The Price of Dissent at Penn State
March 3, 2006
by Sean Clark
Events leading up to this situation started in September 2005. USG President Galen Foulke, a proponent of this new student government, first attempted to make this change by amending the current USG constitution
. The amendment would have changed the student government so that only about half of its seats would be elected by students. But Foulke failed at meeting even the first requirement of gathering 1,000 signatures necessary to put a referendum on the ballot. This effort was such a failure that it appears someone faked multiple pages of signatures
to make it look as though the referendum had reached the required amount. USG Supreme Court Chief Justice Brandon Rothey observed, “The last two pages were handwritten by the same individual…. There were not 1,000 signatures.”
Apparently, with that attempt defeated, Foulke
decided to run around the democratic process by asking that the administration dissolve USG and replace it with his new government. Penn State’s Office for Student Affairs even agreed to provide him with $3,000 in funding
to advocate the already rejected change. (Perhaps the fact that Foulke is also a university trustee
might have something to do with this decision.)
Foulke’s new group, Students for Real Advocacy, conducted an online survey, apparently filled with voting irregularities
, asking students if they would favor replacing USG with the new UPUA. The survey, the results of which will be used to determine if the UPUA should be established, had no oversight from any independent authority. When the results came in, about 4,000 students (about one-tenth of the undergraduates at University Park) voted, with 60% supporting the change and 40% not supporting the change.
This attempt to abolish a democratic student government is an affront to our nation’s core values of democracy, freedom, and fundamental fairness. The survey by which the administration is planning to base its decision on appears to be wrought with problems and conflicts of interest. Furthermore, it is unconstitutional for a public university to use a referendum to abolish a student organization. Penn State is making a mockery of the rule of law by encouraging students to evade the democratic requirements for change (such as the requirement for petition signatures) already in place on its campus. Ignoring a democratic process and abolishing student governments, much like what happened at Occidental College
, is no way to educate students about democracy.
FIRE will certainly be keeping a close eye on this situation to see how it develops.