Last night, we wrote that a USenate position had been vacated and people can apply.  The next space will be filled via an “indirect election” whereby 3 nominees are chosen by a panel of “the College’s current senators, CCSC President, and one additional CCSC Executive Board member,” and the winner is voted on of those three by CCSC.  This is also how the now-former Senator was elected.

In their email to the student body, Matthew Chou and Jared Odessky explained that there has to be an indirect election due to “Section 5(c) of the Columbia College Student Council’s (CCSC) Constitution.”  Section 5(c) explains that seats vacated after the first-year elections can be filled by either a special election period or the aforementioned indirect election: a 2/3 majority vote by CCSC.  Seats vacated before freshmen elections end are filled by a direct election with voting from the entire student body.

Chou and Odessky’s email went out at approximately 7:15 Wednesday evening, mere hours after voting for first-year elections closed.  An email obtained by Bwog sent from the 2014 CCSC Class Council to the Senators suggests that this timing deliberate—so there would be no chance of a full student body election.  With an indirect election, the CCSC panel–which includes the current senators–has control over who fills the space.

The timing here does seem murky.  As the CCSC’14 email points out, the Spec article about the open spot includes an interview with Akshay Shah, indicating that both parties knew about the space and had ample time to prepare coverage.  Why, then, would the announcement not go out to the student body until after freshmen polls had closed?

In their letter, CCSC ’14 questions when the Senate knew about the vacancy; three CCSC meetings went by without the now-former Senator—did the Senate fail to notice her absence or did they choose not to acknowledge it?  Moreover, Bwog began hearing rumors of a vacant USenate seat over a week ago, with some Senate-connected students planning on running for it.

It is, of course, entirely possible that the timing is merely coincidental and that the Senate was not trying to prevent a democratic, direct election.  Nonetheless, Section 5(c) makes it clear that there are options here: it does not have to be an indirect election.  In a school full to the brim with communication issues, we’re left with yet another non-transparent decision.

We have reached out to Daphne Chen and Matthew Chou for comment, we’ll let you know if we hear anything.

Update, 6:04: A response from Daphne Chen gave the following reasons for holding an indirect election for the Senate seat:

  • “The first and foremost goal in this whole process is protecting Cleo’s health and privacy. We could not make anything public until we received final confirmation of her leave and resignation on Tuesday.
  • “Our second goal, in the event that a seat is vacated, was to fill it as promptly as possible. The new senator will have missed summer ramp-up, the first three CCSC meetings, the first Senate plenary, and over a month of school, which are critical periods of planning and learning. Every day of delay disenfranchises the student body. We reasoned that a direct election — including campaign time, posters, debates, and voting time — would be rushed. An indirect election, however, would fill the vacancy within a week if we dedicated a weekend to interviews and a general body meeting to voting.
  • “Our third goal is to make sure the student body always has its right to representation. Under ideal conditions, direct election is indeed preferable. However, for the reasons stated above, the situation is not ideal or normal. And our process, supported by precedent, is fair and transparent. The panel interviews every candidate who applies (last year, 15-20 students), allowing a wide variety of people to apply without going through a grueling and rushed elections process. Can you imagine an election with 15-20 viable candidates competing? Moreover, the top three nominees are voted upon by directly elected students who represent the student body as a whole. We felt that this met the threshold of right to representation.”

The issue is being revisited tonight, which may lead to a change in the decision.

Full email sent from CCSC’14 to the Senators:

Dear Matthew, Jared and the wider CCSC body,

We as the Senior Class Council have discussed your email below, and have a few questions we are hoping that you can provide sufficient answers for in regards to Cleo’s very recent departure.

You are correct in stating that under Section 5(c) of the Columbia College Student Council Constitution that “this seat will be filled via indirect election.” However, Section 5(c) also states that this is only one of two ways that this vacant position can be filled. There is also the possibility that the Elections Board holds “a special election period, during which any pending ballot initiatives or referenda must also be voted on.”

Furthermore, Section 5(b) states that “seats vacated before the Fall First-Year elections will be filled by a vote of the student body during the First-Year election period.” It has come to our attention that Cleo has missed all three CCSC meetings this semester. After two absences, an elected member of CCSC can be subject for impeachment. After three consecutive absences, we would hope that the Executive Board and the Senators would have been aware of her situation.

While we are not intending to be accusatory, your email was sent today at 7:17pm, just two hours after voting closed for the first year class council. Moreover, an article posted on Columbia Spectator at 8:01pm regarding Cleo’s vacancy quotes SEAS Senator Akshay Shah. 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. As such, we raise the issue of transparency (or lack thereof).

1. When were the Senate and the CCSC Executive Board made aware of Cleo’s planned vacancy? If this was made aware earlier than the start of freshman campaigning (September 18th), it is the Executive Board’s prerogative to disclose this information to the CCSC body and open up this vacated seat to a vote by the Columbia College student body.

2. If in fact you were only made aware of this vacated seat in the past few days, we would motion to hold a special election period, as Section 5(c) of the CCSC Constitution states. As Section 5(c) offers two possible methods to fill this vacated seat, will the Executive Board call for a vote to decide on the method?

3. In recent years, we have seen various internal elections for positions such as Ivy Council Head Delegate and Senator, and these internal elections are never completely impartial. One of the Executive Board’s goals for the 2013-14 school year was to increase transparency not only within CCSC, but to the wider Columbia College community. We question whether the actions surrounding this situation exhibit this push for greater transparency?


Conan Cassidy
Ben Xue
Joanna Kelly
Zach Vargas-Sullivan
Sarita Patankar