Vision slate disqualified from SGB elections after sleepless night of hearings

A+shot+glass+received+by+a+first-year+resident+in+Sutherland+Hall.

A shot glass received by a first-year resident in Sutherland Hall.

Two Student Government Board committees removed the Vision slate from Tuesday’s SGB elections ballot shortly before 6 a.m., about two hours before polls opened, saying its members violated campaign rules that merit their disqualification.

SGB’s elections committee made its ruling at about 10 p.m. Monday, and after a series of meetings throughout the night, the judicial committee affirmed the decision at about 5:45 a.m. Tuesday.

The dispute arose over Vision-branded shot glasses that the members distributed as “Hershey’s cup holders” to first-year students in primarily first-year residence halls as a way of drawing attention to their slate, which includes presidential candidate Joe Landsittel and three board candidates.

Under the procedures of campaigning, the committee chairs said in a joint statement issued at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, Vision was required to get elections committee approval for all of its planned targeted campaigning actions. The committees said Vision did not request approval before distributing the shot glasses in this manner, and was “in direct violation of the approved distribution plan” that the slate previously submitted.

Landsittel acknowledged that his slate could have “done a better job communicating” with the elections committee, but that it is “nowhere near close enough to a good reason” to disqualify the slate. Landsittel also said the alleged distribution plan infraction has “no basis” because it was not part of the original Sunday evening notice violation levied against them.

Tyler Viljaste, who ran for president on the opposing Brightside slate, submitted the complaint because he said he was “uncomfortable” with the actions Vision was taking.

“To hear that the students that I serve as a mentor to — minors who are barely 18 in some cases — were given shot glasses that actively condone underage drinking by their own RAs is unacceptable and appalling,” Viljaste said, “and raises further concerns regarding the quality of character of individuals running who will serve as student leaders and representatives for the entire student body.”

Landsittel said Viljaste filing the complaint was the latest in “unprecedented hostility” toward the Vision campaign and candidates who aren’t current board members.

“They have been threatened by our campaign, the idea that we are not within SGB at the moment and that we are running for these positions,” Landsittel said. “This goes to show their mentality, that they are not welcoming towards outsiders, they’re not an institution that is looking to bring in a diverse range of opinions.”

The Vision slate spent Tuesday campaigning for Harshitha Ramanan, the only other presidential candidate besides Viljaste left in the race. Their efforts paid off when Ramanan won the presidential election Tuesday evening with 62.72% of the vote — a margin of 1,222 votes.

After Ramanan was declared the winner, Landsittel said the Vision slate is “thrilled” she won the election.

The joint statement arrived after representatives from SGB gave conflicting accounts of why Vision was removed from the ballot. Some said it was due to a Student Code of Conduct violation, but Student Affairs spokesperson Janine Fisher said no referrals have yet been received as of Tuesday morning. Others said it was due to violating a passage from the Student Unions’ Policies and Procedures Handbook while in a residence hall, while others have said it’s due to not updating the board about its campaign materials distribution plan, given ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

Landsittel said it is “shameful” that SGB claimed in its Tuesday joint statement that the slate has possibly committed a Student Code of Conduct violation and that the committees should “know better.” Fisher confirmed Tuesday morning that no conduct referrals have yet been received.

“I think it’s shameful that the elections committee and the judicial committee are continuing to propagate this idea that there is some violation of the Student Code of Conduct. They should know better,” Landsittel said. “It’s one thing that the elections committee made this claim at 11 p.m. last night, but they have since had plenty of time to verify that the Student Code of Conduct is not relevant to this case study.”

The violation in the joint statement is also not the original violation that the elections committee told Vision that it had committed.

The elections committee said in a Sunday hearing notice that Vision had violated a passage from what it referred to as a “Student Affairs Policy and Procedures” document. The passage cited by the committee can be found in the Student Unions’ Policies and Procedures Handbook, which only applies to Pitt’s two student unions on campus — the William Pitt Union and O’Hara Student Center, not to all “University property,” as ultimately applied by the committee in its Monday hearing decision.

The elections committee announced Monday at 10:11 p.m. that the shot glass distribution was in “direct violation of the approved distribution plan and Student Code of Conduct.” Vision slate members said they have not received any information about potential Code of Conduct violations.

After processing an appeal from Vision about the elections committee’s ruling, the judicial committee said in an early Tuesday morning report that it did not find “substantial errors” in the elections committee’s decision or hearing process conducted. It further said the actions taken by Vision were “willfully, purposefully and flagrantly” in violation of election procedure, though it did not list what actions it was specifically referencing.

Daniel Rudy, a junior and a Vision board candidate, said Viljaste, an opponent, having the ability to file the complaint against the slate is “absurd.”

“The fact that he has now been able to submit this complaint and have us thrown off the ballot less than a day before the election is absurd,” Rudy said. “And the fact that he is now poised to potentially be in the highest elected position on this campus as a student is frankly extremely concerning to all of us.”

Viljaste said early Tuesday morning, following the Vision slate’s removal from the ballot, that he doesn’t think the elections and judicial committees came to their decision lightly.

“I’d encourage voters to still go on and vote, even if some candidates may not be on the ballot that were running in this election,” Viljaste said. “I would encourage anyone who still has questions about the Brightside platform to reach out to me or any of my running mates.”

Eric Macadangdang, the president of SGB, said the timeline for the Monday and Tuesday hearings was “not ideal,” but added that this matter “has gone through the appropriate process, in full.”

“From my end, I commend Olivia and Stephen and their respective committees for being able to do such things through the night,” Macadangdang said. “Obviously some of these students had early morning classes and they’d dedicated hours in the middle of the night to seeing this process through, which is important for the sake of transparency, justice and fairness.”

Macadangdang said later on Tuesday that SGB will work with the parties involved and Student Affairs to further investigate the situation. He added that the current president and board members do not influence the outcome of judicial proceedings, and that judicial and elections are “independent standing committees of SGB” and are separate from the “functions and structures of SGB at large.”

Steve Anderson, SGB’s adviser, said Tuesday morning that he was not involved in the decision-making process as the committees deliberated, but was ultimately informed of their decision.

“To my understanding, the process was followed,” Anderson, an associate dean of students and the director of the Office of Residence Life, said. “I don’t know, and I’m not in a place to comment, on what happened during those committee hearings because I wasn’t there.”

Rudy said it was “insulting” to be taken off the ballot after his slate “[poured] our hearts, souls and calendars” into the campaign. He added that members threw their full support and campaign infrastructure behind Ramanan to ensure that “this never happens to a Pitt student again.”

Contributed reporting by Leah Mensch.

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