On Friday, April 5, the University of Northern Colorado Student Senate published a notice on their website, explaining how “due to the number of grievances” filed during the 2019 Student Senate Election, the results of the voting period — April 1 to April 3 — would not be released. While the original election schedule planned for the official final results to be released on Friday, April 12, a confirmed list of the 2019-2020 Student Senate staff has yet to be made public. The Mirror staff investigated why.
According to the Student Senate Election Rules and Regulations and Assistant Dean of Student Life Evan Welch, he must certify the election results before giving them to Election Commissioner Tammy Ortiz. From there, the results are made public. However, an election’s results cannot be certified if there is a “valid grievance or request for recount” and the university must wait until an outcome is determined. The university’s grievance form is located under the “Student Judiciary” tab of the Senate’s website. Welch said Student Judiciary is a group of five students who are advised through the Office of Community Standards and Conflict Resolution. Historically, grievances have either been based on interpersonal conflict, policy violations by a candidate or actual crimes committed by a candidate.
According to the Student Judiciary website, once a grievance is filed, Student Rights Advocate Langston Mayo brings them to Student Judiciary. From there, the government body reviews the information and determines if an election candidate violated a policy under their jurisdiction. It then determines the proper course of action to deal with the violations to “appropriately repair any harm” and a letter with all the details is sent out by the student rights advocate or the judiciary advisors. Student Body President Tim Hernandez, said in an email the judiciary acts in a similar way to the United States Supreme Court. The judiciary deals primarily with specific cases of election code or student rights violations.
“If we use the same analogy, the Supreme Court will make rulings based upon specific cases and instances, and then it will be passed to the executive and legislative branches where they will enact bills, laws, or acts,” Hernandez said in the email. “However, when it comes to election code, Student Senate already has legislation in place for election code, so when an individual violates election code, the grievances are sent over to Student Judiciary to advise and mitigate a decision that is then reported back to the Senate.”
Welch explained how this judicial body tends to take advantage of its investigations in order to come to a final decision.
“So any time they [Student Judiciary] get a grievance, they look at it and identify ‘Is there anything here, or is it purely frivolous, slander-smear campaign of just grasping at straws?’” Welch said. “Now they usually, if not always, err on the side of investigating everything because it never looks good for any sort of judicial group to be, like, ‘We received a grievance, we decided not to do anything with it.’”
According to Hernandez, once the judiciary reaches a recommendation, it is sent to the candidate(s) who are the subject of the grievances. From there, the candidate(s) have one week to file an appeal with Dean of Students Gardiner Tucker. If the candidate(s) do(es) not appeal, then the judiciary’s decision is made public to the Senate and the university as a whole. If the candidate(s) choose to appeal, then the following time frame is unspecified.
On April 9, shortly after the Senate announced the preliminary results of the election would be delayed, Student Body President candidate Grant May commented to The Mirror.
“I filed no grievances towards any competitors campaigns,” May said in an email. “I believe in Laissez Faire regulatory practices. The current student government and the election process is highly over-regulated and hangs the threat of grievances over the heads of candidates. I look forward to UNC [student government] elections potentially being less rigid in the future.”
The Mirror reached out to several other candidates for comment but did not receive any replies.
According to Welch, the student justices cannot disclose any information regarding the grievance investigation process and cannot publicize the outcome of said investigations. This is because disclosing a student’s involvement in an investigation would constitute educational record, which is protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. The act prohibits the sharing of a student’s educational records unless the individual provides written consent or it falls into one of many exceptions, including general directory information and inquiries from financial aid officials. Justices also cannot disclose any information to current Student Senate members, who know as much about the process and grievances as the rest of the student body.
On the same note, Welch said no matter how many candidates have a grievance filed against them, the university must withhold all election results to avoid indirectly outing candidates.
“It’s basically the institution ‘outing’ them through a process that isn’t public record,” Welch said. “Now candidates can certainly ‘out’ themselves about where they’re at in the process, but the institution can’t. For me that has been the hardest thing is wanting to be fair and respectful to the candidates, but also providing good, clear, honest information to campus, rather than not being, like, ‘Sorry, FERPA.’ We can always talk about our processes, but just nothing that would ‘out’ a student.”
