A student said Ohio State officials tried to “demoralize” and “intimidate” him after he publicly disagreed with a Council of Graduate Students decision about the transfer of leadership positions and the salary that comes with it.
When health reasons forced president Allen Cochran to step down from his position at CGS – the only official branch of student government for graduate students – Allison Sturm, who was serving as vice president, assumed the president position, leaving her position empty. The way CGS addressed that vacancy is what caused the disagreement.
To fill the newly vacant vice president position, the CGS executive committee, composed of Sturm as president, Zach Kenitzer as secretary and Porsha Smith as treasurer, proposed having Kenitzer and Smith split the vice presidential duties for the remainder of Spring Semester.
Kenitzer and Smith would also split the vice-president’s graduate administrative associate appointment to receive $725 per month for less than two months of work, said Dave Isaacs, Office of Student Life spokesman.
The secretary and treasurer previously received free parking but no monetary stipend. The president and vice-president of CGS are the only delegates who receive such a stipend, provided by the Office of Student Life.
The proposed legislation was brought to a vote before CGS delegates at its scheduled meeting on Jan. 25.
It passed near-unanimously among the 48 of 70 delegates who were present to vote in secret ballot.
But James McMillan, a CGS physics delegate, took issue with the short time period between the introduction of the proposed legislation and its vote.
McMillan said he ran to many delegates before the meeting and told them, “This is a problem.”
CGS bylaws brought into question
According to Article XII.2 of CGS’ constitution, “A copy of the proposed amendment must be sent to all delegates at least one week before the regular meeting that follows the meeting at which the amendment was proposed.” The CGS received an email about the legislation on Jan. 21, four days before the vote.
The minutes from the Jan. 25 delegate meeting have yet to be released.
“I think a lot of them were confronted with the choice between going home at 5:30 versus having to stay later to deal with elections and they’re like ‘Ah that’s more work. I don’t want to deal with that,'” McMillan said. “Others were like, ‘I don’t see a problem here. I don’t care. This organization doesn’t matter because we just come here and it’s a garden club, so who gives a whatever about it.'”
Unsatisfied with the vote’s outcome, McMillan sent a summary of his concerns and a call to action in an email to more than 1,900 graduate students on Jan. 31.
Sturm issued a memorandum to all CGS delegates the following day, assuring them that the committee was acting in the best interest of the students it represents.
The memorandum also explained that the committee’s decision complied with Article III.6 of the CGS constitution, which states, “The Council judges the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members and determines its own rules of procedure.”
Sturm told The Lantern on Monday that the committee’s actions were valid as the delegates approved the proposed legislation.
“It wasn’t really up to us, officers have no voting privileges on that, so at the end of the day it was the delegates’ decision,” Sturm said.
But Zachary Carson, a graduate student in physics, said he would have preferred the committee follow the election procedures outlined in the constitution.
“To have a meeting where the delegates hear the proposal and then not vote on it until a second meeting would give the delegates time to go to the people they’re supposed to represent and say, ‘What are your thoughts on this so I can represent you,'” Carson said.
Student Life demands meeting with McMillan
On Feb. 3, McMillan created a first draft of a website to organize his arguments alongside supporting documents including the CGS constitution, Sturm’s memorandum and his rebuttal to the memorandum.
The next day, McMillan said he received a phone call from Doug Koyle, assistant vice president of Student Life, who wished to schedule a meeting. McMillan said he turned down an in-person meeting and requested to speak via email instead.
On Feb. 5, McMillan said he sent an email to roughly 1,800 new graduate students with a summary of concerns and a call to action and also a link to an updated website.
Other emails circulated among graduate students questioning McMillan’s actions.
Koyle sent an email to McMillan Feb. 6, demanding a meeting.
“Unfortunately, this is no longer a request. We need to address these issues in person. I will see you in my office on Thursday at 11:00 a.m.,” Koyle said in the email.
McMillan says meeting was meant to ‘demoralize,’ assess threat
Koyle requested that McMillan come unaccompanied, but a compromise was made to allow Jonathan Pelz, vice chair for physics graduate students and McMillan’s adviser, Frank De Lucia, to sit in on the meeting.
McMillan said the group was met with two surprise guests on Feb. 13 – an OSU Police officer and a Student Conduct representative.
The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether he was a threat to the university, McMillan said.
“They tried to demoralize me and they tried to intimidate me,” McMillan said.
McMillan said they asked him about his mental health, whether he was in counseling and whether he lived by himself.
Koyle referred The Lantern to Isaacs, who declined to comment on the meeting.
McMillan said that although he does not consider himself a threat, his meeting with Student Life raises question about how the university handles actual threats.
“I wonder how many people they’ve done this to. Let’s say they pull a person into the room who is a threat to the university. If they push them as hard as they pushed me, that person may not have spilled anything, but they might have snapped,” McMillan said. “You don’t approach a person who you think is a threat by yelling at them and pointing at them and threatening to charge them with student conduct violations, and dragging out the most deep, painful memories. That is not how you should approach assessing a threat. It was totally unprofessional what they did.”
Pelz declined to comment on the meeting.
“I will say that I am extremely disappointed in Student Life in that they misrepresented to me the purpose of this meeting and who would attend,” De Lucia said. “Ohio State is a great university and I expect better of its offices.”
The next scheduled CGS delegate meeting is Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the Senate Room in the Ohio Union. The meeting is open to the public.