An Undergraduate Association Council meeting agenda published shortly before press time listed a “transition” of power to the president-elect Matthew J. Davis ’16 and vice president-elect Sophia Liu ’17 with no mention of an impeachment vote, implying that the sitting officers, Shruti Sharma ’15 and Billy Ndengeyingoma ‘15, will step down.
The embattled president, in the final month of her term, stands accused of improperly allocating $12,500 for a November performance at MIT by rapper Lil B and has faced multiple procedural attempts to oust her.
The UA Judicial Board chair, John W. Halloran ’15, had cleared the way for council members to vote on whether to remove Sharma when he unilaterally decided last Thursday that her funding authorization was a serious enough violation to allow the impeachment bid to proceed. A separate motion to launch an undergraduate-wide recall election narrowly failed to pass at the April 1 UA Council meeting.
A recall election could also be triggered by a petition signed by 10 percent of undergraduates. Such a petition was reportedly circulating among undergraduates Monday.
Sharma maintained late Monday night that she is “transitioning” rather than resigning, but Wednesday’s meeting is nearly a month before Davis and Liu are scheduled to take office, and the UA constitution’s only provision for voluntary premature transition of power is resignation. The move is expected to quell attempts to vote on the now-authorized impeachment.
Halloran acted alone in authorizing the impeachment vote, citing an impasse between himself and the other Judicial Board member, Moriel Levy ’17, who resigned after his ruling. Halloran also alleged that Sharma had stalled the appointment of the constitutionally-mandated and tie-breaking third member to prevent a vote on her own removal.
“Unfortunately, selecting a third member has become an exact proxy for the pending removal decision, despite our best efforts to find a new appointment and approval method for this special circumstance,” he wrote in his decision.
Halloran had appealed to the UA Council on April 1 to ensure the appointment of a third JudBoard member within a week of that meeting, but the procedure the Council approved to find, interview, and vote on candidates has not yet yielded a new member.
Halloran said that Levy had a personal relationship with Sharma and called it a “potential conflict of interest.” Levy issued her resignation from the board early Monday, stating the alleged conflict “did nothing to cloud my ability to decide objectively, so I did not recuse myself.” She wrote that due in part to Halloran’s unilateral decision, “the Judicial Board has lost its legitimacy as a deliberative collegial body.”
Impeachment has not been the only threat to Sharma’s presidency. A recall, which does not require a Judicial Board ruling, would cause Sharma to be removed from office immediately, pending an undergraduate-wide election that, with a two-thirds majority, would make her removal permanent.
Any motion to recall Sharma would require 16 votes of the Council to pass, but this is apparently a holdover in the UA’s constitutional language from when the body was larger. The council could vote on pending amendments that would change the threshold to the intended three-quarters majority — a bar the most recent unsuccessful recall bid would have surpassed — before voting on other motions at Wednesday’s meeting.
The fate of these removal bids is now unclear in light of the apparently imminent resignation, the first indication of which appeared in the UA agenda just before press time.
Though just one of the multiple ways Sharma’s presidency could end early, Halloran’s decision to clear the way for an impeachment vote has prompted the most controversy. “I think all the officers would agree that we do see something wrong with one person being the sole decision-maker. I think the whole campus can see that,” Ryan McDermott, the UA treasurer, said.
Sharma said: “We also have to see, the Judicial board isn’t full, what does that even mean? Can one person even make a decision?”
Halloran said that it was of “critical importance” that Sharma closely follow the Council’s instructions for finding a third member given that the original impeachment complaint alleged that the president had encroached on the Council’s authority, meaning the failure to do so was even more serious. “To block a removal as the president — it seems a pattern,” he said, citing delays in the implementing the Council’s instructions.
“This situation is so unique, and honestly the separation of powers issues so problematic … I felt this was the best course of action for to take as Judicial Board chair to get the political process in the UA moving again. I see both president and council at fault for not giving me a third member, but I also find it unacceptable, as I said, that the president could have the power to block an impeachment by not giving a third member.”
Halloran said he saw his decision as the best option given the judicial impasse and failure of Council to make the judicial board whole. He and Levy had previously ruled on March 24 that Sharma’s actions regarding the Lil B transaction were unconstitutional in an inquiry unrelated to impeachment, but he said that she refused to allow him to issue a decision finding Sharma’s actions grounds for allowing Council to vote on impeachment. “I feel that the outcome of impeachment was unacceptable for her regardless of these merits [of the Lil B case].”
“The actions taken by John were an attempt to compensate for the recent inefficiencies of the UA Executive Board,” Samuel Oppenheim, IFC president and one of the four Council members who brought the impeachment complaint, said. “John acted with the intentions to move past the red tape and allow the UA Council to conduct legislation that had been shelved indefinitely.”
Halloran said that he understood why some opposed his unilateral decision, but said the ambiguous and, in some cases, self-contradictory nature of the UA governing documents made it impossible to satisfy all interpretations.
In the original call for a vote on the impeachment, the UA councillors also noted that Sharma “utilized a CVC card [controlled value card] in her name tied to the UA’s accounts for personal purchases.”
While an account not managed by the UA called the Bush fund allows the UA president to use the “unrestricted gift” for personal expenses, Sharma’s charges appeared to have been drawn directly from the UA’s main account, to which her CVC was directly linked.
According to Sharma, the non-UA charges showed up under a UA account because some of her receipts were not submitted within five to 10 days of her purchases.
On the late receipts, Leah Flynn Gallant, the Assistant Dean and Director for Student Leadership and Engagement Programs, said: “That’s a mistake quite frankly anyone could make. I can certainly see how any student would say ‘I’m just going to use this credit card, hand the verification form so it hits that cost object instead and then the 5 days happen, and that’s the case.’”
After the allegations of improper use of the CVC were raised, Sharma and Ryan McDermott, the UA treasurer, reconciled all of the expenses over the course of an official UA executive officers meeting. The line items were attributed to either an appropriate UA cost object number or a non-UA fund, namely, the Bush fund.
Halloran said that, anticipating a third member would be added to JudBoard, he requested documents last week related to the CVC charges. Sharma and McDermott declined to provide them to him without a personal meeting — a meeting Halloran was not comfortable having without a third JudBoard member — because they contained Sharma’s personal expenses. Halloran called the justification “a little ridiculous” given that the charges had been discussed in an official meeting. “In an officers meeting you’re categorizing these expenses, yet it’s still too personal to give to the Judicial Board. And also, it’s using UA accounts.”
The CVC issue seems unlikely to be a major factor in the upcoming Council meeting. Nevertheless, UA secretary and vice president-elect Sophia Liu said Sharma’s use of the card is an example of one of the many instances of her misconduct: “in a company you’d be fired for it.”
Before the release of the agenda seeming to imply Sharma’s imminent resignation, the president’s supporters questioned the wisdom of removing her so close to the end of her term.
Sharma herself said that a removal would hinder implementing JudBoard’s policy recommendations listed in their original Lil B ruling: “[Just] removing the president itself doesn’t get rid of the problem; especially now in a transition time, it’s especially important.”
Others, however, maintained the action was important regardless of timing. Sam Oppenheim, the president of the Interfraternity Council and a UA councillor that originally called for a removal vote, said: “It is important that Council to always act with the integrity that the UA attempts to provide. Accountability is not a time dependent issue, nor should it be treated as one.”
Now, with only two days until the apparent planned resignation, it seems even less likely that councillors will continue to attempt to remove Sharma.