UT student leadership can learn from Texas States’ mistakes

Liam Verses

If you don’t show up, nothing will happen. Nearly half of Texas State senators failed to participate in an impeachment hearing last week for then-student body President Connor Clegg. In short, they failed to do their job. 

Texas State’s Student Government has had a contentious several months. First, then-student body President Clegg threatened to defund the school newspaper over a controversial opinion column titled, “Your DNA is an abomination.” As confirmed with the Texas State Dean of Students Margarita Arellano, Senator Claudia Gasponi and House Leader Mael Le Noc sponsored articles of impeachment against Clegg because of his use of official Student Government media to voice his opinion and the appearance of his position representing all of Texas State Student Government, which was not the case. 

The Texas State Supreme Court struck down the articles of impeachment, but the impeachment charges were reinstated by the Dean of Students on appeal. Last week’s joint legislative hearing could not establish a quorum of senators needed to proceed after 19 Texas State senators failed to show up. This was the second time senators’ absences forced a meeting to be canceled. The first was when articles of impeachment were first being considered.

Texas State SG’s Code of Ethics states that “all members of the Student Government have a responsibility to the students at Texas State and should be held to a higher standard as student leaders.” Clearly, if these individuals deliberately failed to show, they are not holding themselves to high standards.

We cannot prove that either or both of these was a concerted effort by the senators to undermine the impeachment process. However, Le Noc stated in an email that “it appears that there is quite a bit of overlap between the names of the senators that were absent the first time and (those) that were absent on Wednesday.” Regardless of the nature of the absences, they set a bad example.

If representatives sincerely felt that the impeachment is unwarranted and unfair, there was a process to stop it. They could’ve shown that through open debate or the vote on the impeachment itself. Simply walking away from legitimate hearings is not an acceptable response in any situation.

University of Texas student leaders have a lot to learn from the actions this past week at Texas State. Foremost, we should always show up — you chose to be in your roles on campus, whether that’s student body president or Liberal Arts Council member. Secondly, if you abdicate your responsibility, expect blow-back. Thirdly, if you disagree with something, refusing to engage in conversation does a disservice to both your perspective and your peers. Courage and integrity should always be paramount. They should not be seen as political obstacles.

Le Noc stated that despite last week’s events, “(they) will keep serving the students the best (they) can.” The issue at Texas State is not about the merits of the articles of impeachment, and it’s not a political issue. This is an issue of ethics, responsibility and leadership. And a good leader cannot exist without the former two principles.

The Texas State SG Oath of Office says, “(I) will represent the students to the utmost of my ability and will discharge the duties of my office with integrity and honesty.” Even if it wasn’t intentional, not showing up to a hearing is a failure to fulfill an oath of office, disregarding the immense responsibility as student leaders.

Margarita Arellano, the Texas State dean of students, said, “If you accept the responsibility and have the privilege of being elected, you have to comply with your duties, you have to be at those meetings, (and) be an ethical leader.” 

When we allow ourselves to disregard our roles as elected officials, our promises and obligations become little more than mere words on a sheet of paper. 

Clegg was removed from office yesterday, but the process leading up to that event shows that student leaders must do better. Our ability to resolve conflict depends on it.

Verses is a Plan II and environmental engineering freshman from San Antonio.