A new group of senators took over a committee that decides future members of the Associated Students of the University of Montana after the student government removed most of the previous interview committee because of confidentiality violations.
A full committee reassignment has not been seen for years, according to ASUM leadership.
“This is a special situation, I haven’t seen a committee be fully reassigned in the manner this one was,” said ASUM Vice President Alexandra Berna, who has worked at ASUM since 2020. “What happened here is also a bit unprecedented, so there isn’t really something to base it off of.”
Berna proposed at the body’s Oct. 5 meeting to remove Zyanne Cervantes, Caelan Milligan, Maggie Bell, Emma Wickum, Ana Salyards and O’Shay Birdinground from the committee that processes new senator applications.
Alysa Curry, the committee’s chair, will stay on the committee indefinitely.
The senate replaced the previous committee with senators Wyatt Balius, Kendal Burcham, Adrian Cook, Jared Gibbs, Hannah Merrick and Tristan Redearth to finish deliberating on the current applications.
There are four open senate seats and eight applications for senate. Berna said the new senators stepping into the committee will only stay on until they choose who will fill the open seats, which should be done by next Friday.
Berna made the decision to allow Curry to remain the committee’s chair because the chair is a neutral facilitator and does not vote on anything unless there is a tie.
The breach of confidentiality happened when Senator Cervantes emailed an online folder containing the applicants’ interview videos to people outside of the interview committee. Cervantes specifically showed former ASUM presidential candidate Noah Vanderkar’s interview video to members of the Branch Center.
Interview committee chair Curry said Cervantes shared the folder with all the applications, but Vanderkar’s recording was the only one viewed by people outside of the committee.
According to Berna, there is no explicit rule barring committee members from sharing interview content in ASUM’s bylaws. However, precedent suggests application materials should be kept private.
Berna is working with senators Wickum and Bell to draft a resolution that adds confidentiality practices into the bylaws, which is expected to see the senate floor on Oct. 19.
“I sent that link because I saw cause for concern for those in the Branch Center within the interview,” Cervantes said on the senate floor at its Sept. 28 meeting.
“There was an air of unprofessionalism and privilege,” Cervantes continued about Vanderkar’s application. “This was something I thought could hurt this body. Seeing nothing in bylaws and not knowing the precedent I shared the interview. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”
When Senator Wickum asked why she shared the entire folder outside of the committee instead of just Vanderkar’s interview, Cervantes said she was “acting in the best interest” of her constituents.
“My condolences go to the interviewee, who now feels attacked,” Cervantes said. “I believe the interviews, as a government body, should be public. I understand that is not the majority opinion and I respect that.”
Vanderkar told the Kaimin part of the conflict stemmed from how he did not discuss diversity, equity and inclusion in his interview, but said he wanted to focus on other issues like parking and campus Wi-Fi accessibility.
He said a senator, who he declined to name, showed him an email from Cervantes before the interview that refused to allow him to interview at all for an open seat.
Vanderkar also told Berna that multiple senators from the committee told him about other applicants’ backgrounds without sharing their names. Vanderkar claimed the senators volunteered the information unprompted.
He said Berna made the decision to dissolve the committee after the two talked on Oct. 3. Vanderkar said he has since rescinded his application from ASUM.
“When we’re sitting in class and they’re generally talking about ASUM, and they don’t have any code of ethics bylaws to stop them from doing that, who cares?” Vanderkar said. “I don’t want any part of it. I don’t understand how me applying and interviewing for senate has transpired into all this drama. Nothing good would come from me serving on ASUM now.”
Soon after Berna made her decision, Vice Provost for Student Success Brian Reed stepped down from his role as the ASUM adviser. Berna said he only knew about the committee issues in passing and his decision was not correlated.
“I love ASUM,” Reed said in a statement to the Kaimin. “Being the adviser has been the highlight of my work since I arrived at UM. It was a difficult decision to step down, but I have several new projects on the student success front, as well as existing ones, that require my full focus right now. I hope to return to the advisor role at some point.”
After the vote, Berna read a written statement from Taylor Curry on the senate floor, who was absent, about how the committee issues are indicative of ASUM’s inaccessibility to the student population.
“It seems that there has been a historic tendency for ASUM to maintain exclusionary and at times elitist habits,” Taylor Curry said in his statement. “I hope that tonight you can take stock of the way you have personally contributed to the group, and whether those contributions have served the students you represent or the private interests you have in the game. Trust is a huge part of this process, and there have been too many times when senators forgo this trust to their own benefit.”
All senators taken off the interview committee were not removed from other committee assignments, and there is no further punishment for the issue, Berna said.
Being removed this year does not bar them from serving on the interview committee again in the future. Berna said she hopes the committee can work on a rotating schedule in the future and agreed with Taylor Curry that the shakeup exposed problems with ASUM’s processes.
“What happened at our meeting last week was really important,” Berna said. “I’ve had a lot of private discussions in terms of what we do moving forward. That’s been a long-term process because senate morale is different every year. This is one of those prime examples where being as fair as we can across the board is the only way to move on from that, and I think everybody has the sense that that’s the best thing to do.”
ASUM will reconvene for its weekly meeting Oct. 12. Wednesday night will be the sixth meeting of the chamber. So far the chamber has passed three resolutions. The student government will be approving student group funding and plans to pass a resolution of the group’s core values.