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Failed impeachment reveals cracks in foundation of student government

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Our elected officials are entrusted with representing constituents on important political matters, bringing issues into the public eye and elevating their urgency to higher authorities who can enact change. But when a representative neglects to carry out their charge diligently and respectfully, there are mechanisms in place for their removal. The Undergraduate Senate of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) is no exception. The ASSU Constitution states that the grounds for a senator’s dismissal from office by impeachment and removal or by recall include “actions deemed unbecoming a member of the Undergraduate Senate.”

In early January, Senate Treasurer Kobe Hopkins ’22 authored and presented a bill to impeach Senator Sam Schimmel ’22, citing three female-identifying undergraduates’ allegations of “abhorrent” interactions with Schimmel. Senator Micheal Brown ’22 collected anonymous testimonies from those three individuals, whom he said Schimmel had “bullied and abused.” 

Since then, the impeachment bill has been dropped, and all Senators who made statements about Schimmel have retracted their relevant statements. These reversals followed cease-and-desist letters that were issued by Schimmel’s lawyer to senators. Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22 told The Daily that senators reacted accordingly because they were scared of being sued.

“People are afraid to talk back to [Schimmel] or say something to him,” Alimire said.

Individual senators are provided no legal representation by the ASSU or the University, even when they are facing legal action for acting in their official capacities. According to Alimire, the ASSU’s legal counsel advised the senators to retract their statements, warning that legal action would cost them thousands of dollars.

In addition to the retractions, all minutes related to impeachment from the meeting introducing the bill were struck from the record. Among the remarks made by senators in the meeting minutes that were struck: “Sam has already admitted to sexual harassment during the private meeting” and “Sam agrees that his behavior and statements can be described as ‘unbecoming.’” 

While the prospect of legal action against senators has had a chilling effect on further investigation of Schimmel’s conduct for impeachment, we think it is important to underline certain patterns of behavior Schimmel has exhibited during his tenure as senator. Although allegations of sexual harassment and general incompetence in his positions on the Board of Judicial Affairs (BJA) and Senate have now been cleared from the Senate’s official record, Schimmel admitted to making “slut-shaming” comments on-the-record. When questioned about these remarks by Hopkins, Schimmel responded with, “Am I proud of it? No. Am I ashamed of it? Yes. Do I think it’s something that embodies my character? No.”

Schimmel added, “These are realities. There are reasons for why these things are said but there are no excuses.”

These admissions were not the first actions to raise red flags in Schimmel’s term as a senator. In December, Schimmel resigned from the BJA, citing a “hostile environment” after its other 14 members voted unanimously to remove him from the co-chair position. BJA co-chair Cat Sanchez wrote in a statement to The Daily that Schimmel’s “behavior as co-chair over the preceding nine weeks led to him losing the confidence of the board.” 

Schimmel said in January that he was removed as co-chair because he “refused to go along with and vehemently objected to lowering the standard of evidence required to convict a student of wrongdoing.” But nobody on the BJA has corroborated these claims, and co-chair Sanchez has denied them multiple times.

The Senate is taking no further action and, barring a recall effort by the student body as a whole, Schimmel will likely remain in his position for the rest of his term. Taken in isolation, Schimmel’s admission to making inappropriate comments to fellow students, the circumstances surrounding his resignation from the BJA, and his allegedly obtrusive behavior at Senate meetings may not obviously be impeachable offenses. But the events surrounding his attempted impeachment raise serious questions about his fitness for office and, more broadly, the viability of any impeachment processes in the Senate. The failed impeachment highlights the urgency of strengthening the mechanisms meant to ensure that removal or admonishment of a senator is possible when appropriate. 

While the impeachment effort has receded from the front pages of The Daily, we call on the ASSU and University administration to conduct a serious postmortem reflection on reforms required to fortify the foundation of our undergraduate representative body.

The Vol. 257 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Malavika Kannan ’23, Layo Laniyan ’22, Adrian Liu ’20, Jasmine Liu ’20 and Willoughby Winograd ’22.

Contact the Vol. 257 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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