The recent impeachment of Kwon Yearby was not so much formal as farce.
Under a shroud of secrecy, ASCSU decided to take historically unprecedented action against the representative of 750 students, willfully ignoring calls for transparency by student media.
To be sure, neither the Collegian nor I have stated that Kwon shouldn’t have been up for impeachment. Nearly every account I’ve heard, as well as seeing his abrasive style personally during some SFRB meetings last year, indicate that if there was a “problem senator” in ASCSU, it was Mr. Yearby.
But there are two major concerns that CSU students should understand when it comes to impeachments — concerns that involve precedents and transparency. The first is the question of due process for the removal of an elected official, and the precedent ASCSU has set in their recent impeachment.
On Nov. 5, an executive (meaning private) session was called by student body Vice President Lance Li Puma on the grounds that there was sensitive testimony, requiring closed doors. While that line of reasoning attempts to justify removal of press, it is not a justification for the removal of former Sen. Yearby, who was asked to leave shortly after Collegian personnel were removed from the room. The vote to impeach took place with Kwon on the outside looking in. In addition, names of which senators voted for or against impeachment was not released, although the final tally was 18-5 in favor of impeachment.
Li Puma submitted the statement to the Collegian, “ASCSU’s impeachment process gives all parties appropriate notice and a meaningful opportunity to participate. The impeachment proceedings were followed for Senator Kwon Yearby, and he has been an active participant in the process.”
And yet by exiling Kwon during the vote that decided his fate, ASCSU is implying that any senator can be impeached, behind closed doors, using hidden justifications, without a right to face all accusers or to cast a vote as a defense, just so long as the testimony used to impeach is “sensitive,” and the senator is an “active participant.” Not so active as to be in the room during the impeachment vote, but that appears to be what passes for acceptable by ASCSU standards of interpretation.
My second concern tackles the role of the press in these matters, and why attempts to lay blame at the Collegian’s feet are mistaken.
My colleague Sean Kennedy calls for both sides of student media and student government to show respect for each other. That may be noble, but misunderstands the fundamental relationship between media and government. Media isn’t there to push respect for power. Media is there to check that power. That’s why the First Amendment is so important, to hold governments accountable with the press serving as a protected conduit between government activities and the constituents they represent.
Of course, applying that concept to our current situation assumes ASCSU is government. In the days following the impeachment, CSU publicly stated ASCSU is not a governing body.
What a preposterous notion, a seemingly desperate ploy to manufacture a legal loophole. They are a body of elected representatives; they call themselves student government. They also seem to fit the legal definition of a governing body, defined as, “any public or private entities that have been delegated governmental decision-making functions by a body or official,” per Colorado Open Meetings Law. The CSU Board of Governers delegates over $2 million in student fees to be divvied up by ASCSU.
They can blame the Collegian coverage all they want, but students are not so blind or mentally malleable to believe that ASCSU as constructed does not meet the basic criteria for a governing body. And if they are a governing body, they are subject to Colorado Open Meetings Law. Therefore, ASCSU broke state law last Wednesday by removing the press, regardless of what kind of body the administration dubs them. The Collegian did its job by reporting the factual statements from both sides in their coverage this week. That ASCSU’s image is harmed by factually accurate coverage or the ensuing PR scramble by CSU is not the concern of the student media. The Collegian’s job is to report to its readers, primarily students, on the activities of student government; kicking the press out of impeachment proceedings impedes that aim, preventing the flow of necessary information to the student body.
There shouldn’t be so much contention over privacy during an impeachment trial. Impeachments negate the result of elections, a necessary check to prevent abuses. Kwon represented 750 students, and deserves a fair shake of the system, in public and in clear view. ASCSU neither gave due process to Kwon nor respected the public’s right to know about the removal of its elected officials. This set a dangerous precedent for future “problem” senators, and violated state laws. Stop pointing fingers at the Collegian, whose job is not to uphold the integrity of ASCSU. Integrity comes from within, and ASCSU seems bereft of it.
Collegian Editorial Editor Zack Burley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter by @Zackburley.