Senate Notes: Sexual Harassment Charges Brought to Light

Gin Dumcius

The Senate’s latest meeting started out fairly quietly, but ended with a bang when, during Open Forum, a senator brought up the topic of a student’s sexual harassment charges against the student trustee.

Senator J. Stone Laraway was listing a number of complaints he had with the Senate, which included the assertion that Student Events and Organizations Committee did not have quorum when it met last week, nor did the Campus & Community Affairs Committee when it met the same day.

“During the discussion of Open Forum, Mr. [Christopher] Garner discussed his concerns about Trustee [Heather] Dawood’s sexual harassment of him, and I discussed my concern with him…” Senator Laraway started. Trustee Dawood, seated across the table, asked, “Excuse me?”

“The senator will come to order and stop talking right now,” said President Panciotti, and banged his gavel on the table. “This is open forum,” replied Senator Laraway before the room was momentarily plunged into confusion.

“Just a moment, please,” said President Panciotti. “Issues having nothing to do with the Senate, anything that’s happening on a personal nature, are absolutely out of order, and will not be discussed in the Senate. And anyone who does not observe that requirement of parliamentary procedure, covered by any document, does so at their own peril.”

“You should look in a mirror,” replied Senator Laraway.

“…And when these gross, absolutely, totally intolerable breaches of decorum are encountered, they will be dealt with severely,” President Panciotti continued. “The senator is out of order twice. Is there anybody else who would like to speak, or shall the senator continue?”

Senator Laraway pressed on, mentioning the new policy the Senate has with its computers, and alleging that senators are continuing to violate the bylaws and the constitution at this university, and “using them when it’s convenient to them.” Senator Omar Bhukari, chair of Budget and Finance Committee, asked Senator Laraway if he could be more specific.

Senator Laraway started to before President Panciotti interrupted. “Excuse me, actually, Open Forum is not for debate, Open Forum is to have your say. If you have something to say, please feel free to do it, within the guidelines of the Senate rules.”

Vice President Tuan Pham then said that there were internal affairs that “need to be dealt with right now” and suggested that the Senate go into executive session.

The senate voted go into executive session, which lasted well over an hour. Members of the press and other students were kicked out as senators, the Director of Student Life Joyce Morgan, and Interim Dean Angeline Lopes remained behind the closed doors of the Wheatley Lounge, as is standard procedure for an executive session.

Interim Dean Lopes left shortly before the public meeting ended, and said that what was said in the meeting regarding the sexual harassment charges, was “inappropriate” and suggested that it was not fit to print. Another senator said the same thing, stating that the exchange had been stricken from the Senate’s record. Trustee Dawood declined to comment.

“This happened while trustee Dawood was acting as the trustee at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She’s a public official. It happened in her office, as a Trustee, at a public institution, therefore, it should be public information,” said Senator Laraway afterwards, regarding the sexual harassment charges and his broaching of the subject. “I felt that the Senate body and our constituents needed to know this information without having a subjective view of me.”

“Did I in any way encourage Stone to say it? I was as surprised as anyone else. I had no clue. I didn’t set it up,” said Garner, a yearbook editor and former student senator, when pressed for comment if it was part of a strategy. “It doesn’t matter where it comes from, it’s still the appropriate information. And I do believe that it is appropriate, because she’s the highest-ranking member on campus. She holds a public office, at a public job, in a public role, in a public setting, with control over public funds, and you’re gonna tell me that while she’s in that office and the things she does in front of the office as the trustee are private? That’s wholly contradictory. Her position is based on merit, integrity, honor, respect, character.”

Earlier in the meeting, Vice President Pham submitted a report in which he tackled four main issues: teacher evaluations, student social security numbers on library computers, student social security numbers as IDs, and a student radio station.

Vice President Pham stated that he would like to pursue the possibility of posting teacher evaluations, which students fill out twice a year. Vice President Pham said that he has been talking with Assistant Dean Peter Gold at the University of Buffalo, where the student government reportedly works in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences to post the evaluations on the student government website. In an e-mail responding to Vice President Pham’s questions, Mr. Gold stated that student participation in the evaluations had increased by 30% within a year after they had begun to publish the data.

Vice President Pham also said that the problem with student social security numbers being saved on library computers had been fixed; the numbers had been removed, and he thanked Dean Lopes for aiding him in his effort.

The issue of student social security numbers as IDs is coming to a resolution as well, according to the vice-president’s report, since alternatives are becoming available. Students can report to the Registrar’s Office to ask for an alternative ID number, and new one can be gotten from Student Life at no extra charge. The vice-president puts date of implementation for everyone to have different ID numbers at Fall 2003.

The Black Student Center (BSC) requested and received $1730 for the One World One Night Semiformal. The proceeds would be donated to AIDS victims in Africa. Vice President Tuan Pham added a friendly amendment to the motion to approve the money, asking the BSC to provide a report on how the money was contributed, and for the money to be recognized as coming from UMass Boston students.

Casa Latina asked for and received $3500 for a ski trip to Killington Mountain from December 20 to 22nd. Senator Dawood said that while she felt this was a wonderful opportunity, she was concerned about paying for a ski trip for two nights out of the student fund. Questions from other senators arose about the diversity of the students going, and Maria Luisa Plasencia, representing Casa Latina before the Senate, stated that while the list hadn’t been looked at in detail, it was already full and there were very few Casa Latina members going. Vice President Pham expressed concern about people already on the list to go on the trip, before the money had even been appropriated. He suggested students be selected by a lottery. Plasencia later said that while she understood the decision to do that, she felt it was a “big-ass twist.”

Senator Laraway voted against both SEOC’s items, presumably on the grounds that he felt its business should have been null and void, due to alleged lack of quorum the week before. Senators Maria Moreno and Robert Comerford attended said meeting, while Senate President Joseph Panciotti chaired it. Senator Laraway made a similar comment on CCA’s alleged lack of quorum on November 27, which Committee Chair Fritz Hyppolite, Senator William Roach, and Senator Laraway attended.

In an e-mail a few days ago, Director of Student Life Joyce Morgan stated that according to the bylaws section on committees, the quorum for all standing committees is three, including the chair, with the exception of Budget and Finance which has a quorum of five.