Points of contention within Student Association

By Jacqueline Evans and Kyla Gardner

DeKALB | The position of president pro tempore was a point of contention among the members of the Student Association Senate during its Sunday night meeting.

Ryan Smith was removed from his position by Speaker of the Senate Jeremy Peters on Friday, and the senate voted 16-13 to appoint Winnie Okafor in his stead. A paid position, the president pro tempore presides over SA Senate meetings.

Senators debated at length over the approval of Okafor in Smith’s stead and the constitutionality of the removal of Smith.


Senators debated at length over the approval of Okafor in Smith’s stead and the constitutionality of the removal of Smith.

Senator Brian Troutman brought up a letter written by Okafor printed in the Northern Star on Oct. 25, 2007. The letter was in reply to responses to a letter to the editor she wrote on Oct. 22, 2007. The letters concerned racism on campus and a line read by Troutman caused concern about her racial views.

Okafor defended her letter and said the line was taken out of context and the first letter was not considered.

At the request of Senator Austin Quick, Troutman read the letter in its entirety to the Senate.

“I’m glad [the letter] came up,” Okafor said after the meeting, “I won’t stay away from racial issues. They’re something that needs to be talked about.”

Members of the senate also questioned Okafor’s political affiliation due to her congressional internship with a Democratic Congressman. In 2009, Okafor was one of three NIU students selected to intern with three Illinois-based Congressmen in Washington, D.C.

“I have political views, but I don’t have a personal agenda,” Okafor said during the meeting, adding that she didn’t think her political views would affect her ability to preside over the SA Senate.


During debate over the merits of Okafor, Senator Robert Lausch argued that the position of president pro tempore was not vacant because it was still occupied by Smith, who was not removed according to the SA Constitution.

“A vote for Okafor is a vote to fire Ryan Smith, that’s the issue here,” Troutman said.

Lausch quoted Article 7, Section 1 of the SA Constitution, which states that the senate can remove anyone any member of the SA only if a petition is introduced by a senator, in a senate meeting, with at least seven senators presents, and a two-thirds vote by the senate approves it.

Lausch made a motion to call a question to vote to appeal Smith’s removal. The motion was denied by the senate in a 10-19 vote.

Peters was asked about Article 7, Section 1 of the SA Constitution after the meeting.

“We’re looking into that now, but I can’t comment because I don’t have a response,” Peters said.

Quick argued that Peters, as speaker, had the power to remove Smith from his position during debate.

According to Section 1, Part L of the SA Constitution, “The President Pro Tempore shall preside over Senate meetings under direction of the Speaker.”

Smith said he was unsure about why he was removed from his position.

“I wish I had a better understanding of what happened,” Smith said.

Smith said he went over the agenda with Peters on Friday afternoon and said “everything was fine.”

Smith said about a half hour later, he was sent a text message requesting his presence in Peters’s office, where he was told that he was removed from his position.

“I was brought into Peters’s office and was told that I was no longer president pro tempore,” Smith said.

Senator Mike Theodore said he was called into Peters’ office on Friday afternoon to sit in on the meeting with Smith.

“I was mainly there to be a witness for the meeting,” Theodore said. Theodore said he was not familiar with the reasons as to why Smith was dismissed, but did say he believed Peters had the right to appoint his own pro tempore. He voted no to appeal Smith’s dismissal and yes to approve Okafor.

Peters said he talked to several senators during a five-minute recess during debate about the reason for Smith’s removal, but declined to disclose the reason to the Northern Star.

“It was a personal issue,” Peters said. “It wasn’t in regards to my character or Smith’s character.”

He also said the reason did not have to do with a problem of Smith’s knowledge of the SA Bylaws.

Smith could appeal his removal to the SA Supreme Court but said he will take a few days to decide his course of action.

“I’m keeping all my options open,” Smith said.

Smith said he felt the closeness of the votes and length of debate showed the senators’ concern.

“There isn’t a consensus that Speaker Peters’s dismissal of me was constitutionally grounded,” he said.

Quick said there is a lot of “gray area” in the SA Constitution and that is why there was so much debate.


Also during the meeting, Peters said he would be solidifying the make-up of the Senate Procedural Review in the near future. The review will be made up of seven senators who work with student affairs to review and revise the SA bylaws regarding student organization recognition and funding.

The senate also voted to confirm SA Elections Commissioner Matthew Venaas.

“I’m very excited to be confirmed by the senate,” Venaas said. “I look forward to overseeing a fair election process.”

The senate also voted Paul Delagarza to fill a senate vacancy.

The SA Board of Elections was confirmed by the senate. Senator Demetrius Strong was voted chairman of the board by the senate. Becky Harlow, of the Student Involvement and Leadership Development, office spoke to the senate about plans for the Feb. 14 shootings anniversary activities. A wreath laying presentation will be held at 3 p.m. Feb. 14. Harlow encouraged students to attend.