ASUU Articles of Impeachment Fail in Senate for Senator Kwak

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In the Sept. 3 ASUU meeting across the middle row, from left to write, Senators Jess WOJCIECHOWSKI, Seodam Kwak and Tiffany Chan listen to Chair Matthew Irwin in the bottom right corner. The meeting took place via Microsoft Teams.

By Alexis Perno

 

 

In a five hour meeting Thursday, Sept. 3, the three charges of impeachment for Senator Seodom Kwak brought by Senators Jessica Wojciechowski and Tiffany Chan did not reach enough votes to move to the second step, trial by assembly. 

The articles’ first clause detailed multiple violations of Robert’s Rules, a set of non-ASUU organizational rules used in debate settings to ensure order, which “affects the ability of the body to productively and efficiently get through legislation that affects students”, according to the document.

Secondly, the document stated, “Senator Kwak has created negative, emotional impacts through his statements, comments and questions, and tone.”

In the final clause, the articles said “Senator Kwak did not adequately nor respectfully study, research, question, and voice student opinion on JR2”, referring to Joint Resolution 2: A Resolution in Support of the Black Student Union at the U.

During the July 16 meeting where Joint Resolution 2 was passed, several senators, community members, and the authors of the bill labeled Kwak’s actions as racist through his tone of voice, line of questioning, and use of historically racist terms. Kwak also interrupted several speakers, which is against Senate Red book rules.

Each clause needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and at least one clause needed to pass to be sent to the assembly where Kwak would have faced the trial portion of impeachment if passed.

At the time of the vote, 16 senators were present. Since Senate Chair Matthew Irwin abstained from all votes, ten votes were needed for a majority. 

None of the clauses reached the needed majority; the first, with a nine to six vote in favor of passing, the second, also nine to six, and the third, with eight to seven. 

The virtual meeting began at 6 p.m. with a few campus updates and a bill about funding a “field guide” book for graduate students, which passed. Then, Senate Chair Matthew Irwin led with opening remarks, saying he wanted to build a place where people could disagree with the opinion and not the person. 

As detailed in the meeting by Attorney General Dallas Blackburn, the ASUU’s constitution, the Red Book, lists three impeachable offenses: failure to fulfill duties, failure to follow the Red Book and its bylaws, and committing actions unbecoming of the office. 

Then, Wojciechowski started with an introduction of the articles — which were emailed to all Senators prior to the meeting — including discussing the mission statements of the University of Utah and ASUU, pointing out similarities and shared values. 

“We have asked minority students at the University of Utah to be quiet and sit on the sidelines for too long,” Wojciechowski said. “It is time to change. We must call out and to the fullest of our abilities condemn corrosive, gross, negligent and abusive behavior by all members of ASUU, the student population, our administration. If we want anything to change, it has to start with us as senators and representatives of the University of Utah.”

After Wojciechowski introduced the legislation, Chan continued, saying the trial had arrived at the question of whether Kwak could effectively fulfill his responsibilities in the Senate in the framework and discussion of conduct.

“We have clearly seen that Senator Kwak has violated ASUU’s Constitution and ASUU’s mission to cultivate safe spaces for students to participate in and share their concerns, and to conduct professional channels to discuss student concerns. These concerns were again brought by students who have observed his behavior and professionalism,” Chan said.

After their opening speeches, Chan and Wojciechowski read statements from several students in favor of impeachment. 

Then, Kwak spoke before bringing statements from students in his defense. Kwak also said he reached out to the BSU after the July 16 meeting to discuss the events but did not receive a response, which Chan had explained as part of her opening. 

“They did not respond because after being vilified during questioning, they did not have any reason to listen or respond to the agitator,” Chan said previously. “And if this didn’t offer an opportunity to apologize, then there were other opportunities to apologize.” 

In his opening statement, Kwak apologized to the BSU, the Senate and specifically Senator Maeve Wall for violating Robert’s Rules by interrupting several times in previous meetings. Additionally, Kwak apologized for his “aggressive manner” when speaking to the authors of JR2, Black Student Union President Maryan Shale and Vice President Elon Darthand. 

“The accusations of racism or racist intentions are blatantly false and cannot be further away from the truth,” Kwak said. 

However, as public comments began, students such as ASUU Director of Finance Devon Cantwell said the way Kwak has exercised his power has had “a chilling effect” as two sets of students have withdrawn proposals centering around identity-based issues. 

“It’s also worth considering the identities of folks who have shown up in support of these articles, it’s primarily women and the charges outlined in these articles of impeachment have shown that [Kwak] habitually harasses and interrupts women during these meetings,” Cantwell said. 

After her time was extended, Cantwell went on to detail instances of antisemitism by Kwak against her, saying she has had to deal with antisemitism from U staff members such as Associate Director of the ASUU Jessica Ashcraft as a result of Kwak’s comments. She said Kwak presented particular anti-semitic tropes about Jews taking control and power.

Later on, ASUU adviser Abby Feenstra said the antisemitism was being taken seriously and Ashcraft’s behavior had been brought to the attention of the ASUU Director, Erica Anderson, and has been shared with the Office of Equal Opportunity.

President of the Black Student Union Maryan Shale attended and spoke at the meeting, saying impeachment was in no way related to Kwak’s vote against Joint Resolution 2. Additionally, Shale pointed out it was a resolution and not a bill and acknowledged that some of the “demands of the resolution needed more work.”

