The Magazine

Schools for Scandal

The astounding waste, corruption, and self-dealing of university student governments

Aug 11, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 45 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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As if this weren’t dramatic enough, the next day, two campus police officers showed up at Tullis’s door and dragged him to the Lane County lockup for making an illegal recording. Hidden video is perfectly legal in Oregon, but for some reason secret audio recordings can run afoul of the law. The district attorney, however, has not filed charges, and the arrest is mired in controversy. Campus police were only recently authorized by the state legislature to carry guns and make arrests, and the arrest and jailing of a student for a nonviolent crime is highly unusual. 

The day of Tullis’s arrest, the Emerald reported that the student government had reopened an old investigation into Bowman. Back in February, student Rachel Gowland, formerly a member of the College Democrats organization Bowman headed, had filed a “bias response” with the Office of Student Life. According to the complaint, Bowman had tried to “silence me by shaming me” and was inappropriately “calling out my personal, private relationship with Marshall [Kosloff],” though the nature of Gowland and Kosloff’s relationship is unclear. Kosloff just happened to be the Greek coordinator for Bowman’s slate of candidates and had been a participant in the conversation Tullis recorded. Also notable: Gowland serves in student government as the ASUO Tuition and Affordability director and had worked on Tullis’s campaign. 

In addition, it was revealed that, following the initial complaint against him with the Office of Student Life, Bowman had been placed on paid leave from his job as opinion editor at the Emerald in February, while the student paper’s news team investigated Gowland’s allegations. Having concluded their investigation, the paper was going to reinstate Bowman. Instead, Bowman announced his resignation from the Emerald so he could concentrate on running for student body president. Having put Gowland’s charges behind him once, Bowman denounced the student government’s new inquest as “an absurd continuation of the ongoing witch hunt against me.” But the damage was done. Bowman bowed out of the race for ASUO president, this time voluntarily, on April 8. 

For the sake of brevity, I’m omitting various other dramas heading into the ASUO elections, including at least one complaint filed against Beatriz Gutierrez, the third and ultimately victorious candidate for president. Gutierrez beat Taylor Allison—the poor soul who replaced Bowman on his candidate slate after he dropped out of the race—in a runoff election on April 25. If you’re really masochistic and/or obsessive, the journalists-in-training at the Emerald have put together a slick interactive timeline on the paper’s website that will allow you to keep track of any contretemps I may have missed.

Now, the University of Oregon student government might well be more dysfunctional than most, but the size of its budget is not unprecedented. UCLA’s student government budget is $90 million. San Diego State University—whose enrollment, at about 28,000 students, is comparable to Oregon’s—has a student government budget of more than $20 million.  

Nor are concerns about the corruption of the UO student government unique. Earlier this year, former members of the student government at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee—enrollment 27,813—sued the university administration following its decision last year to disband the school’s student government and replace it with a board of trustees. The university justified the decision by citing the student government’s inability to follow its own bylaws ensuring a fair election process, not to mention “ballot irregularities” in student government elections. In March, at the University of South Florida—41,000 students, with a student government budget of $14 million—the winner of the general and runoff elections was declared invalid after the runner-up filed 14 election grievances. Last year at the University of Florida, an email was leaked showing that fraternities were being paid $250 apiece by candidates for proof that their members were voting in student elections. In 2012, a county judge in Texas suspended University of Texas student elections after a dispute over election rules. Examples of student government corruption at major universities go back decades. 

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