On the Khan-Muñoz ticket’s sanctions by EPAC

By Sophie Williams


This situation involving the sanction and temporary suspension of Student Assembly candidates accentuates several elements of organization processes at Dartmouth College.



This article, as with every Spare Rib article, is the work of the writer and is not a representation of the Spare Rib publication as a whole. This article is not written by supporters of, nor is an endorsement of, nor is affiliated with either of the campaigns for the 2021 Dartmouth Student Assembly election.


This article recounts the sequence of events regarding the Khan-Muñoz ticket’s sanction from the Election Planning and Advisory Committee.


Abbreviations used throughout:

The Elections Planning and Advisory Committee (“EPAC”).

Student Assembly (“SA”).

Dartmouth Student Assembly (“DSA”).

Khan-Muñoz (“KM”)

Undergraduate Finance Committee (“UFC”)



SUSPENSION EMAIL


On Friday evening at 8:47 PM, the Khan-Muñoz campaign received a suspension via email from EPAC stating that the “nature of the violation warrant[ed] a Tier 3 — Sanction: Suspension of All Campaigning.” Khan and Muñoz, who are running for President and Vice President of Student Assembly respectively, were told to “cease all campaign activity immediately… includ[ing] the campaigning of your supporters. It is your responsibility to immediately notify your supporters that all campaigning on your behalf must cease… until 11:59pm tomorrow, on April 17th.” The campaign was also “required to attend a hearing with EPAC for sanctions Tier 3 and above” that EPAC scheduled for 10 AM. Khan-Muñoz expressed some concern about attending both the hearing and the 12 PM debate rehearsal for the April 18th candidate debate, but were told the private hearing would last an hour.


This email at 8:47 on April 16th was the first notice that Khan-Muñoz received from either SA or EPAC on the topic, and contained no reason for the violation and sanction.


“Offenses at or above Tier Three will require a hearing with EPAC. Refusal to appear at an EPAC hearing will result in immediate disqualification. At tier one, the candidate may request a special hearing with EPAC within eight hours of the posting of the sanction. Regardless of the action taken, EPAC will notify the individual(s) who brought the complaint as well as the candidate(s) involved in the decision.” (5.1.2., EPAC Elections Code 2021)


HEARING


A follow-up email from the 2021 EPAC Chair gave the purpose of the hearing: “to outline the violations, the sanction, and provide you with an opportunity to present your case. The process to appeal can occur only once the hearing has taken place.” KM responded via email at 6:57 PM on the 17th and asked for a reason to provide their supporters for the sanction and immediate ceasement of campaigning.


The violations were not made clear until the hearing, which took place at 10 AM on April 18th. This lack of prior knowledge about the complaint limited KM’s to prepare. Furthermore, at the hearing, Khan and Muñoz were given no opportunity to explain or present a case, only to ask “clarifying questions.” The hearing with EPAC modeled a mainly disciplinary hearing, not a “hearing out”.


The Tier 3 Sanction violations were reportedly:

  1. Spreading false information, i.e., the implication that approximately $24,000 of the 2020-2021 SA budget was returned to the Undergraduate Finance Committee (UFC) from Student Assembly (SA) and not allocated by SA for policy and projects.

  2. Malicious comments by supporters.


FIRST ISSUE


On April 15th, Student Assembly released a post about the 2020-2021 SA budget on the SA Instagram page. This post contained SA’s paraphrasing of the budget from 20X through 21S, as well as infographics depicting spending broadly, but had no direct content from the raw budget document itself. Presumably, based on the timeframe, this was a response to a statement about budget transparency by the Khan-Muñoz campaign. The full budget is not available on the SA website; however, SA will provide the budget spreadsheets by request to individuals via email.


This SA post stated that “This year, our budget has been allocated on a term-by-term basis from the Student Activities Fee. The UFC allocated 4.5% of these funds each term, which came out to $10,980 per term. Any unspent funds remained in our account at the end of the term and, at the start of the new term, was supplemented by new funds to ensure we had $10,980 to spend.”

“Our allocated budget for 19X through 20S was $56,000, but $24,022.19 was returned to the UFC because of COVID-19.”


Khan-Muñoz concluded that an available $24,022.19 that SA was originally allocated was left unspent. Inferences were made that “because of COVID-19” could refer to, for example, fewer in-person events to spend on, or pressure from administration to under-spend. Furthermore, “returned to” was interpreted to mean that SA chose to return available funds, rather than the understanding that SA never received these funds at all.


