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Presidential resignations rare in history of USAC

By Joseph Vescera

Jan. 5, 2015 5:43 a.m.

In the 95-year existence of UCLA’s undergraduate student government, just six presidents have stepped down or been ousted from their seats.

Undergraduate Students Association Council presidents have resigned for personal reasons, been caught in campaign violation controversies or been drafted into the military, according to Steven Halpern in “A View from Kerckhoff: A History of Student Life at UCLA,” a document about the Associated Students UCLA and the undergraduate student government.

The most recent resignation was that of Devin Murphy in November.

In his resignation statement, Murphy said the job of USAC president and the campus climate hurt his mental, physical and emotional health. Murphy could not be reached for comment for this article.

Because Murphy already completed half of his term, USAC Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral assumed the presidency in line with the council’s bylaws.

USAC Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich said Murphy’s resignation represented a loss for the council because councilmembers had already been affected by the resignation of former General Representative Nihal Satyadev, and were not prepared for another sudden resignation.

“Losing Devin was a huge hit because we had all already developed a togetherness and momentum as a council,” Badalich said. “But at the same time, no one person does all the work for an office or a cause.”

Steve Sann, former Financial Supports commissioner on the Student Legislative Council in 1978-1979, which became USAC in 1982, said he has witnessed two presidential resignations and one presidential recall during his three decades of involvement with UCLA as a student and as chair of the Westwood Community Council.

Because it is so rare for the presidency to be vacated before the conclusion of a council’s term, the student body is often unprepared for dealing with an unexpected resignation of its elected leader, Sann said.

The succession process differed slightly in the past, however, as the council had different offices and succession procedures that changed over time.

Before Murphy’s resignation, the last time a student body president failed to complete his or her term was in 1979, when students ousted Dean Morehous in a recall election, Sann said.

After months of investigation into Morehous’ alleged campaign spending and reporting violations by former Daily Bruin editors Andy Waxler and Chris Cameron, The Bruin wrote that Morehous falsified campaign expense reports, asked a third-party campaign button manufacturer to lie on his behalf and used his student government office and telephone for campaign purposes.

Morehous was recalled and removed from office by 74 percent of students who voted.

Just two terms before, in August 1976, Student Legislative Council President Meg McCormack resigned, rescinded her resignation, then resigned again just two months later, Sann said.

Sann added that councilmembers pressured McCormack to resign the first time after it was alleged that she underreported her campaign finance expenditures and spent about $2,000 on her election, almost 10 times that year’s spending limit of $250.

McCormack changed her mind and rescinded her resignation soon after, Sann said.

However, after learning that McCormack previously resigned as co-chair of the Student Body Presidents Council and failed to inform the council, the council and The Bruin called for her second resignation, which came soon after, Halpern wrote.

After McCormack’s second resignation, a special election was held and Scott Taylor was elected Student Legislative Council president, Sann said.

Less than 10 years earlier, Richard Gross was elected Student Legislative Council president in a campaign in spring 1968, but students returned to school in the fall to learn that Gross had resigned his position and transferred to UC Berkeley, Halpern wrote.

Gross cited health and academic considerations in his resignation statement, both of which he said may have been related to a former hospital stay and months of poor health, Halpern wrote.

A special election was held in fall 1968 to replace Gross, in which the student body elected Rosalio Munoz as the first-ever Chicana or Chicano Student Legislative Council president, according to Halpern.

Unlike most other resignations, students in 1943 saw their president, Bill Farrer, resign after being drafted into the military during World War II.

The only resignation before Farrer’s was that of Jerold Weil in 1921, the second-ever undergraduate student government president.

Weil resigned for personal reasons, which led to the ascension of Marjorie Scott to the presidency, making her the first-ever woman undergraduate student government president, Halpern wrote.

Because both of these resignations occurred more than 70 years ago, details about them are sparse. The Bruin reached out to sources who attended UCLA back in the 1970s for this article.

Sann, who served on council during Morehous’ presidency, said he thinks that while McCormack’s and Morehous’ situations were a low point for the undergraduate student government, students still had faith in their government and the institution at the time.

“I don’t think it shook the students’ faith because it reaffirmed that bad things happen when people cheat,” Sann said. “The recall affirmed that the council’s disciplinary process worked, and I think students were pleased at how the process was democratic.”

Despite initial challenges to the legitimacy of his assumption of the presidency and a controversial resolution vote days after he took over, Baral said he thinks this year’s council has regained its footing and is functioning well with student support.

“Devin’s resignation, filling the internal vice president position and the focus on divestment definitely took away the focus of the council for a little,” Baral said. “But I believe that council is now organized and prepared to move forward.”

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