- Letters to Editor
By TOPHER PAYTON
A proposal that would allow Registered Student Organizations to be autonomous entities, free from most aspects of university oversight, set off a dispute between SGA officials and its ethics administrator in recent weeks.
The dispute culminated Tuesday night in a grievance hearing over whether the ethics administrator overstepped his authority when he sent out an unauthorized email alerting student senators of the proposal.
The grievance was presented Tuesday night to Student Court, which determines whether students violate university or SGA policy.
At the center of the hearing is Michael Deaton, 21, a pre-med major from Dearborn, Mich., who serves as SGA’s Ethics Administrator. Deaton stands accused of sending an email to senators on Sept. 19 informing them that Michael Reagle, who oversees student life and also serves as an adviser to SGA, would be visiting the Sept. 24 meeting to present a potential policy change for Registered Student Organizations (RSOs).
“The goal of the revision is to eliminate the standard that all RSO’s must uphold the policies and procedures set forth by the university,” Deaton said in the email to the senators.
SGA officials said they took issue with Deaton’s email because they agreed not to get into the specifics of the proposal before Reagle had an opportunity to address the Student Senate—in hopes that students would get a clear presentation of the facts before voting. SGA officials also said that Deaton, in his capacity as Ethics Adminstrator, had no authority to inform senators of the proposal.
“Michael Deaton was never asked to conduct an inquiry by any branch or member of [SGA],” wrote Andrew Beasley, chief of staff, who filed the initial grievance against Deaton. “That letter was a move that he deemed necessary, and as such, is unconstitutional.”
Deaton, however, said he believed student senators should have been notified of an impending policy proposal so they might educate themselves prior to the meeting, particularly one over something as contentious as the university distancing itself from RSOs.
“As ethics administrator, I found this unethical,” Deaton said in an interview. “The Senate can’t represent the student body without knowing what they are voting on.”
The meeting Tuesday, in which Deaton’s alleged violation was heard by Student Court, drew a large crowd, many of whom were turned away from Library Room 128 because the room was filled to capacity. Many of those who didn’t get in either stood outside the doorway to listen or went to middle Powell, where a live stream of the meeting was broadcast (although about 20 minutes in, the live feed broke up and was lost). Some of those in attendance came to protest the action taken against Deaton and placed duct tape over their mouths.
“We are here to protest the fact that we believe that Michael Deaton was brought up on charges that were completely ridiculous,” said Rachel Thorely, 19, a paralegal studies major from Sulphur, Ky. “He exercised his right as a human to inform people of something that was already public knowledge.”
SGA President Sarah Carpenter said the grievance against Deaton didn’t stem from the fact that he informed senators of the policy proposal but that he did so in his capacity as Ethics Administrator, which she said constituted an abuse of his office.
Deaton said the information that he included in his email was nothing different than what was talked in the SGA meeting, which was a public meeting and hence open to anyone.
Now that Student Court has heard the case, the six justices in attendance (two recused themselves and one was absent) will have five class days in which to render a verdict.
If he’s found guilty, Deaton’s punishment—which could be as little as a reprimand or as grave as impeachment—will be decided by the Student Senate, SGA officials said.
Initially the dispute began over university administrator’s proposal to SGA in which groups on campus would no longer be subject to university rules and policies. The move stems from a larger dilemma nationwide that universities face in overseeing student groups, which as part of the university are unable to have any say in who may or may not join their group. This was reinforced by a 2010 Supreme Court decision, which said that universities can legally refuse to recognize a religious organization unless it’s open for all students to join.