However, one student has already outed himself. On April 19, May posted various images on his Facebook page of a document sent to him from Student Judiciary. These images show recommendations to reduce May’s votes by 25 percent, disqualify him from the 2019 election and say that he can’t “hold any Senate position for one calendar year.” According to the images, these were in response to violations of the Election Code of Ethics, as well as Paragraphs One and Seven of the Election Rules and Regulations. Paragraph One says any and all “posting and distribution of campaign materials shall be in accordance with University Policy” and Paragraph Seven says candidates “may not use Student Fees, or anything purchased with Student Fees for campaign purposes.”
On April 3, a member of The Mirror staff received an email from Emerald May using the Sexual Harassment Training course on Canvas. According to Grant’s Facebook page, Emerald is his sister. This email contained the subject line “Vote Grant May 4 Student Body President,” information about his platform and directions for how to vote on URSA. According to the university website, the Canvas Learning Management System is used to “deliver instructional content, collaborate and communicate online, track and assess student work, as well as facilitate course administration.” The website said resident undergraduates pay a student technology fee per semester which “provid[es] students access to academic software.”
In the April 19 Facebook post, May said:
“Due my widespread postering campaign which involved the use of banned substance–tape and integration of mass email marketing I will most likely not serve,” May said in the post. “These are standard campaign mediums that every legitimate political campaign includes in the 21st century–unfortunately UNC considers these practices unethical.”
When asked for comment on the current state of his campaign, May explained in an email how he is appealing the Student Judiciary’s recommendations to remove a number of his votes and his position on the ballot.
“I believe it is in my best interest to hold onto the entire document until my appeal has concluded,” May said in the email. “I have done some work with the Denver Post and recognize time relevance is key. But I believe this is in my best interest for the time being. Afterwards, I would be happy to share the document.”
If Student Judiciary has sent out all its recommendations regarding candidate grievances, then the next step in the process is for Tucker to review any and all candidate appeals. Appeals can be based on new information that was not immediately available, if the judiciary didn’t follow the proper procedures or if ‘the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.’ If the appeal is denied, the candidate in question must follow through with the judiciary’s original sanctions.
Welch said once Tucker makes a decision, he will inform all the election candidates of the final results. From there Welch can certify the results and give them to Ortiz. At that point, a university-wide announcement will be made about the situation.
“I think the process is taking a long time and that’s because both Student Senate but especially Student Judiciary wants to get it right,” Welch said. “While it’s frustrating for students to not have specific information — I mean, obviously there is a process going on that the group who’s running it can’t share, and that doesn’t feel good as a student to know that there’s some sort of process going on here that’s got something to do with our elections and we’re not allowed to know what it is. I think as frustrating as that is, I think any student who potentially would be in the process wouldn’t want to have their information shared out publicly by a campus accountability board.”
In an April 24 email sent to The Mirror, Ortiz said the Senate has not “received any copies of the sanctions that have been filed against anyone in the 2019 election process.” In an email sent the same day, University President Andy Feinstein said he is “aware of the situation and [has] been informed that the processes in place for such cases are being followed.”
Student Judiciary Advisor Nicholas Dix was not immediately available for comment. According to Welch, Tucker will possibly make a decision on the appeals by April 29 or April 30, but it can depend on when each affected candidate received their letter from Student Judiciary.
Update 4/30 1:05 p.m. The University of Northern Colorado Student Senate posted on their Facebook page the results of the Spring 2019 Election. The winners are as follows:
Hernandez said in an email to The Mirror that he is “confident in the process that we followed to maintain the integrity of the election code in student senate,” and that he is “excited to see the work that these candidates do.”
May said the following in an email to The Mirror:
“Congratulations to Mika Tancayo on the victory. Official votes were heavily altered to reflect vote reductions made by the student judiciary to several candidates, including myself. To be clear, the vote count released is not reflective of how the bear population actually voted. That said I do not intend to contest or demand a recount–time is valuable and I have larger goals to work towards. To my competitor Micheal Moss, thank you for giving it your all and completing like a warrior. To my competitor Jordan, keep pursuing leadership–you are only a freshman! Your time is coming. To my competitor Mika Tancayo, I look forward to seeing you make tangible change as Student Body President. Best of luck!”