An Ethics and Oversight Committee for the Georgetown University Student Association senate is set to be approved this week, after the senate unanimously voted Monday to pass legislation to improve the internal accountability of the senate and GUSA’s executive branch.
The formation of the new committee comes a month after the resignation of former president Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) amid sexual misconduct allegations, but the committee was created independent of the recent resignations, according to Dylan Hughes (COL ’19), GUSA senator and chair of the eight-person committee.
No complaints had been filed against Nair through the Title IX office or the Office of Student Conduct, he wrote in a May 28 email to The Hoya. A university spokesperson confirmed that, as of May 2019, Nair was not the subject of any complaints through either office nor had he been found responsible for any violations of the Student Code of Conduct.
The legislation instructs the committee to track senators’ attendance records at meetings, monitor potential conflicts of interest and ensure that members communicate regularly, said Hughes, who was elected chair of the committee at the senate meeting Monday.
“This committee is just designed to ensure that GUSA is behaving ethically and responsibly,” Hughes said. “I’ve been at Georgetown for four years now, and in my time, I’ve seen examples of GUSA acting unethically.”
The committee will also be tasked with investigating the financial activity of GUSA and subpoenaing any GUSA member, including presidential candidates. Upon investigating, the committee can issue letters of warning and initiate articles of impeachment.
Vice President Kenna Chick (SFS ’20), GUSA’s former mental health policy coalition chair, expressed support for the committee’s goals but raised concerns about its potential handling of mental health issues.
“This committee needs to find that careful balance between oversight and compassion,” Chick wrote in an email to The Hoya, describing her experience seeing people forced out of work spaces for mental health reasons. “This committee can certainly avoid replicating those ablest practices and interactions, but the Chair and Vice-Chair must prioritize the health and wellness of students to do so.”
Hughes cited illegal spending by presidential candidates and chronic absences as examples of problems that could potentially have been avoided with an oversight committee.
Sam Dubke (SFS ’21) echoed Hughes’ concern with absences, saying it was what motivated him to help draft the legislation forming the committee.
“I was a senator last year, and I personally was very frustrated working with the executive branch because a lot of people wouldn’t respond to emails or set up meetings,” Dubke said. “A lot of senators would just not come to meetings that they felt were unnecessary, and there was functionally no enforcement mechanism.”
During the 2018 GUSA executive race, runner-up candidates Josh Sirois (SFS ’20) and Casey Doherty (COL ’20) alleged that the campaign of Nair and Naba Rahman (SFS ’19) exceeded the $300 budget limit. The Election Commission did not find violations of finance rules, but former GUSA Election Commission Co-Chair Grady Willard (SFS ’18) said in February that the process of campaign financing monitoring needs to be improved.
“The whole issue in general of campaign finance is something that is desperately, really really desperately broken and needs to be fixed,” Willard said. “I am of the personal belief that of all the campaigns I have seen in four years … of the candidates that spent the maximum amount of money, there is a strong chance that some of them just didn’t report additional expenses. Because there’s no way for us to check.”
GUSA Senators Saham Ali (COL ’21), Dubke and Hughes introduced the legislation Monday night. Dubke will serve as vice chair of the new committee.
The members of the committee will also include the vice chairs of the senate’s four standing committees, who have not yet been elected, as well as two nonvoting participants from the executive branch.
Hughes and Dubke emphasized that they, along with Ali, wrote the legislation over the summer and that it was not a response to the recent resignations.
“This legislation was in process over the summer. We have been drafting this for months,” Hughes said. “This is not, nor was it designed to be, nor should it ever be, an emergency response committee.”
Having an oversight committee will help fulfill the senate’s promises of increasing GUSA’s transparency, GUSA Senator Karan Chauhan (SFS ’22) said.
“GUSA has a reputation for being ineffective, so by creating the Ethics and Oversight Committee, the senate is building a sense of trust that we are doing the work we were elected to do,” Chauhan said. “Ideally, the committee will work as a limited check, because ideally, everyone will be doing their job.”
GUSA Senator Logan Arkema (COL ’20), who ran for GUSA president in February, agreed with Chauhan’s desire for a restricted role for the committee, welcoming it chiefly as a mechanism for patrolling attendance and executive responsiveness.
“Having an ethics committee helps, but this committee isn’t going to solve every single ethical and transparency issue within GUSA,” Arkema said. “It was primarily established to crack down on senators who don’t do any work.”
While the GUSA executive has until Oct. 18 to either veto the legislation or sign it into law, Chick indicated that the bill would be approved.
“Prior to signing this legislation, we certainly want to continue our working relationship with this committee and address some of the concerns we have,” Chick wrote. “We’re confident in the committee’s objectives, and want to improve the committee through active collaboration.”
This article was updated May 28 to indicate the absence of Title IX or Office of Student Conduct complaints against Nair and to include comment from Nair.