Amid the tumultuous buildup to midterm elections this Tuesday, it was also an eventful week for student politics at Pitzer College, where a recall petition for Senior Class Representative Alex Cromidas PZ ’15 gained traction but was defeated by the Pitzer Student Senate.
Nour Bundogji PZ ’15, Kara Powell PZ ’15 and Alex Rosario PZ ’15 started the petition Oct. 28, based on Cromidas’ alleged lack of communication with the senior class over the selection of the commencement speaker. During its Nov. 2 meeting, the Senate voted zero to 34, with three abstentions, to oppose the recall. Following the vote, Cromidas agreed to let the petition’s organizers take responsibility for the speaker selection process.
The three seniors decided to organize the petition after Katie Tewell, assistant to Vice President of Student Affairs Brian Carlisle, informed Bundogji and Rosario that she had received an email from Cromidas stating that the senior class had decided on Janet Mock, writer and transgender rights activist, as its commencement speaker.
“We were very upset,” Bundogji said. “How do we not get a voting process? … It took us aback.”
Cromidas had organized three senior class meetings, which occurred Sept. 19, Oct. 23 and Oct. 24, to discuss the commencement speaker. The meetings were advertised through Student Talk, Pitzer’s email-based message system for students. Melissa Hernandez PZ ’15 of the Senate Academic Planning Committee said that the students at the meetings had not decided on any particular candidate.
“We weren’t ready because there were so very few of us,” Hernandez said. “We just said, ‘OK, here are some serious options, but we’re not ready.’”
Attendance was low for all three meetings—nine, 10 and four students, respectively—according to data provided by Cromidas.
Hernandez said that this this was “not a representation of our class, so we did not feel comfortable saying, ‘This is who we want.’”
The three petitioners also criticized the small number of meetings, stating in their Declaration of Grievances that last year’s senior class representative, Kyle Roland PZ ’14, held eight meetings to discuss commencement speaker selection.
However, Cromidas wrote in an email to TSL that more meetings had been planned because, as Hernandez said, a decision on the speaker was yet to be made. Cromidas also provided data that showed the attendance numbers of the first three meetings organized by Roland to be two, two and four students—lower than those of this year’s meetings. Cromidas wrote that the language of his email to Tewell on Oct. 28 could have caused Tewell to misinterpret his intention.
“I regretted it as soon as I sent it,” Cromidas wrote. “I sent a follow up email to correct my language but the damage was still done. I eventually had an in-person meeting with the Office of Student Affairs just so that we were even more clear on where we actually were in the process, but unfortunately the ball had already started rolling on the petition without my knowledge.”
Bundogji, Powell and Rosario learned from the Office of Student Affairs that a recall petition would be the only way to get the decision revoked. As the grounds for the recall, the petition cited “professional misconduct and negligence,” as stated in Student Senate Constitution Article VIII, Section II.
The three began asking students in McConnell Dining Hall during dinnertime for signatures. By noon Friday, Oct. 31, the deadline for the petition, they had collected the 100 required signatures, of which 26 were from non-seniors.
During the Nov. 2 Senate meeting, Bundogji, Powell and Rosario presented the petition, followed by comments and questions from senators. Student Representative for External Studies Committee Emma
Hanashiro PZ ’15 said during the meeting that she would retract her
signature if possible because she was not aware until then that she had
signed a petition to recall Cromidas.
Mackenzie Sundborg PZ ’15 was approached by Bundogji and Rosario in McConnell to sign the petition for a vote on the commencement speaker. In an email to TSL, Sundborg wrote that it was not clear that it was a recall petition.
If that had been clear, Sundborg wrote, “I wouldn’t have signed it.”
In response to a question by a senator who asked about the content of the email sent by Cromidas to Tewell, Carlisle, who was in attendance, said that he also read the email, forwarded to him by Tewell, as saying that the senior class had decided on the speaker.
By secret ballot, 34 senators voted to oppose the petition, none voted in support of it and three abstained. Carlisle instructed Cromidas to abstain.
After the meeting, Cromidas talked with Bundogji, Powell and Rosario about having them take over his work to choose a speaker. According to Powell, the three students will now be in charge of the process from the nominations and budgeting to negotiations.
“I, among other members of the senior class committee, will continue to assist the petition writers in achieving their vision for the commencement speaker election process,” Cromidas wrote. “Student engagement is one of Pitzer’s core values, and this group of students’ vision for our class is just as valid as any other. I’m glad to be able to give them the chance to help me out.”