As the academic year comes to a close, the ASMSU Senate spent its final meeting of the semester finalizing its budget and attempting to resolve the controversy regarding the structural changes the organization encountered the previous week.
On Thursday, April 10, former ASMSU executive team President Lindsay Murdock, Vice President Lukas Smith and Business Manager Erica Dunn announced implemented changes within ASMSU classified staff, eliminating the ASMSU attorney position and decreasing the number of office staff positions from four to three. These structural were made in conjunction with MSU Human Resources and the Division for Student Success although the ASMSU Senate was not involved in the decision-making process.
The executive team informed the senate of these changes during the penultimate senate meeting of the year. The news was met with disapproval from the senate who, having final authority over the budget, felt they should have had a say in the change. Some senators believed that the change was a breach of the ASMSU Constitution, and they drafted a resolution to impeach Murdock and Smith. The resolution failed due to time restrictions, for the beginning of the final ASMSU Senate meeting on Thursday, April 17, Murdock and Smith transitioned out of office with the swearing in of the new executive team Destini French and Jordan Garceau.
Although their attempt to impeach Murdock and Smith did not succeed, members of the senate tried to assert their autonomy, drafting a resolution attempting to nullify the ASMSU organizational restructure. The resolution attracted the support of several former members of ASMSU and MSU alumni, many of whom attended the meeting and others who submitted video testimonies.
These testimonies expressed concern regarding what a former Student-Body Vice President and ASMSU Senator Mike Pasque referred to as “an invasion on [the senate’s] autonomy,” encouraging the body to “assert independence from the university.”
The purpose of the resolution was to reverse all the ASMSU organizational changes which had been carried out without the senate’s knowledge. Sponsors Senator Carsten Kirby, Senate President Eric Oak and Senator Taly Polukoff justified their call for nullification in the document as “any fiscal and/or structural changes made by the ASMSU Executive Team in conjunction with the Vice President of Student Success were unlawful and wrongful acts and are thus subject to immediate nullification.” However, because the changes were all personnel based and ultimately made by the Vice President for Student Success with the prompting of the ASMSU executive team, the senate does not have the authority to reverse the changes, making the resolution largely symbolic.
According to Regent Jeff Krauss, who is also the mayor of Bozeman and was an ASMSU senator in the late 1980s, ASMSU has always had to fight for its autonomy. Krauss gave anecdotal evidence of his fight for the independence of student government during his term as a senator. “A lot has changed since 1988. Now you can’t even hire your own employees,” he said, challenging the current senate to stand up for itself.
Krauss also highlighted the value of the ASMSU attorney position, which he believes creates consistency within ASMSU. “This body changes every year,” he said. “It is great to have someone with institutional memory.”
MSU Counsel Leslie Taylor stressed that the restructure was not an effort by the university to ignore the student voice. “Your leadership came to the university and asked for this,” she said to the senate. “This was not being shoved down your throats.”
According to ASMSU’s policies and procedures, a resolution undergoes a first reading then is discussed and voted upon the following week. As this was the last senate meeting of the year, supporters of the nullification resolution motioned to suspend the rules and to skip a first reading of the document and to vote immediately. The motion failed at first but was later successful, bringing the resolution to a vote. The resolution, however, failed to pass.
The organizational change, the first in over 30 years, created additional complications as the senate worked to finalize the 2014-2015 academic year budget, specifically in the Administration and Legal budgets. With the position of ASMSU attorney eliminated, the senate now had to budget for the contracting of external legal services rather than paying its own attorney’s salary.
Although the resolution to nullify the organizational changes had already failed, discussion continued about the anticipated problems and benefits of contracting external legal services rather than having an internal attorney. The ASMSU attorney provided legal advice to students but could not go to court. Any other attorney contracted by ASMSU will have the same role covered by the ASMSU legal fee. Students will still have to contract a lawyer outside of ASMSU in order to go to court.
Senators expressed concerns about private attorneys representing landlords rather than students in housing situations, to which Taylor replied that, in accordance with Montana Bar Association laws, attorneys cannot represent both parties in a case.
Phyllis Bock, former ASMSU attorney and current ASMSU operations manager, said before she was hired 30 years ago, legal services were outsourced. “If the lawyer downtown had other paying clients, the students waited or got rescheduled,” she said.
While the senate was divided about the best way to structure ASMSU legal services, they ultimately passed the budget based on the new structure. Senator Hannah Mains argued that if senators do not support the changes, they can create a task force to reverse them; however, that was not going to happen during one meeting and the budget needed to be passed.
After the budget was voted upon and passed, the meeting moved to the swearing in of the new ASMSU senators for the 2014-2015 academic year.