A lot has been said about Graduate Students Association President Milan Chatterjee’s behavior during his term of office. And frankly, it would be great if the issues around the GSA president and his conduct simply disappeared. But unfortunately, the GSA president has engaged in unacceptable behavior that a healthy student government system cannot simply sweep under the rug. Those actions have been brought to the GSA Forum for discussion Wednesday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m. in Ackerman Viewpoint Conference Room.
The charges facing Chatterjee refer to alleged violations of the GSA Code of Ethics that governs his behavior. He is accused of failing to take and provide official documents, failing to follow the established procedures that guarantee fairness in the GSA’s operations, abusing his power, acting unprofessionally, engaging in personal attacks from his position as president, misusing GSA resources and allowing his personal beliefs to interfere with his obligation to fairly represent the entire graduate student body.
The evidence supporting these charges is roughly 30 pages long. It is available to read online.
But here are three of the most serious issues.
First, the evidence shows that Milan Chatterjee abused his power as GSA president. He did not have the power to create policies determining the political positions of the GSA. Creating policy is unquestionably the role of the Forum, GSA’s sole executive and legislative body which represents all graduate students through its 13 academic councils. Yet, in defiance of the limits of his authority, Chatterjee went about trying to adopt politically-based policy by conducting late-night Cabinet Doodle poll votes. Chatterjee was never authorized by the GSA Constitution to implement boundaries on the free speech rights of students to whom he provided funding, and he never had the right to personally monitor those students to determine if they broke his boundaries. But he did all those things anyway.
Second, in the category of unprofessional conduct, it is fairly clear that Chatterjee lied to the student body. On Oct. 16, 2015, when Chatterjee told students that their funding from the GSA was contingent on not adopting certain political positions, he wrote that this directive was the product of GSA policy. As the GSA cabinet and the UCLA administration have confirmed, this was not a true statement. Chatterjee all but admitted that through his subsequent actions. Eight days after Chatterjee issued his funding restrictions to students, he sought to get the GSA cabinet to pass some language that would make these actions retroactively valid. So he sent the GSA cabinet an online Doodle poll about being neutral on Israel-Palestine. He presented this resolution to his cabinet as a statement of neutrality, not a policy that would allow him to deny student groups funding based on their political views. When the true reasons for his actions became clear, one GSA cabinet member resigned in protest, writing in the Daily Bruin that had he known the true purpose of Chatterjee’s neutrality resolution, he never would have voted for it.
And third, it is also clear that Milan Chatterjee engaged in personal attacks through his retaliation against student whistleblowers – one of the worst violations an elected official can engage in.
He started by retaliating against Manpreet Dhillon, the student who had first applied for GSA funding. Because she made his illegal funding restrictions public, he started emailing her boss, alleging that she was backstabbing him and acting unethically. The only reasonable interpretation of these actions was that he was hoping to silence her by making her fear for the security of her employment. Retaliating in this manner against a whistleblower is one of the worst actions an elected official can engage in.
Then, he attacked graduate students by sending administrators, the campus paper and other members of the GSA articles accusing his critics, myself included, of being hateful bigots connected to terrorists.
Finally, he went after the GSA Cabinet member, Mohannad Ghawanmeh, who had resigned in protest. Chatterjee claimed that the ex-cabinet member had “swindled” the GSA of funding while in office. Associated Students UCLA stepped in almost immediately to state that this was a totally false accusation. So why did Chatterjee try to make it? It is hard to see any reason other than this: The GSA president once again tried to punish a critic, and thought that levying this charge against Ghawanmeh would be a way to punish him for having spoken up in opposition to his actions.
The graduate student body at UCLA must be represented by an individual who upholds high ethical standards. Milan Chatterjee, by his actions, has proven that he is not that individual.
Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology.