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Civility

Corruption and Collusion in Sin City (UNLV Edition)

Published at the request of the duly elected senators, of the 43rd session, of the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

ciavolaMany students missed a warning when two extremely conservative campus leaders joined with a more liberal student to vie for the executive board of the undergraduate student government (CSUN) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. There is nothing inherently wrong with the fact that a former president and fellow officer of the UNLV College Republicans campaigned for the highest positions in the organization, as undoubtedly they wanted to make their university a better place. Despite their glaring political leanings, they vowed (and have since reiterated) to keep politics out of CSUN; yet this would be the first of many incidents where students were fooled and/or blatantly lied to. What is wrong is what they have done since reaching office: the almost boundless corruption and abuse of power that they have unabashedly wrought upon the campus community. The writings were on the wall way back in the spring of 2012, when the elections for president, vice president, and senate president were held.

The “Rebels United” ticket of the aforementioned students won in a landslide. It’s a shame that they had no real competition, however, as the other main contender for president was too busy competing in a beauty pageant to campaign. The editorial board of the student newspaper, “The Rebel Yell,” shamelessly endorsed the conservative candidate with the most piteous full color advertisement,–excuse me, I mean to say photo–of the candidate running across campus with campaign materials in hand as he is drenched by a deluge of rain. Not even an entire website dedicated to illuminating the conceivably extreme views of this candidate could defray the amazing work that he and his hundreds of College Republicans members put in. He was sworn in to a senate comprised of many of his fellow conservative allies which positioned him quite nicely to push through his platform; a platform, naturally, of saving students money and representing their interests.

Saving students money? Really now? This coming from a man who as a CSUN senator vehemently opposed the student government funding its own constituents to travel to the state capital during the legislative session in 2011, and rally against the crippling budget cuts to education and health and human services in Nevada; cuts that would see more than 80 million dollars stripped from our university’s budget. This rally, by the way, is heralded as the largest protest at the capital in state history and a key tactic involved in reducing cuts to our university’s budget by an additional 80 million dollars. He thought it a waste of money and against the principles of “fiscal responsibility” to spend a few thousand dollars (of a more than one million dollar organizational budget) to enable students the ability to exercise their right to effective speech and government participation. Yet this same person, as president, is proud when the senate spends $40,000 funding a comedy event. So when he speaks of fiscal responsibility or saving students money, he fools us a second time.  But it’s not solely his fault. A high dose of blame should rest upon the shoulders of most of the senators.

As the leader of a body that really has few mandates besides representing students and making the university experience better, you would think a commitment to accessible and affordable education would be core to his beliefs. Taking this for granted would be a great disservice to all who read this, as President Mark Ciavola has differing views, displayed by his weeks-long campaign to defund the preschool at the university campus. The same institution that created the very acclaimed preschool, one that also hires more UNLV students than any other on-campus department, is the same institution that bore the brunt of CSUN’s most controversial assault during the last session. In the midst of a budget surplus in CSUN’s coffers, President Mark Ciavola fought to decrease the preschool’s funding by more than $10,000 from the previous year. Furthermore, he threatened to veto any action item that funded the school by more than what he wished, which the chairperson of the Ways and Means Committee characterized as an “outrageous, inappropriate, overreaching dictatorship.” Promptly preceding this vote, they unanimously passed the $40,000 comedy show without so much as any discussion as to the arguable relapse of priorities.

It could be extrapolated at great length the personal vilification that senators, other CSUN officials, and students have suffered from President Mark Ciavola–such as when he compared a senator’s daughter to a dog, chastised the vice president as if she were a little girl, or the countless salacious and ugly comments made by him, his “cabinet,” & his supporters on the CSUN Facebook page (which has now been shut down)–but there is a more important aim to this article. As hard as it is to believe, literally tens of thousands of students are unaware of the flagrant manipulation of a democratic and representative body that has been planned and executed by our current president, Mark Ciavola, and senate president, Jay Yoon.

Back in the fall of 2012, these two officers handpicked candidates and coordinated their campaign to become the new CSUN senators, under the Rebels United banner. President Mark Ciavola violated the constitution he swore to protect (this is just the first instance) when he publicly endorsed these candidates by putting his name, picture, and personal declaration of support on their campaign flyer. Mere days before the election, the VP, in a dramatic “Law and Order” courtroom style, furnished a stack of documents during her summation at a weekly meeting demonstrating negligence on behalf of the Elections Director, and relieved her of any further responsibilities. There were problems on the actual election days, including students not being able to access the online polling link, and paper ballots being left out in the open in the CSUN election directors’ chambers where they may have been tampered with.

Literally hundreds of complaints were filed against the Rebels United ticket, alleging that candidates accepted an illegal endorsement of the CSUN president, utilized illegitimate campaign material, and engaged in conduct unbecoming of senators. A case was swiftly filed with the Judicial Council of CSUN to overturn the election, and the council did indeed order that a new election must be held, citing multiple violations. A new elections director managed the contest this time. Many of the original candidates ran in the second election, along with new faces, some of whom joined together in a ticket to oppose Rebels United, calling themselves “Rebels Rising”–a mix of fraternity/sorority members, progressive activists, and student leaders. This election was a repudiation of the Rebels United ticket and platform, as Rebels Rising garnered the majority of seats in the senate. And almost as quickly as they had won the election, the forces of corruption tried to take it away.

The elections director was “indirectly forced” by the president to cancel both complaints hearing she had scheduled. President Mark Ciavola effectively brought the installation of the victorious senators to a halt by refusing to allow an election complaints hearing to be held, which is necessary before new senators can take office. Members of Rebels United filed cases with the Judicial Council to invalidate the second election. The elections director and other members of the elections committee resigned, with one lamenting that

“the student government’s inability to work together in a civil manner in concert with the incompetent and ineffective leadership of this Executive board has essentially destroyed everything that this organization was created to stand for.”

And although it is the constitutional duty of the senate president, in the absence of an elections director to oversee the complaints hearing, and after the request of multiple candidates to follow through on his responsibility, he took no action to see the end of the election unfold in a legal and appropriate manner. Collusion is corruption, it is endemic to the current composition of CSUN, and it is still being perpetrated as the spring semester has begun.

During the winter interim in January, President Mark Ciavola unilaterally and unconstitutionally swore in the winners of the first invalidated election, using a public notary, which in this instance was unconstitutional. The initial acts of this “new” senate during their first meeting of the semester were to discuss and ultimately move forward on impeachment charges for the VP, and curiously, only certain members of the Judicial Council, citing alleged “violations” on account of the council members in their dealing with the overturning of the first election. These same justices received threats of litigation from the senator bringing impeachment charges the previous semester. During this very meeting, a student who won the most votes for a college of Liberal Arts senate seat under the Rebels Rising ticket, spoke during public comment stating that

“This is not a senate. This is a fraudulent body purporting to be our senate, unconstitutionally sworn in by President Mark Ciavola in an act that can perhaps be deemed only the most unprecedented action of a CSUN president ever, in terms of its illegality and blatant disregard of the will of the student body. When students ask me how senate is going, I can only repine to them that the rampant corruption and obstruction of senators and members of the Executive board has prevented me from doing what students clearly wanted me to do – represent them in student government.”

The following senate meeting was cancelled due to a court injunction as part of a lawsuit filed by the VP, asserting that the impeachment process brought against her was improperly done, and that the president illegally seated senators. Even now, the president is trying to fool the campus yet again! In his recent “State of the Campus” address, he spoke of his desire to see a bylaw introduced that would make CSUN funding of the preschool permanent (funding which he fought against) and to create a body within CSUN to mediate disputes so that students’ only recourse does not have to be litigation (litigation inspired by his actions). And now, if you walk about campus, you will see CSUN giving out free lunch to students and all other kinds of goodies, unbeknownst to the majority of UNLV students of the shenanigans that they have engaged in. It doesn’t take a degree to see that the president is trying to save face leading up to another presidential run. A rational person understands that when one takes the oath of office, they are pretty much saying that they vow to not break laws or be corrupt. It would be greatly unflattering to say that our president must be woefully ignorant of that important responsibility of his office. Perhaps he should be championing an amendment to the CSUN constitution that actually puts this in writing, as a constant reminder that he can’t bully, silence, or disregard people or decisions that he doesn’t agree with. Perhaps a simple civics lesson would also be apt, as a reminder that the judicial branch is tasked with interpreting actions of the legislative body, and not the president.

Briefly, speaking of the constitution, we would be remiss to not mention that President Mark Ciavola wishes to make some dangerous revisions. One being ejecting a clause that would have prohibited him from receiving the $18,000 CSUN stipend. Another proposal that was passed by the last senate session was to decrease the undergraduate student fee that funds CSUN in its entirety from $2.47 per credit to $2. If that decrease seems marginal, that’s because it is. Touted as “saving students money,” the average student might save a couple dollars when they enroll in classes because of this reduction. And that’s only if the Board of Regents doesn’t siphon this extra money for something else. The primary impact, however, is that CSUN will be left a weaker body, with less leverage to aid or represent students. Again, proponents would argue it shows fiscal responsibility, but what it really appears to be is something akin to pressures across the country to dismantle the public voice and collective strength when it comes to education. CSUN could be more “fiscally responsible” by spending the excess of funds it already has–or instead of squandering money on $40,000 comedy show or a previously proposed $250,000 concert–and filter money to travel scholarships for conferences, mentoring and professional programs, advocacy and inclusion training, just to name a few suggestions. CSUN knows that UNLV has a deplorably low four year graduation rate, but you won’t see them spending money to ameliorate it. But as long as the current senate stands, all these suggestions will fall on deaf ears.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

These are, essentially, fighting words. We live in a society a great deal better than when Frederick Douglas proclaimed this iconic statement, but at the core of what he said, a foreboding warning can be ascertained. What can we glean from Frederick Douglas’s warning about power? He tells us that if we expect that power be relinquished, or in other words for the status quo to be changed, people have to exercise their agency and make it so. The students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have suffered quietly under the tyranny of its current student body president and senate president. This has been one of the most ineffectual senates ever, and they only even met for about half of the last semester due to them being embroiled in controversy and scandal. CSUN has lost any and all remnants of legitimacy. Many people have just given in, or given up, in front of the tyranny of President Mark Ciavola. Nothing could be more cowardly. At a critical time in our state’s history, when public education has come under assault by those who would rather see it weakened than to find solutions to ensure its proper funding, when we have almost given up and learned to live with less and expect less from our government, when there is currently no talk in the legislature of restoring the devastating cuts to our budgets and faculty salaries, students deserve fierce advocates in their leaders who will be bold enough to resist with “either words, or blows, or with both.” Hopefully, words will suffice.

We thank the students who believed and trusted in us to represent them as senators. We’ve not given up, and we hope you do the same.

 

Signed,

The senators-elect of the 43rd session of the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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