Before moving forward with any posts, Khan-Muñoz sought counsel from ten people by asking, “From this post, what is your conclusion?” to cross-check the interpretation that $24,000 went unallocated. These ten included several former and current members of SA as well as former members of the UFC.


This turned out to be a reasonable but incorrect interpretation of the numbers.


In fact, “because of COVID-19” meant “because Student Assembly couldn’t collect the Student Activities Fee in 20S,” an explanation that was not clear from the SA instagram posts. This information, combined with the raw budget document that SA provided via email request, demonstrates that the number in question was a smaller amount, not $24,000. Additionally, it was not available all at once, but incrementally according to termly spending.


A more accurate conclusion, now made with the complete information, would be: According to the budget breakdown, Student Assembly is eligible for up to $10,980 every independent term. At the start of each new term, SA is reallocated money based on the previous term’s spending to make up the difference and start the term with $10,980.


Across three terms, this adds up to $32,940. While SA was eligible for $32,940 in total funds based on its portion of the Student Activities Fee for 20F, 21W, and 21S, only $19,785 was allocated (from the Student Activities Fee by the Undergraduate Finance Committee) to SA. Because of the system of termly allocation, the total sum for the year was not all in the SA budget at any given moment. Additionally, SA couldn’t collect the Student Activities Fee in 20S. As such, the unused amount of the budget is lower than the number mistakenly inferred by Khan-Muñoz.


This is clearly a significant monetary difference and shows a significant misinterpretation on Khan-Muñoz’s part.


And yet, many of the criticisms towards SA — from both KM and others — focused not on the exact amount of money, but on the failure to use all available funds for students’ benefit throughout the year.


Khan-Muñoz composed a campaign email regarding the Student Assembly budget transparency and sent it to the “ALL-UNDERGRADUATES” listserv around midnight on April 16th, intended for distribution to the student body. When the email hadn’t been sent out by 2:00 PM the next day April 16th, KM asked multiple Student Assembly members for information on who decides whether listserv emails are sent out. KM later asked this question to SA directly. All affirmed that SA makes this decision. KM then sent a followup email to EPAC, asking if EPAC could remind Student Assembly to send the email out.


The next contact KM received an email from EPAC that evening stating that it would impose sanctions on their campaign at about 6:45 PM. (Later, at the EPAC hearing, KM was informed as well that SA is in charge of distributing the listserv emails.)


SECOND ISSUE


The second reason for the Tier 3 violation was “malicious comments raised by [their] supporters.” At the hearing, when Khan-Muñoz asked EPAC to “define malicious,” they were told to “look it up in the dictionary.” (Adjective: characterized by malice; intending or intended to do harm.)


Khan-Muñoz had been previously instructed that they had full responsibility for the actions of their supporters. However, knowing about this responsibility doesn’t give any campaign the means to enforce it. “Support” is a transient thing, and beyond those explicitly working on a campaign, it’s a difficult task to ascertain who is and who isn’t a “supporter” among the people who voice any relevant opinion, critique, fact, or comment.


In the hearing, EPAC used three examples from Twitter as proof of Khan-Muñoz’s intent to cause harm. The three tweets in question were intense and emotionally charged; one connected the death of three Dartmouth students this school year to “blood on their hands” for not doing more to use funding to support students. Another was critical of the SA spending $2,052 in pending purchases (factored into the spending and soon to be charged) on a mental health app program, something that provided a personal self-care technique, rather than an attempt to alleviate external stressors. The poster pointed out that two thousand dollars was a major charge, yet the significantly positive effect on students’ lives was not evident. Another used the phrase “blood.” after their comment on the perceived returning of the funds. It is worth nothing that the EPAC code has no definition of “malicious” comments beyond implications held in the Dartmouth Principle of Community. These tweets were possibly out of student frustration at what appeared, based on an interpretation of the SA post, to be complicity, and a belief that the money could have contributed to initiatives beneficial to student wellbeing, rather than malicious attacks on SA or the election process itself.


Nonetheless, the larger point is that KM should not necessarily be held accountable for these comments, which were made by individual people based on their individual interpretations of the original SA post. EPAC claiming that they were acting solely on information from the KM campaign falsely implies that KM has undue control over other students, and that other students cannot formulate individual critiques.


