Zev Burton (SFS ’22), a Georgetown University Student Association senator and the senate ethics and oversight committee chair, resigned Nov. 11.
Burton, who was elected senator in April 2019, announced his resignation in an email to the GUSA senate Monday afternoon, citing senate-related disputes and personal circumstances.
As the ethics and oversight committee chair, Burton monitored senators’ attendance records at meetings and tracked potential conflicts of interest within GUSA. The former Ethics and Oversight Vice Chair Chris Ziac (SFS ’22) will assume Burton’s responsibilities as chair of the committee.
Though Burton counts GUSA as a highlight of his Georgetown experience, the organization also took an emotional toll on him, he wrote in the Nov. 11 email to the GUSA senate obtained by The Hoya.
“When I expected help I found pushback, when I asked to learn I was berated, and when I tried to do my job I was disrespected,” Burton wrote. “To be blunt, I did not feel treated well and I was frequently frustrated. I didn’t come to Georgetown or run for GUSA to be locked up in petty disagreements.”
Some senators pushed back on the policies of the ethics and oversight committee, making the role of chair difficult, according to Burton.
“It was very hard for me to be kind of the cop in the oversight measure because people don’t like when others hold them accountable,” Burton said in an interview with The Hoya.
Burton’s perception of the senate atmosphere is not universal. The environment within this year’s senate fostered support and success, according to GUSA Senate Speaker Juan Martinez (SFS ’20).
“While the Senate has had some passionate debates this year, it is my perception that they have remained respectful and the work of the Senate has actually benefited from them,” Martinez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I believe it is this atmosphere that has allowed the Senate to thrive, passing various bills on important matters and collaborating internally to achieve our policy objectives.”
As chair, Burton helped usher in a series of reforms on the ethics and oversight committee, including changing the structure to include GUSA executive and student body representative voting members. On Nov. 10, the day before his resignation, Burton introduced a second bill aiming to codify new ethics and oversight committee absence policies and resulting consequences.
Burton planned to rework the ethics and oversight committee to become a resource for senators instead of a disciplinary body but found those aspirations to be unattainable, he said.
“I wanted to make ethics and oversight more like a human resources department, like we’re here to help, as opposed to kind of an oversight body like the cops in a security state,” Burton said. “This past weekend, once ethics and oversight started trying to act in its HR capacity, I realized there was no way for it to do it under my leadership.”
The GUSA senate will hold an election to choose a new ethics and oversight committee vice chair at its next weekly meeting Nov. 17, according to Martinez. The speaker notified GUSA President Norman Francis Jr. (COL ’20), Vice President Aleida Olvera (COL ’20) and the election commission about Burton’s resignation, but the commission has not yet announced plans to fill the vacant senate seat.
Personal circumstances also influenced Burton’s decision to resign. Burton said he could not adequately fulfill his senatorial duties.
“I cannot give GUSA 100 percent focus right now, and it would be awful and disrespectful to fellow senators, to the people who voted me in, to everyone who’s been working so hard, if I’m sitting there in meetings and I’m busy thinking about something else,” Burton said. “It is much better to have someone else like Chris in there, who’s going to do such a great job, who’s able to give his full attention to it.”
Burton would have considered remaining in the position if daily operations of the senate focused more on policy and advocacy for the campus community, he said.
“I think if we had been more focused on policy and every senator had been dedicated to showing up, doing their job and making it better for Georgetown, which I believe many senators in there are doing, then I think there’s a possibility I would have stayed,” Burton said.
In his new role as chair of the ethics and oversight committee, Ziac will convey explicit expectations for his fellow senators, he said.
“Clear communication can solve so many problems, so I am hoping that as chair I can be sure to be clear about what I want and I expect both from members of the committee and people I might call before the committee to talk with,” Ziac said. “I am pretty confident that I will be able to keep things calm and clear.”