC ’15, before the start of first-year elections.
“We are concerned that the knowledge of her vacancy, or intended vacancy, had been made aware to either the Executive Board or the Senators earlier than today,” the email read.
In interviews on Thursday, however, both Chou and Daphne Chen, CC ’14 and CCSC president, said that they had not received confirmation that Abram was stepping down until Tuesday night.
“We had a suspicion that it was going to happen at the beginning of the year,” Chen said. “It wasn’t confirmed until Tuesday. I can say that with 100 percent certainty.”
After noticing that Abram had not attended any CCSC meetings this semester, Chou said he and Chen reached out to CCSC’s executive board a week ago, he said.
“We obviously did not discuss this with anyone else because it wasn’t clear whether she was around or not, and we didn’t want to be hasty or want her to feel like we were pushing her out or not respecting her privacy,” Chou said.
“We wanted to pick the process that was going to be most efficient,” Chen added.
It’s unclear, though, why the senators would have waited so long to declare the seat vacant. In addition to missing all CCSC meetings during the first three weeks of the semester, Abram likely missed a host of University Senate-related meetings, including the student affairs committee retreat.
The Senate elections code states that a regular election includes a one-week period in which nominations are accepted and a voting period lasting another week.
Both Chen and Chou said that their priorities were to ensure Abram’s privacy, fill the seat as quickly as possible, and make sure the Columbia College student body was represented in the process.
A direct election, Chou said, could suffer from low turnout and would not necessarily attract candidates who were sufficiently interested or informed about what the position entails.
“We wanted to avoid the risk of having what they call a popularity contest,” Chen said.
Chen, Chou, Odessky, and another member of the CCSC executive board will choose three finalist candidates after interviewing all applicants, and the senator will then be chosen by CCSC as a whole.
“We believe this process is open and transparent, is in line with precedent, and anyone who’s eligible can apply and be voted upon by all of CCSC after being vetted by a panel that is in line with what we did last year,” Chou said.
In April 1994, the University Senate voted to approve a resolution that made direct elections non-mandatory. Indirect electors were recognized as a more effective way to fill vacant spots.
“Under ideal circumstances, I agree that direct election is better,” Chou said. But he argued that an indirect election would not be as rushed as a direct election.
“Every day that we waited, we felt like we were disenfranchising students,” Chen said.
The class of 2014 council could not be reached for comment.