Undergraduate Senator Resigns in Letter Attacking Senate Culture

Originally published online by The Eagle on October 21, 2015. 

A member of the Undergraduate Senate submitted a letter of resignation on Sunday, calling Senate “ineffective” and a “nightmare secret society,” due to what he claims is a culture of manipulation under former Speaker Will Mascaro.

“All of you pretend to play dress up and impersonate juris doctorates, when, in truth, you all pale in comparison to the real things,” Louis Ryan, former senator for the class of 2016, wrote in the letter. “Senate becomes like an addiction and compels people to destroy themselves and each other, for what purpose I ask? It would be heartbreaking if any of this actually mattered, which it doesn’t.”

Ryan said he left within the first 15 minutes of Sunday’s meeting. He said he planned to resign later, at the end of his term on Nov. 1, but became frustrated that the Senate did not hold elections to replace Mascaro — an inaction he claims violates Senate bylaws. Mascaro left the Speaker position on Oct. 13 because he is running for Senator at Large in the current elections, and under Senate bylaws he cannot continue as Speaker at the same time.

Although the trouble over the Speaker’s replacement was the tipping point in Ryan’s resignation, he said the Senate’s culture, especially under Mascaro’s leadership, was the real driving force behind his decision to leave.

“The reason Will has been able to stay as Speaker for so long is because he stacked the Senate with his friends and yes-men while keeping out those who posed a threat to him. It is, in my opinion, blatant cronyism,” Ryan said.

Mascaro originally took on the role of Speaker following the resignation of former Speaker Lars Emerson, who helped Ryan craft his letter of resignation this weekend. According to Ryan, Mascaro manipulated Senate appointments in his own favor.

Mascaro said he is proud of the Senate’s culture and numerous recent achievements. He added that it would also be virtually impossible for him to pull off the level of control that Ryan alleges, due to Senate regulations.

“Whether it is a senator, an appointment I make in another department or an appointment I make to our Judicial Board, every single one of those individuals has to be chosen by me, chosen by me and [Student Government President] Sasha [Gilthorpe] in some instances, confirmed by the Committee on Rules and Privileges and then confirmed by the entire Undergraduate Senate,” Mascaro said. “It is essentially impossible for me to appoint yes-men, individuals that would be titled as ‘cronies,’ because there are so many safety nets to ensure that that is physically impossible.”

Mascaro also pointed to the positive impacts of some of his appointees, including Senator Kiersten Gillete-Pierce’s co-sponsorship of a unanimously-passed bill that requires all members of Senate undergo cultural sensitivity training.

Bylaw issues

Ryan was prompted to resign after the Senate chose to allow the current Acting Speaker to run in Senate elections this fall. A normal Speaker, who has been elected by the Senate, cannot run to be a Senator at the same time.

“The Speaker cannot run for elected office. You are constitutionally barred from doing so,” Mascaro said.

Instead, Gabriel Unruh, the Speaker Pro-Tempore, which Mascaro and Ryan said functions like a “Vice Speaker,” replaced Mascaro to become Acting Speaker, and is concurrently running for Class of 2017 Senator. Ryan said this was in violation of Senate rules.

However, Mascaro refuted the claim and said the Senate voted that a new Speaker did not need to be elected at the meeting last Sunday. Unruh may serve as both Acting Speaker and run in the upcoming election since there is no ruling on an Acting Speaker’s ability to run in elections, Mascaro said.

Unruh read Ryan’s letter aloud at the end of Sunday’s meeting, but the reading ended early, after senators motioned to halt the discussion. Ryan was not present as Unruh read the letter.

“I didn’t intend for it to be read aloud,” said Ryan, who said his issues are with Senate and not the Executive Board or Student Government President Gilthorpe. “I didn’t want anyone to read it aloud because it’s very inflammatory. What I wrote in the letter is stuff I believe in my heart and my gut.”

An electronic copy of the letter was shared with the entire Undergraduate Senate at Ryan’s request. Ultimately, he wrote that he would like to see Student Activities shut down the Undergraduate Senate.

“They’re trying to pretend that [Undergraduate Senate] is an organization that does meaningful, revolutionary things to help students, when it’s kind of pretending to be,” Ryan said. “It’s a lot of appearing to do a lot and doing very little and patting each other on the back and being self-congratulatory when it hasn’t really been deserved.”

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