The student council of 2012/2013 has now been in office for about half a year and even though many students have seen their various posters promoting school events, many believe the organization to be secretive. Over time students have criticized them for being “very closed-off” and not taking public stands on rumors that leak out of their meetings.
Although candidates put up posters in September, students voted and the council was elected, most voters never found out who actually is on the panel now – especially, since the constellation changed after only a week.
Daniel Padolsky, the student council advisor, impeached two members before the real work of the council had even begun in a dispute over attendance. Padolsky’s authority to do this was challenged, however, and confusion among the students ensued.
The student council never made an official statement about the matter and rumors started spreading until many weeks later, when Sopho Kartsivadze wrote an article about the issue for At the Lennon Wall. Both, Padolsky and David Vajcner, the student council president, say that they were not aware the situation caused rumors or confusion.
“I didn’t think that there was a need for a public statement,” says Vajcner. “I thought this was between us and the members that we kicked out.” This comment makes Dita Kovarikova, a second-year Business Administration student, wonder if the council is really “that close to the students when they haven’t even noticed that nobody knew what was going on.”
For about three months, council members have responded to inquiries over the shake- up by saying “we are not allowed to talk about it.” Which Vajcner explains by saying that the council was trying to “figure out the situation.”
Some members explain their “no comment” attitude by referring to the council’s constitution, a document that was not publicly available until March, when Padolsky posted it on the university’s intranet (https://sites.google.com/a/aauni.edu/student-council-anglo-american-university/home/constitution).
Until then, both students and council members who wanted to see the constitution would have to e-mail Padolsky for him to send it back to them. The only difference in this case between members and other students was that students did not know who they had to ask in order to get access.
“It’s funny that they claim to have never come up with the idea for posting it on Facebook before – since putting it there is really not that far fetched of an idea,” says Kovarikova.
Padolsky says posting the document “really hadn’t crossed my mind because no one outside of the student council has ever asked to see it.”
Most council members admit they have never read the constitution. “Nobody reads it,” says student council secretary Katheryne Dedukh, who is also an editor of At the Lennon Wall. “It’s so long! It’s like eight pages,” she says of the 12-page document.
The council’s Facebook page lists almost all members, with all their committees and contacts under the “info” section, but does not include photos. “We want to take a picture of the entire council and post it on Facebook,” says Dedukh.
Few know about the Facebook site and some students suggest that a council section on the official AAU website would be helpful.
Google Sites has a page a dedicated Anglo-American University student council area, but no student interviewed had heard of it. And the site still lists all previous members, some with misspelled names, and is not up to date.
Council meeting minutes have been posted on the site for just two days, Nov. 17, 2012 and Feb. 18, 2013.
The council’s constitution clearly states in article IX, section 3: “Students, faculty and staff shall have open access to all decisions that have been passed by a regular session of the Student Council.”
The minutes of the council meetings are also posted on the Facebook page, however students complain that the notes do not fully summarize meetings. They leave out all “internal issues” notes and minutes are rarely up to date.
The minutes from Feb. 26 were posted on Mar. 6 and minutes from Mar. 12 were posted on Mar. 17
Dedukh has tried to fix the problems on the Facebook site, she says, but adds minutes were posted late because “nobody reads them anyway.”
The constitution also specifies that meetings are to be held every two weeks and must be open to the public. Padolsky, Vajcner and Radovan Fafilek, student council vice president, say this year the meetings were extraordinarily open because they were most often held in the student lounge.
Still, many meetings this year were closed – exclusively for the council members and held without notice. One council member, Oliver Petrus, was himself unable to find the location of a meeting Feb. 27. It was supposed to be on Feb. 26 but was postponed due to “internal issues,” according to Fafilek, and was not open to the public.
The meetings were recently moved to room 206 at 5:30 p.m. and are officially open, according to the council’s Facebook site. “We are more than happy when a student takes any interest in the student council,” says Padolsky.
The rest of the council seems to differ: they are uneasy when asked about secrecy. Both Fafilek and Vajcner had repeatedly postponed interviews. Also, leaked information from the council’s Facebook site shows some council members were worried about answering any questions about transparency.
Nor does the official openness does not appear to include a willingness to be digitally archived. At a meeting on Mar. 5 members voted to ban an audio recording request by At the Lennon Wall for a reporter who could not be present.
“I’m not sure what the purpose of recording every meeting would be,” says Padolsky.
According to Fafilek, the council has now decided that if a journalist wants to record the meeting they should do it in person.
Some students complain that the council only turns to the rest of the students when they need help, such as when organizing the school ball. But they do not include the other students in decision making, such as when new members are elected to replace impeached ones.
As Robynsong Bone, an exchange student at AAU, puts it, “If an organization like that wants to actually make a difference and get anything done they should probably involve the people they are representing.”
At one of their latest closed meetings Feb. 27, three members were impeached or quit: Pavel Mares, Nevena Nikolic, and Michal Melicharek. This information took almost two weeks to go public.
The council also failed to announce new members on their Facebook page. The new members are Lisa Novacek, Vendula Zenata, Denisa Horsakova, and Honza Vicher. They were confirmed at the same meeting Feb. 27. They applied for the empty seats after the Student Services Center sent out emails to all students explaining that the council needs new members.
Until Mar. 5, the exiting members were described as current members on Facebook. Honza Vicher and Zach Blumenfeld, an exchange student who is an observer at the council, are still not listed as members. Nor does the Google Sites page contain this information.
The replacement process, held behind closed doors, appears to have been at odds with the constitution, which states: “In the event an elected position is vacant the Student Council President may make an appointment subject to a two-thirds vote of the Student Council members.” There is no provision in the document specifying conditions for closed-door meetings.
Students say they wish to have a voice in this decision. “I had no idea that this happened,” says Ivana Ruzickova, a international relations student.
One of the new members is Denisa Horsakova, who initially agreed to an interview for this article, then cancelled on Mar. 16, saying in an e-mail that she is “no longer in the SC.” The council president and vice president say they did not know of this until Apr. 9. Horsakova has not appeared at a meeting to formally renounce her membership.
Some students also believe Dedukh’s membership on the council while also co-editing At the Lennon Wall is a conflict of interest. As a council member, she says she is not always allowed to publicly discuss council matters.
But critics fear she may tend to give At the Lennon Wall at pro-council bias. Tomas Probst, a student council member, says, “It was actually helpful, many times already, that we also have a representative from the Lennon Wall.”
Dedukh admits to “a slight conflict” but does not specify of what sort. She understands the students’ concerns, she says, that it is difficult to do both jobs at the same time. Other students, including Vajcner, have also served on both bodies, however.
Members insist there is no official secrecy policy and say all meetings – apart from those that deal with internal issues – are open to the public and insist they welcome students who want to express their concerns.
The constitution does not specify conditions for holding closed meetings for “internal issues” nor does it mention any exceptions to the rule of open meetings.
Nor does the public necessarily see the openness policy council members describe. Most interviewed students say they are afraid of talking to the council because many of their friends members and also because, to many students, the organization seems like a superior, elitist group that gives off the impression of “members only.”
Even one member seems to see the point: in a leaked internal post on the council’s private Facebook site from Mar. 15, Horsakova says “we all know that SC is or used to be secretive.”
She still refuses comment but Vajcner said, after being shown the post, he does not agree with her.