At its final general body meeting of the 2021-22 academic year, the Undergraduate Council of Students announced the results of its recent runoff election and passed alterations to its bylaws, presented by current Vice President Sam Caplan ’22.
Current President Summer Dai ’22 congratulated all members of the newly-elected Executive Board — including attending members Ricky Zhong ’23 and Ayana Boyd ’24, who will serve as president and chair of equity and inclusion, respectively.
This week, UCS held runoff elections after Zhong appealed the initial results of the UCS election, in which he lost the race for UCS president by 24 votes to Chas Steinbrugge ’24. In his appeal, Zhong stated that the Student Government Association’s spring election procedures violated Article VIII of the UCS constitution, which requires a runoff if no candidate for the council receives a majority of the vote, The Herald previously reported.
After acknowledging the election winners present at the meeting, Caplan opened the floor for UCS members to comment on the events of the last two weeks as well as the year in general.
“We’ve heard some rumbling about members of UCS being unhappy,” he said. “We wanted to open it up for discussion. So just go for it.”
UCS General Body Member Christopher Vanderpool ’24 referenced a speech by former Senator Robert Kennedy before voicing his concerns regarding the semester’s election: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,” he quoted.
“It is my opinion and the opinion of many others that UCS has committed an injustice not only against our three candidates that ran for president, but against the entirety of the student body,” Vanderpool said. He added that he felt UCS had taken “excessive liberties” with this year’s election and that their actions had “managed to reduce our standing even further than we thought possible.”
Vanderpool lamented that UCS had not yet installed the Student Government Ethics and Accountability Board students had voted to create the previous year. “The idea has only come up once, in a conversation in September,” he said. The board remains purely theoretical, despite its potential to resolve disputes in a fair, open and equitable manner, he added.
“We have failed to respond to the issues that matter most to students,” Vanderpool said, citing student dissatisfaction with Brown Dining Services and the Office of Residential Life specifically.
Moreover, on the topic of elections, Vanderpool expressed frustration that he was not granted access to the founding documents of UCS and the elections code upon request.
“I asked for the promise that UCS … would not grant (SGA) a blank check to institute an elections code without our approval,” he said. Still, he felt these concerns were not taken into consideration.
SGA was created this semester to standardize the elections process for all three branches of student government, The Herald previously reported.
Boyd expressed similar concerns regarding the election procedures this year. “I’ve come to nearly every (general body) meeting,” she said. “I just genuinely do not remember us passing the SGA election stuff.”
Boyd noted that some members were hesitant when the SGA election procedures were initially brought to UCS. She added that she assumed UCS members would have to approve it, but, to her recollection, that never happened.
“We were technically running an election completely on the SGA election code,” Boyd said. “I remember seeing it in The (Herald) and thinking, ‘We passed that? That happened?"
Caplan responded to Boyd’s and Vanderpool’s concerns stating that “there is no SGA election code.” Caplan cited two main differences between this year’s election and those of previous years. The first was the elimination of debates in favor of an open platform event. “We were trying to move away from the narrative of pitting candidates against each other, … which obviously didn’t work because of everything with the runoff,” he said.
The second alteration to the election rules Caplan referenced was the removal of the policy required under the UCS constitution that required a runoff between top two candidates in the event that neither received a majority of the total vote, which Caplan said was “a total mistake.”
“I personally feel very sorry for the way this turned out and the lack of (transparency) in the process,” Caplan added.
Dai echoed his sentiments. “Having gone through elections ourselves, Sam and I understand how having that agency taken away must feel, and we are truly sorry,” she said.
Caplan and Dai also announced that they would be sharing a form for general body members who did not feel comfortable speaking in the open forum to express their concerns. “It’s called ‘WTF UCS,’” Caplan said.
“It stands for ‘what to fix,’ ” Dai added.
Caplan also proposed several updates to the UCS bylaws which would put “them in a little more flexible and truthful positioning going forward.”
The changes were designed so that the bylaws could better represent UCS “as it is,” Caplan said. “We’re really just trying to fix this mess to give you guys a good jumping off point going forward,” he added.
The bylaw changes update the duties of different Executive Board positions, including shifting some duties of the chair of campus life to the chair of equity and inclusion. They also update the names of offices listed in the bylaws including the Brown Center for Students of Color — formerly listed as the Third World Center — and the LGBTQ Center, which did not exist when the bylaws were written.
Caplan also removed a portion of the bylaws relating to the Undergraduate Finance Board because “UFB is no longer a subsidiary of UCS,” he said.
The general body voted to waive the waiting period on approving these changes to the bylaws, and ultimately passed them unanimously, with three members abstaining.
“I think this is a great example of tangible action to show the student body that we really care about what happened. It’s a huge step in the right direction,” Caplan said after the vote.