“You all can argue [Kwak] is not racist which is fine, but he definitely shouldn’t be representing students especially when there are multiple black students and black student union members in his college,” Shale said. “I’m still waiting on my apology letter since he’s so sincere about his actions, and nobody has retaliated nor plans to retaliate against anyone who had an issue with JR2 or voted against it. What power do black students have any way to even do all of that?” 

The public comment section saw an equal number of those against Kwak’s impeachment — friends, colleagues and business associates — including fourth-year Behavioral and Social Sciences student John Foster, who was present at the July 16 Joint Resolution 2 meeting. 

Foster said he also considered voicing his concerns during the July 16 meeting but was scared he would be painted as a racist.

“In my view, that is exactly what has happened to Mr. Kwak and quite frankly, makes me fear I would be retaliated against if I were to ever use my right to free speech to question any piece of legislation having to do with racial justice,” Foster said. “I’m sure that Mr. Kwak was not the only one who had questions about this resolution. He was just the only one who is brave enough to put it under scrutiny, calling him a racist and attempting to impeach him as a result is extremely inappropriate and shows that there’s an unwillingness to have a civil debate.”

After the public comment section, the Senate entered its debate portion. Senators discussed their personal feelings regarding what the right course of action would be. Wall, who Kwak mentioned specifically in his earlier apology, was involved with Joint Resolution 2 tension and mentioned it during her time. 

“I did feel disrespected and interrupted but more importantly I felt very concerned for the students who advocated for themselves, and I really am worried about the impact that this has on future students wanting to be involved if we don’t take a stand on what happened,” Wall said. 

Senator Maria Velasco, who represents the College of Medicine, agreed about the future impact is a concern. 

“At some point, I didn’t feel welcome to my department, so I don’t want these students to feel that way, like to feel like they’re not invited to ASUU,” Velasco said. “That’s the only concern that I have with all this, so I think we have to put all our effort to fix this and create a better environment for everyone because that’s not acceptable as student leaders.”

Senator Kwak mentioned several times that he was a “learning senator”, which ex-officio Kaitlyn McLean, two-time Senator representing the College of Science and current Chair of Academic Affairs, provided more insight on, pointing out Kwak was not elected to his position as the College of Science senator, but rather was appointed.

Additionally, McLean expressed displeasure on the limit to not bring up any evidence against Kwak prior to his confirmation as Senator, such as during his term as Attorney General last year, saying it was misleading.

Kwak did not respond “as a respect to the Senate rules.” 

This sparked a motion to allow past evidence, and after several instances of rule-checking and debate, the motion failed. Sen. Chan responded to Kwak’s earlier defense, saying Kwak’s self-evaluation would be great for him but was unsure what that would mean for the student body and his constituents. 

Around 9:50 p.m., six minutes before the debate time was scheduled to be over, Senator Douglas Shumway motioned to table the articles until the next scheduled meeting on Sept. 24, or to call a special session on Sept. 10. After discussion and a vote, the motion did not reach its needed two-thirds majority, and the debate continued. 

After deciding against a 15-minute recess, the body continued with debate, exhausting the speaker’s list. Senator Tuyet Lam pointed out rules were not learned in person due to the pandemic. 

“Senator Kwak is a learning student as well,” Lam said. “I think we should look towards looking at improvement and helping him address his wrongs and what we can do as a group and as a team rather than focusing on his wrongs and impeaching.” 

During Cantwell’s time, she commented on Kwak’s body language, saying that it was not evidence that Kwak was intending to change his future behavior. Kwak was seen mouthing the words “that’s ridiculous” offscreen while muted and rolling his eyes in “no less than three” videos sent to Cantwell. 

“I don’t believe [Kwak] understands the actual harmful language that he’s done. I think he does believe that this is some sort of freedom of speech issue and I want to be clear that it’s not,” Cantwell said. “He’s caused harm, we’ve asked him to resolve this and not make the same mistake again and we’ve asked him to write the wrong on this and we’ve asked them to act differently if the same situation has happened again. He’s failed to do that multiple times since April, since his appointment as a senator this year.” 

McLean mentioned Kwak’s body language in her time, saying everyone was tired, but no one else had reacted poorly despite their own challenges such as clinical rotations or children. She said she believe Kwak would reform after he already apologized and then continued the behavior would be gullible.

“If we choose to ignore that now we’re setting a precedent that that’s okay for these offices and I just truly don’t think it is. And I don’t think any of you truly believe that that’s okay either or you’d be behaving in the same manner and you’re not because you’re trying to be respectful and professional,” McLean said. “This office matters. What we do here matters and voting to send his impeachment to assembly? It signifies that you care about what this office means to students.”

In his response, Kwak said he “outright objected”, saying racism and antisemitism were not a part of his character. Later on, Kwak said he would donate his Senate money to the impacted communities to prove he wasn’t a Senator for “any other reason than to serve my student body.” 

“I’ve had multiple students attest to my character, and I could truly tell you that in future meetings, I will be exactly that person they’ve attested to; friendly, respectful and truly serves the best interest of the Senate, and making everyone feel their safest possible,” Kwak said. “Please. All I’m asking, fellow senators, is- I won’t let you down. Give me a chance to improve and to learn.”

If Kwak were to face additional repercussions, separate articles of impeachment would have to be created. To avoid double jeopardy, no clauses from the failed charges could be repeated in new articles. At the end of several extended statements, debate and questioning periods, two recesses, and at least 40 minutes of public comment, the meeting officially adjourned at 11:07 p.m with Kwak facing no additional consequences or impeachment moving forward. 

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@PernoAlexis