No specific SA members were named, but rather specific actions of the organization. The budget in question was from last year, and not the doing of the current running members. Although Khan-Muñoz’s own posts focused on their own visions and plans, EPAC said at the hearing that they were doing “negative campaigning.”



OUTCOMES OF THE HEARING


At the April 18th hearing, Khan and Muñoz asked EPAC: “How could we have known this was false information?” EPAC’s answer was, KM “should’ve reached out to the current president and vice president of SA before making any communications” on last year’s budget. This assertion by EPAC indicates that KM should have assumed they needed to ask permission from SA to address publicly posted numbers. KM was also told they should “only reach out to current members of the Undergraduate Finance Committee for clarification”. KM had reached out to former members as well as current. Additionally, EPAC told KM that they would need approval from the current SA President and Vice President before posting anything going forward. This raises a concern regarding time sensitivity and responsiveness, as KM was told they could only expect a response “within 24 hours” in a campaign period with only three days left.


It seems that Khan-Muñoz attempted to make a good-faith conclusion and criticism based on the only available data from SA, with no intention of spreading false information. At the hearing, EPAC said “intention is not a factor.”


Khan-Muñoz was instructed by EPAC to write and release an apology letter that was both pre-approved by EPAC, with strong suggestion to wait on a response from the SA President and VP on the budget, to go out to the student body on April 18, the day before the election opened. This letter detailed KM’s commitment to accuracy and transparency, gave a deep apology for the misinterpretation, and reminded supporters to be kind and respectful.


Khan-Muñoz also was told they may speak to a reporter from The Dartmouth, but shouldn’t until getting a response from SA. (This article was posted a few minutes after midnight on April 19th: Ahead of debate, EPAC temporarily suspended Khan-Muñoz campaign.)



WHY TIER 3


The violation was given an escalated Tier 3 status due to KM’s previously afforded warning and Tier 1 violation. KM was informed that a subsequent violation of EPAC Code could result in indefinite (and thus permanent, as a single week of official campaigning time is highly time-sensitive and the election ends April 20th) suspension of their campaign efforts.


“Tier 3 – Sanction: Suspension of All Campaigning A tier three offense causes serious harm to the fairness of the elections process. The sanction may be extended for the duration of the election period but falls short of disqualification.” (EPAC Elections Code 2021, Dartmouth College 2021 Election Code.)



WARNING


The Khan-Muñoz campaign’s previous violation was on the first day of the campaign week for [people concluded by EPAC to be] supporters neglecting to tag EPAC when reposting KM’s campaign video to their Instagram stories. KM was informed in an email from the 2021 EPAC Chair that this “is a violation of the EPAC Code” as people “must tag @Dartmouthepac in all video shares/posts/stories/etc.” The email ended, “You are responsible for the actions of everyone who works on and supports your campaign.”


This violation seems impossible to control or avoid. Can either a campaign or EPAC be expected to correctly recognize, identity, and sufficiently influence every post made by any person? A greater question is: why are all supporters assumed to be part of a broader campaign? Why are campaigns held accountable for the actions of independent supporters, many of whom are not working with the candidates at all?


TIER ONE


“Tier 1 – Sanction: Warning A tier one offense is a violation that may have been inadvertent or can be easily remedied.” (5.1.1., EPAC Election Code 2021, Dartmouth College 2021 Election Code.)


KM received a Tier 1 violation for posting an Instagram story (a Q&A video about supporting student athletes) without prior EPAC approval. Khan-Muñoz immediately contacted EPAC for approval and took down the video nine minutes later. The video was approved about an hour later via Direct Message with the EPAC Instagram account, and KM reposted it. However, twenty four hours later on April 14, KM received an email from EPAC stating, “While we appreciate you attaching this video after-the-fact, all videos need to be approved before they are posted… A tier one sanction is an official warning that you have violated the EPAC Code. any further violations will likely result in more serious sanctions.”


In the hearing, EPAC stated it felt that the previous two warnings on the video and the supporters not tagging were sufficient warnings for the designated Tier 3 violation regarding the budget issue.


This raises some concern about what could be grounds for a further sanction going forward, as it seems impossible to predict or control the actions of people designated by EPAC to be supporters.


