Last night, in a room packed with students, General Studies Student Council voted on the GS Senator’s potential impeachment and heard from students about proposals for co-sponsorships.
GSSC dove right into the addressing the proposal to impeach Ramond Curtis, Senator of GS. Although many members of GSSC were absent due to religious holiday and other various reasons, the council had the required 2/3 of members present and thereby voted on the proposal. Out of 20 members present, 12 voted for the impeachment of Curtis whist 7 voted against the impeachment. One council member, Valeria Pizzi, International Student Representative, used her unexcused absence to sit out the vote in order to manifest her belief that the vote should not be taking place on a religious holiday. In the end, a 3/4 majority is needed for an impeachment to go through. Therefore the 12 votes for the impeachment were not enough to attain the majority required.
The conversation that led up to the vote included council members, audience members and viewers of the live feed of the council (which received over 1300 views). First, President Larosa read out the impeachment report, Curtis’ rebuttal and statements from absent members, including one from Brett Krasner, VP of Campus Life. In his statement, Krasner emphasized the logistics of impeachment, stating that “I do not believe that it is pragmatic to throw council into a new round of elections”. Indeed, the mandate for senator is two years long and thus an impeachment would result in Curtis not sitting on GSSC for the entire length of his mandate.
Next Valeria Pizzi, International student representative denounced the fact that this vote was taking place on Passover. She pointed out that five council members were currently missing for religious motives and that the vote should be postponed because this was a “violation of their rights, their voting rights”. Dennis Zhao, VP of Communication clarified that he never intended for his proposal to take place on a religious holiday. This issue came up later in the evening when Pizzi announced she would not be voting to support the religious rights of the other students not present. The VP of Finance Jacob Case noted that “we are a secular institution” and as such the students who are participating on a religious holiday are excused. Nevertheless, the council had quorum and thus would be voting on this topic according to the constitution. Ramond Curtis, when asked, later agreed that this process was no fair for the students they were representing.
VP of Communication Dennis Zhao then had the floor. He first acknowledged the hard work and hours Curtis had put into the position and how “important this position is to you”. He also clarified that this impeachment proposal was not a response to the election results. Indeed, he sent out the proposal at 8:14 which was minutes before the election results were made public (see time stamp on email below). He also explained that the impeachment was not just about one specific even but about “GSSC making a statement that a lack of civility when dealing with your peers is not something that we can accept”. Here he referred to the two occasions cited on his proposal: Curtis’ interaction with the Milvets Representative and with Raisa Flor, whom he allegedly threatened. As Zhao put it, “beriding, belittling and intimidating your peers: that’s not a mistake”. He also condemned the Facebook post he made earlier this week (see screenshot below) and commented that “it circumvented the entire Columbia elections board function, which is not just there to maintain a fair election but also to protect the privacy of candidates.”
Curtis then gave a statement in response to Zhao’s. He first apologized for his lack of diplomacy and for causing confusion. He said that he made the decision to post publicly “because I was following my values.” He apologized if he had “[caused] stress to any of the candidates.” He then explained why he thought impeachment was not the right course of action. As he put it, the senator “has access to information that the school needs, that’s why they sit on GSSC.” Thus, the GS senator is important to the success of GSSC as a whole. He explained that he pointed out the unethical behavior he noticed on the part of other members of GSSC because of he understood that the students feel that they do not stand a chance and as a result do not even want to participate in elections.
Raisa Flor pointed out in response that “you are not elected to voice your values as senator in public and slander people.” She stated that he had hurt his peers and thus has “no right to speak as GS senator.” Curtis then apologized for having upset her.
Adrienne Burfield spoke up next and commented that “this situation is something similar to that we see with high school students in cyber bullying.” Unlike in GSSC however, “in those schools cyber bullying is zero tolerance.” She pointed out that if Curtis thought there was cheating going on, “you should have gone through the chain of command like everyone else has done.” Whether or not this was Curtis’ intent, “you made them feel like they were bullied.” She later said that this impeachment was “not about you as a person” but rather about giving a consequence to his actions.
The MilVets Representative then spoke about his experience with Curtis. He mentioned that Curtis called him “an asshole” and “condescending” on four occasions in the span of one meeting. The Representative pointed out that he did not enjoy being “publicly berated and privately apologized to”. He also blamed Curtis for not apologizing for his actions, pointing out that: “I don’t feel like you are good for council, I don’t think you’re good for GS.” Curtis agreed that he should have apologized in public. VP of Finance, Jacob Case stated that this impeachment was about “continued behavior that had happened throughout the year.” He further indicated, that “public or private apologies do not negate behavior.” In Case’s opinion, this is “not the conduct of somebody who should be representing the entire school.”
Next, Curtis addressed last week’s aggressive encounter between Raisa Flor and himself. He explained that he was stating that people who are involved in the election should recluse themselves from a voting on publishing a statement and that Raisa Flor cut him off to tell him “you don’t get to decide that, I do.” And that they then mutually yelled at each other. Flor did not comment on his statement.
Next the council took questions from the audience. Recent President elect Samantha Demezier said that “we at GS pride ourselves on being adults but there is nothing adult about this.” She then questioned Dennis Zhao’s motives for the proposal and associating them with the election result. She ended her speech with stating “it just seems like guys, it’s over.” A concerned student then took the floor and pointed out that regardless of any time stamps on emails “this looks like a mess.” He blamed GSSC for undermining the integrity of the elections and asked the council whether they had any evidence that Curtis’ actions altered the election results in any way. Dennis Zhao answered that some people have told him that they voted for the opposing candidate because of Curtis’ actions. Another member of the audience then asked what the intention for this impeachment was. Zhao answered that he did not just wish to impeach Curtis from the GSSC but also from Senate. This same student also pointed out that mentioning any events that are not cited in the impeachment proposal is unfair and against the rules. A reading of the constitution confirmed this (see Article VI.b.iii.3 of Constitution/by-laws). The School of Engineering senator next spoke. He asked what this impeachment would mean at the senate level. Curtis answered that he would still be on senate and that he would continue to attend GSSC meetings in the audience but would not be able to vote anymore.
In the end the council voted not to impeach Curtis.
Here the documents referenced in the post:
Curtis’ Facebook Post