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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Words for ASM’s new leaders

“Due to my numerous personal, academic and organizational responsibilities, I have decided to step down from any and all leadership capacities in the progressive slate. I will continue to stay on as an L&S Candidate, but will not be continuing any of my leadership obligations. … Please let me know if you have any questions, but please also accept the difficulty of the position that I am currently in.”

On March 24 — two days before the filing deadline for Associated Students of Madison’s spring elections — I sent this e-mail to a core group of FACES leaders. Though I cited too many commitments as my reason for stepping down, it was not the truth. Rather, as Sam Clegg put it, I was “squelched” out of the slate. Though I do not wish to dwell on those unpleasant couple weeks, I do wish to set the record straight and offer some advice to the FACES slate and the Responsibility slate as they vie for power in ASM’s 16th Session.

Understanding my departure from FACES requires me to explain how I became a “leftist front kid” (thanks, College Republicans, for that name). The first time I met Kyle Szarzynski was in late September while I was lobbying for SSFC funding on behalf of the Working Class Student Union. I crossed paths with him again in mid-November after I was tapped to serve as Michael Johnson’s campaign treasurer in his bid for District 8 alder.


By early December, he dropped out of the race, so Kyle and other SPD members approached me to take Michael’s place, which I temporarily accepted pending further thought on my part. After discussing the opportunity with the SPD members, I realized it would not be my own candidacy but strictly a Progressive Dane campaign, and I would be expected to say and vote how I was told. For this reason, as well as my desire to return to my hometown after graduation in May 2010, I decided not to run.

It was at this point that the low hum about ASM’s proposed constitution became a roaring alarm in the student organization world, so my Campus Women’s Center co-workers and I turned our attention to this issue. We compiled our concerns, gathered the concerns of the GSSF organizations and sought the input of Kyle — a sympathetic SSFC member — and his organization, Student Progressive Dane. With these actions, the Vote No Coalition was born.

At some point during all of this, I ended up in a metaphorical boat with Kyle Szarzynski, as demonstrated by the campus media and blogosphere’s discussion of the coalition. Trouble was brewing on the horizon and I should have seen it coming — our conversations overflowed initially with misunderstandings and eventually with significant tension regarding the progressive slate’s methods. I am a strong proponent of fostering grassroots organizing and using it as the basis of the work within ASM, in addition to guidance for meetings and work with UW administrators, while Kyle feels we would be better served by relying almost entirely on grassroots organizing and barely on the support of administrators. My stance is the most realistic option for a student government to take, while Kyle viewed it as selling out to anti-grassroots organizers, such as former ASM Chair Brittany Wiegand and members of the administration.

Regardless of the tension, the show had to go on; so with the constitutional victory under our belt, we jumped headfirst into our Vote No campaign promise — the formation of a progressive slate. We blended the information from informal discussions and our initial December 2008 meeting with lessons learned through the Vote No victory, developing the initial structure and mission of the slate. We moved from an informal campaign structure that left us burnt out after the Vote No campaign to a slightly more formal structure that allowed core members to bottom-line specific components of the campaign, such as outreach, communication, volunteer, finance, candidates and research. I agreed to work on outreach, capitalizing on the relationships we had fostered during the previous campaign and my reputation in the GSSF world.

As the new campaign progressed, we recruited several qualified candidates, reconnected with our organizational allies and developed new volunteer outreach materials. We were more prepared and organized than any of our opponents, nearly guaranteeing a sweeping victory in the impending elections. Despite all of this, the internal bickering and power plays cut our legs out from under us. Beginning on March 22, I started receiving a series of antagonistic e-mails from Kyle, where he critiqued my leadership style and involvement in the slate, as well as blamed me for the overall direction it was taking. Before delving into this final e-mail exchange, there are a few factual things to note:

Just before the exchange began, Kyle, as well as two other core FACES leaders associated with him, decided to step back from FACES to focus on their other campaign work.

Before the Vote No Coalition even began, there were a series of conversations between Kyle and I on who would serve as ASM’s leadership. To confirm a consensus on the subject, I e-mailed Kyle on Dec. 9, stating should the ASM constitution pass, I would run for president and, should it fail, I would run for chair.

Beginning in January 2009 and culminating in this exchange in March, Kyle and I engaged in a series of confrontational, ridiculous e-mail exchanges regarding the Vote No Coalition and the progressive slate. The night of the Vote No victory, I asked Kyle to please agree to no longer send e-mails when there is a conflict but rather to call me or discuss the issue in person. Kyle agreed.