“Tier 4 – Sanction: Immediate Disqualification and Removal from the Ballot A tier four offense causes irreparable damage to another candidate or to the fairness of the elections process. If EPAC believes a candidate has committed a tier four offense, the candidate will be immediately disqualified and removed from the ballot.” (5.1.1., EPAC Elections Code 2021, Dartmouth College 2021 Election Code.)


IMPARTIALITY CONCERNS


As stated in the Dartmouth Student Assembly Constitution (Article VI: Elections, Section Two: Electoral Planning and Advisory Committee), the EPAC’s role is to administer an open, fair election and to “determine specific election rules, monitor campaigns, and facilitate voting for the DSA.” The same section of the constitution also states that “The DSA Vice President shall appoint the chair for the EPAC.” This raises at least some questions towards EPAC’s possible impartiality when current members of DSA are running for office against non-members. Why is the election committee not separated from SA to avoid any doubt?



TL;DR


First, the Khan-Muñoz campaign received a warning for their supporters neglecting to tag EPAC in relevant posts on the first day of the campaign cycle. KM was told they were responsible for the actions of everyone who works on or supports their campaign.


They next received a Tier 1 violation for posting an Instagram story (a Q&A video about supporting student athletes) without prior EPAC approval. Khan-Muñoz immediately contacted EPAC for approval and took down the video nine minutes later. The video was approved about an hour later via Direct Message with the EPAC Instagram account, and KM reposted it. However, twenty four hours later on April 14, KM received an email from EPAC stating, “While we appreciate you attaching this video after-the-fact, all videos need to be approved before they are posted… A tier one sanction is an official warning that you have violated the EPAC Code. any further violations will likely result in more serious sanctions.”


Thirdly, Khan-Muñoz received a Tier 3 violation and a suspension regarding “false information” and “malicious statements by [their] supporters.” This refers to interpreting the unspent potential funds to be $24,000, KM making statements about their visions on how this money could be used, and tweets made by Dartmouth students criticizing SA’s action to not fully realize their spending power to assist students during the pandemic.



CONCLUDING


It seems apparent that unclear and unenforceable expectations led to an unprompted penalization in this case. According to 5.2.1 of the Spring 2021 Election Code, a Tier 3 offense “causes serious harm to the fairness of the elections process.” It is EPAC’s responsibility to define and defend their meaning of “serious harm.” Khan and Muñoz were penalized for not having information that an outsider couldn’t infer from the public document and couldn’t access without specifically requesting it. Making reasonable but mistaken conclusions from an official SA announcement was characterized as misinformation to the extent of “serious harm.”


The Tier 3 violation, suspension, and apology letter were all distracting and undermining to the campaign process for all parties. It is relevant to document EPAC’s 24-hour censure of KM in that it prevented timely public discourse and debate, drew attention to issues of EPAC’s supposed impartiality, and blamed both the KM campaign and independent students for conclusions from an unclear SA post.


The facts above suggest a major consequence was used against a minor infraction. If the numbers were incorrect, it seems more appropriate to issue a notification with a serious correction and to respond in a timely fashion. However, Khan-Muñoz received no reply from either EPAC or SA, despite reaching out to both organizations, until the suspension. After receiving notice of the Tier 3 violation, Khan-Muñoz were not informed ahead of time of what the infractions were. This lack made it difficult to prepare any defense, if they had been allotted space to give one. When students contacted EPAC requesting an explanation of the violation, the response stated that “EPAC sanctions are not made public” and that students should “reach out the appropriate candidates.” However, the candidates also had no knowledge on the nature of the sanction. Instead, almost everyone except EPAC was left in the dark until the hearing (for KM) and the release of the pre-approved apology letter (for the student body).


Other unnamed consequences include significant confusion and distress on the candidates’ part, distraction from any ticket’s platform and efforts, attention given to a spectacle, and, “Khan-Muñoz” placed alongside “malicious” and “spreading false information” in headlines and statements, leaving skimmers to absorb what they will.


This article is not affiliated with the Khan-Muñoz campaign, nor is it written in support of or opposition to the campaign. Rather, it seeks to strengthen the process of student elections at Dartmouth by identifying perceived shortcomings brought up by this situation.


We only ask for transparency, accountability, communication, and sometimes, for answers to hard questions. We only want Dartmouth to be the best that it can be. Best of luck to all candidates, and thank you all for your initiative to advocate for your classmates and the college community.