The beginning and end of Joint Board were dominated by a resolution sponsored by Noah Most ’13, Clangrala Senator Solomon Miller ’13, and Smounker Senator Sam Mulopulos ’14. The resolution intends to use an obscure parliamentary procedure known as “censuring” to verbally punish the StiFund Committee and Election Board for not placing Most’s “Money Brawl” initiative on the student initiative ballot.
Miller sent out the resolution at the very start of Joint Board, which distracted many senators just as Michael Benitez, the newly hired Director of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership, and Marlene Jacks, Intercultural Affairs Associate, gave a presentation on the perceived disconnect between SGA and multicultural groups on campus. SGA President Colleen Osborne ’13 reprimanded senators during her Cabinet Report for not paying attention to the guest speakers. “Give the guests your utmost respect and attention,” she said.
The debate over whether to censure Stifund and Election Board over keeping the “Money Brawl” initiative off the ballot officially began. Senator Miller introduced the resolution, providing background on Most’s initiative. Although misinformation has been spread about the initiative, the original submission in essence called for Osborne to toss the SGA Budget surplus off a balcony, and for students to fight for the money as it rains down. The initiative was criticized for the way it mocked alcohol distribution and hospitalizations, albeit in a satirical manner. Most intended to provide a comical commentary on SGA’s use of funds and students’ use of alcohol.
“Say what you will about the quality of the joke, but one hundred students thought it was funny enough and appropriate enough satire to express a legitimate opinion about SGA,” Miller said.
The initiative and the resolution faced tremendous opposition from most other senators. Miller was forced to remind Joint Board that this was not about the content of the initiative, but rather whether or not SGA broke the rules.
“The problem here is a question of whether SGA or any members of SGA have the right to unilaterally overrule the ground rules whenever they see fit,” he said.
Jamaland Senator Brian Silberberg ’14 was the only senator besides Miller and Mulopulos, to whole-heartedly support the initiative.
You weren’t elected to be the arbiters of taste,” he said. “You were elected to be arbiters of this constitution.”
The resolution set off a debate over what the limits of free speech are at Grinnell. Osborne gave an earnest address that justified the actions that Election Board and StiFund took. She also elaborated on meeting with Most and his views on the extent of free speech.
“If we had a racist or homophobic initiative…under these guidelines, should we put this on the ballot? Noah said ‘yes.’ There is a clear disagreement between us [Cabinet] and Noah about that,” she said. Most was absent from Joint Board, but will appear at next week’s meeting.
In an interview following Joint Board, Most said Osborne’s statements misrepresented his views on free speech and potential initiatives.
“The natural process by which initiatives are put on the ballot would make that impossible. There is no way, on this campus, that we would see 100 signatures for racist or homophobic initiatives,” Most said. “To compare this to a racist or a homophobic initiative is absolutely outrageous and Colleen should be ashamed of that statement.”
Following Osborne’s comments during Joint Board, Mulopulos gave an impassioned defense of free speech, but not before he asked whether or not he could withdraw his name from the initiative. He could not.
“We’re talking about precedent. Your points about precedent are cogent and well thought out. I’m thinking about precedent from another angle, a student comes with a resolution and a group of other students is able to unilaterally say that this is not a good idea,” Mulopulos said. “If we shut down a certain viewpoint…it opens us up to shutting down substantive viewpoints.”
Both Osborne and VPSA Sivan Philo ’13 responded to Mulopulos’ slippery slope argument by noting that the initiative’s appearance on the ballot would have significantly diminished the administration’s view of student government.
“Imagine what the impact would have had on conversations, not just about 10/10, but also beer at Harris,” Philo said. “I’m pretty disturbed that we’re even having this conversation.”
Immediately after Philo spoke, Mulopulos called for an amendment to limit debate to 20 minutes, which was adopted. The next 20 minutes covered a broad range of topics related to the censure resolution. Osborne quoted the SGA By-Laws about her responsibility to oversee student initiatives and seemed to endorse a claim to SGA Executive Privilege. Clangrala Senator Samantha Pilicer ’15 and Mulopulos engaged in a prolonged debate over whether or not the initiative ran counter to Grinnell values.
“This initiative goes against everything that Grinnell stands for,” she said. Exactly what SGA Cabinet and Joint Board stand for remains unknown, and is unlikely to be resolved when debate continues next week.