In the latest event of the saga for USF’s next student body president, Dean for Students Michael Freeman issued his decision on the next president.
According to Freeman’s decision, sent to several leaders of Student Government (SG) Wednesday afternoon, the decision of the SG Supreme Court will be upheld and Jean Cocco and Rhondel Whyte were confirmed as student body president-elect and vice president-elect.
“This decision is considered final,” Freeman wrote in the statement.
Campaigning for the student body elections began in early February. What followed was a general election, runoff election, Supreme Court hearing and consequent ruling. This week, due to the latter events, the Supreme Court decision was appealed by the ERC and SG senators requested impeachment of three justices of the court.
Cocco, who previously received the most votes in the general election and runoff election, but was then disqualified by the ERC for campaign violations that were later reversed by the Supreme Court, said it was a “happy day” and he was feeling “good vibes.”
“For the fourth time, we prevailed and the student voice was heard,” Cocco said.
The appeal to the dean, filed by the head of the ERC and Supervisor of Elections Sayf Hassouneh, came after the court ruled the ERC violated the due process in assessing violations to Cocco’s campaign and did not maintain the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
According to the ERC, the Cocco campaign’s violations included using former Gov. Charlie Crist as a celebrity on campaign materials, using Activity and Service fees to purchase business cards, passively campaigning at a polling station and not including a link to the SG voting website on the campaign website.
Though Hassouneh declined to comment, Freeman said he was “disappointed” when he was informed of the ERC’s decision to appeal the Court ruling and said the resulting disagreement with Hassouneh was “emotional.”
“Folks may not believe in my consideration … but I am the dean for all students,” Freeman said.
Freeman said the primary reason for his decision was based on the appeal to his office not addressing allegations of the issues of whether Cocco received due process or if violations were assessed beyond a reasonable doubt.
“The appeal under consideration was the decision by the Supreme Court that the ERC failed to provide due process, not the behaviors of the Supreme Court,” the decision stated. “… The students have been forgotten in a high stakes contest of student leader winners and losers or blame and shame.
“Student Government entities should take great caution before overturning legitimate votes of students.”
Freeman said the reasons for the appeal “mirrored” the accusations made against Supreme Court members when senators requested impeachment of them.
“If there is misbehavior among student government officials, Student Government has a process to address the issues,” he wrote in his decision. “This appeal is not the appropriate forum to impeach the Student Government officials’ behaviors.”
Freeman wrote he was “surprised” the ERC did not argue “a fairness position,” which he said would lend itself on “behalf of reasonable students.”
“Unfortunately, the arguments of the ERC tend to tilt toward personal defense or personal attacks. Had the subject of fundamental fairness come forward; I would have introduced the heavy burden government has when it seeks to deprive a citizen of rights; even when seemingly lawful rules are in place,” the decision stated.
Freeman wrote this would require the ERC to prove due process was extended – something that was not discussed the Hassouneh’s appeal.
“This is another example of the due process rights of students being overlooked. It is important to remember Student Government is in place to serve the best interests of the student body and to represent student views; a much stronger position, and one to remember.”
Freeman’s decision also included recommendations for SG to review its election statutes and rules of procedure and develop “a more detailed job description and training program for Election Rules Commission members.”
According to the SG Constitution, the Dean for Students is the final step in the appeal process if any student disagrees with SG entities or rulings.
Cocco said the lengthy appeal process following the elections has been abbreviated, but he “plans to make the best of it.”
“Now we can focus on transitioning and meeting the students’ needs,” he said.