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While Captain and Mates Squabble, UA Ship Set Adrift

Column by Anders Hove
Columnist

"What we were elected to do, we are going to do, and let others wallow in Watergate," announced President Richard Nixon, summer of 1973. That was long before the "smoking gun," before the Saturday Night Massacre.

Compare Nixon's remarks with those of Undergraduate Association President Hans C. Godfrey '93: "Forget about the [Vannevar Bush '16 Fund]; forget about the budgets. I don't care ... Let's start doing something for the students."

But the UA refused to forget. Instead of doing something for students, Godfrey and UA Treasurer Raajnish Chitaley went on a two-week witch-hunt, inexplicably drawing out the Bush fund controversy. In the end the UA accomplished two things: They nearly ruined the life of Finboard Chair David J. Kessler '94, and they destroyed what credibility the UA still had as a forum for student issues.

Like many Americans with Nixon just after Watergate, I was inclined to give Godfrey and the UA the benefit of the doubt on this one. True, there was no reason to keep the Bush fund secret, but Godfrey said as much in his interview with The Tech. Nor do I object to the way Godfrey spent his money. What's more, Kessler's tactics in releasing what may have been private information were lamentable.

Nevertheless, Kessler is a human being. He believed that making public the details of the Bush Fund would serve the public interest. He made a mistake, he admitted it, he has apologized, and now he has resigned.

This having been said, it is hardly difficult to understand why Kessler chose the course he took. Kessler and Chitaley detest each other. Members of Finboard found dealing with the UA difficult. Kessler felt he had the duty and the authority to release what information he had. Consultation with Godfrey or Chitaley probably seemed counter-productive. Once the information was released the damage was done. The Bush Fund controversy should have been water under the bridge.

Instead two public UA meetings were dominated by vituperative screaming matches between Kessler and Chitaley. Godfrey had ordained that the storm would not blow over until he saw the Kessler's resignation. Chitaley wanted to go further by suspending Kessler. Chitaley also claimed that Kessler's actions were illegal, and thus wanted to take disciplinary action.

Yet Chitaley amazingly refused to set his claws on the other members of Finboard, who were themselves actively involved in the decision to make the Bush fund records public. When Kessler asked that two other members of Finboard who had worked with him (Per E. Juvkam-Wold '94 and James T. Kirtley Jr. G) be added to the list of suspended members, Chitaley protested. Godfrey and Chitaley only wanted Kessler's blood. Why?

Chitaley initially claimed that only Kessler had access to the Finboard computer, an assertion denied by Kessler's colleagues. Chitaley then stated that Kessler's actions were most objectionable because of their lack of tact. But as a student present that evening (who later asked for anonymity) eloquently put it, "If you could impeach people for tactlessness, Hans, Raaj, and Dave would have been gone a long time ago."

The real explanation lies in the eagerness of several people to grind their personal axes on the Bush Fund stone. Chitaley's rage during the Nov. 11 UA meeting was revealing. He screamed so furiously at Kessler that, according to Douglas De Couto '97, the student sitting directly in his path, "spittle flew onto my neck at one point. I had to reach back and actually wipe off the saliva." What type of vendetta was this? Had Chitaley lost his mind?

The action taken by the UA Executive Committee uncovers another motive for singling out Kessler. It was agreed that the impeachment would be put off until he could work through the UA's budget for next year. In other words, if the UA couldn't handle Kessler without losing his colleagues, his lynching would have to be put off until Finboard's vital work could be finished.

Kessler, Juvkam-Wold, and Kirtley swiftly realized that they were being used. Their resignations came late that very evening -- a Veterans' Day Massacre. Raaj vs. Dave was not an argument over issues. It was a silly feud between two stubborn personalities.

The battle is now over. But what did it prove, and what does the carnage look like? For one thing, the fight was a far greater indictment of the UA than Godfrey's use of the Bush Fund ever was. It showed how absurd and petty members of our student government could be. Godfrey, Chitaley, and Kessler acted like losers. If they couldn't work with themselves, how can they work for us? Sack the lot!