Impeachment

Seven directors of the SFU student society were impeached on Wednesday in a chilly three-hour meeting of over a thousand students. These are my thoughts on the meeting itself and the reaction of those impeached.

The Special General Meeting

The meeting was brilliant organized and run; my hat is off to all involved. The area was fenced in on all sides. Students had to present a student card and check in to a computer system whenever they entered or left; this provided a constant count of quorum and guaranteed it never dropped below 500 once the meeting began1. Organizers with headsets patrolled to make sure everything went smoothly. The chair was excellent – flexible but efficient. Titus did an outstanding job looking up and quoting the constitution and rules of order.

Several students tried to hinder the process through points of order (e.g. challenging the chair on the basis of her union connections), motions to fillibuster (e.g. lifting all time limits on debate, proposing a roll-call vote). At first there were only two students doing this; I had expected more. I don’t think it would have made any difference.

I was somewhat disturbed that debate was cut off for the impeachments (Hunsdale’s excepted). I would have liked to hear what the accused directors had to say. However, I supported most motions to end debate. I was worried that we would lose quorum to exhaustion and the cold weather. The directors had several months to explain themselves; I could see that those in attendance had investigated the matter before hand. They, like myself, were ready to stop talking and do the thing. Those directors who did attend spoke for three minutes each, but didn’t say anything substantive.

I also was unsure about impeaching Erica Halpern. The charge against here was simply that she had not opposed the actions of the other accused directors, not that she had actively engaged in anything untoward. On the one hand, as another student said, inaction is action; on the other, I’m not sure I would have done better in her shoes. In her case, I abstained; I wonder if I should have voted No. I also felt pangs of sympathy for the isolation and confusion evident on the faces of some of those impeached. Ultimately, I realized impeachment is about their public performance as directors and the needs of the society. It does not necessarily reflect on whether or not they are decent human beings.

That said, Glyn Lewis’s impassioned speech about the “unfairness” missed the point entirely. Politicians don’t have recourse to “fairness” when it comes to representing their constituents. They don’t get to file grievances or ask their constituents to justify themselves. We are the only judges of fair; we don’t have to explain our reasons for voting for him, against him, or impeaching him. His cry of “unfair” means he thinks we owe him something. It only shows his lack of fitness for the job.

The Aftermath

Having reportedly already violated the SFSS constitution, and refused to acknowledge, let alone justify their actions, it was a small step for the G7 (as they have come to be called) to refuse to step aside. They are hanging on, on what they claim are legitimate procedural and legal grounds.

Now I said impeachment by itself does not necessarily reflect on the character of those impeached. It’s like being fired: it doesn’t make you a bad person. But ignoring the verdict of their constituents? That shows a moral vacuum.

Let’s assume for a moment that all the claims of the G7 are correct: impeached president Shawn Hunsdale is, indeed, an active student at SFU, and thus eligible for the job. None of actions of the board or its directors have been improper. The SGM was invalid because the meeting in which it was called was itself cancelled. Those who voted to impeach did so because of a disinformation campaign by their enemies.

But it did go ahead, over a thousand students attended (it achieved quorum for the first time in a decade), it was planned and executed flawlessly, and the outcome was unambiguous. Shawn Hunsdale had 6 votes in his favor, 724 against. There is no room for maneuver here. Even if he has done nothing wrong, even if his actions have been for the general benefit, even if he knows best – even then, he must step aside. He is not the SFSS, and neither is the board. We are. And it is clear he and they have lost our confidence. They have lost their moral authority; they have lost our consent. No technicality could change that.

But there is no technicality. I saw Wei Li, alone at the microphone. I saw Margo Dunnet in the same place. These people are in over their heads, I thought. They are in this place, surrounded by people who reject them without even knowing them, and they don’t know how they got here. I felt for these people, even as I voted to impeach. Now I think of their faces and think: they are so ordinary, and they are tyrants.

Walk away. It is not the harder thing to do. But it is the better thing to do.

h4(#notes).

1 Apparently the Computer Science grads wrote the software. Even though I studied CS elsewhere, it makes me proud, for it is in the best tradition of the craft. Programming is not just a technical field. We can create software without the sponsorship of a company; the software we write embeds our values.

2006-10-28