I ignored the first message. Then I replied to the second message by asking him to have no further contact with me. I then ignored the third antagonistic message I received. It was at this point that I weighed my options to determine what would be best for the slate and myself. Based on the e-mails, as well as several conversations he had with other FACES leaders, I determined that it would be best for me to step down from a leadership capacity, which is when I sent the e-mail that began this column.

As the tension continued to rise as another FACES leader resigned and more fiery e-mails were circulated, I decided it would be in the best interest of the slate if I did not run on it. My logic was I would still support FACES and their platform; I would just campaign separately, limiting the opportunities for conflict that would arise between three FACES members and I. Unfortunately, this idea leaked to the core leaders and they saw it as a self-serving move that put me in opposition to the slate. It was at this point that it was made clear that, if I ran, every effort would be made by FACES to campaign against my bid for an L&S seat and, if I somehow won a seat, every effort would be made to halt my bid for the position of ASM chair, despite this being the original agreement of the progressive slate.

By the next day, March 25, I made my final decision to step down from the Student Council race altogether, sending the following message to a core group of my supporters: “Even if I run outside of the slate, my initiatives and work will be derailed, which would be detrimental to this campus. I hope that the qualified candidates I helped recruit will still run and that the handful of polarizing characters will not prevent our student body from achieving crucial victories in the coming year.”

Deciding not to run for ASM Student Council was an incredibly difficult decision. I loved serving over this past semester. I had little to gain from seeking appointment or running for a second term — I have significant leadership experiences already under my belt, and the time spent doing council work could be better spent on my academics. Running for council was not a selfish endeavor; it was me finding an involvement opportunity that I enjoyed and that afforded me the chance to talk to numerous students on campus that I otherwise would never have met.

I wanted to run for chair not because it would make me look good or because I would be able to spend time with administrators but because I felt I was qualified and would do a great job representing students. I am by no means “in the pocket of the administrators,” or “anti-grassroots,” but rather I am a realist. I believe the most effective ASM chair would not only utilize grassroots efforts to educate, mobilize and empower the student body but also simultaneously work with administrators to bring the voices and concerns of students to their tables. An effective chair will not be anti-grassroots or anti-administration because either option will entirely halt student victories.

Numerous constituents told me they were confused, saddened and concerned when they learned I was not seeking another term in Student Council, for this I appreciate the opportunity to go on record and share to the truth about why I decided not to run. I hope those who were elected to the 16th Session of the Associated Students of Madison will act in the best interests of all students and work together to find solutions that will better the lives of UW students. It is this last point that leaves me concerned based on the first Student Council meeting of the 16th Session that took place last Friday. Its purpose was to appoint the new ASM leadership, though several individuals present — both FACES, Responsibility, unaffiliated and non-members — shared that it was essentially a gridlock in electing the new chair.

I will spare you the gritty details of what happened at the meeting and where things stand because, in all honesty, they are a mess. Instead, I want to share who I would like to see as ASM’s leadership in the 16th Session. As one of the key organizers of Vote No and initial organizers in the progressive slate, as well as a former Student Council member, I have worked with most of the candidates firsthand and can give a balanced opinion on the matter. With that said, I support Tom Templeton (Responsibility) as vice chair and Theotis Sharpe (FACES) as Nominations Board chair. Each has their strength — Templeton with vast ASM experience and a strong sense of professionalism, and Sharpe as a person of great character with excellent organizational connections.

I do not feel comfortable endorsing either Tyler Junger or Brian Benford for chair. Though each has commendable experience, I have significant concerns about their relevant overall understanding of ASM’s structure, as well as their susceptibility to influence. Both Junger and Benford are well-intentioned and trusting individuals, which make them great people and attentive leaders, but I am left with concerns based on the makeup of the slates. Behind the scenes of both FACES and Responsibility there are strong individuals pulling the strings, and this leaves me concerned that the lack of concrete ASM experience of each candidate will force them to rely on these powerful individuals and allow each to fall prey to their agendas. Regarding the position of SSFC chair, I strongly encourage Junger to seek this position if he does not win his current bid.

It is imperative for the success and sustainability of ASM that these two slates do not seek to dominate Council, but rather to work together in the best interest of students. Even though I was vocal in forming FACES, after seeing the final product of the two slates, my wish is that they would both disband.

With this, I offer some advice to the members of the FACES and Responsibility slates. I am certain that you are talented, ambitious, intelligent, creative and passionate, which means your constituents are lucky to have you. That being said, you are on a metaphorical boat with the leaders of your slate (you know who they are). I’ve been there and I can promise you that it is only a matter of time before they will throw you overboard. You can get out now and make it to a lifeboat, or wait for them to push you over and then you will be left to find a piece of driftwood to latch onto.

Chynna Haas

Working Class Student Union

Founder & President

ASM Student Council

Former Letters and Sciences Representative

[email protected]

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