An episode that highlights everything wrong with petty student-politicians is now unfolding at the University of Kansas, where activists want to impeach the president of their own alternative student government.
That's right: KU has two parallel student governments—an official one, and a rival Multicultural Student Government (MSG). Though both receive funding from the university, MSG isn't formally recognized as an autonomous government, because that would be ridiculous. Instead, it's a student group with extra rights and a yearly budget of $45,000 that comes from a $1 fee charged to everyone enrolled at KU.
MSG President Chiquita Jackson maintains that members can't remove her because the group isn't actually a government and thus has no impeachment mechanism.
Jackson's own vice president, Anthonio Humphrey, is spearheading the effort to oust her. He gave Jackson until Thursday night to resign from office, or else the group will approve changes to its bylaws in order to allow for an impeachment process.
Under Jackson, "MSG has ultimately turned into a dictatorship," Humphrey and his supporters wrote in a letter to Jackson.
Jackson retorts that if anyone is acting like a dictator, its Humphrey.
"Where is the democracy in that?" a defiant Jackson told The University Daily Kansan. "If you want to talk about dictatorship, you're implementing that in that bylaw."
MSG was born out of an earlier controversy. In 2015, student activists alleged that the president, vice president, and chief of staff of the KU Student Senate—the official student government—had refused to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The three leaders vehemently denied the charge, and put out a statement affirming that "black lives matter at the University of Kansas." Nevertheless, activists called on them to resign from office because they were "standing in the way of institutionalizing a safer, anti-racist environment."
KU activists were inspired by protests at the University of Missouri, which successfully forced a leadership change on that campus. But they ultimately failed to oust the trio. So instead, the activists decided to form an alternative student government that would represent the interests of marginalized students.
The Student Senate permitted the activists to form MSG, but KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little vetoed a proposal to fund it by charging students a $2 fee, on the grounds that setting up a second government was sort of a bonkers idea. Activists said the decision not to fund their group was pure racism—"This is racism, we don't need to call it anything else," said one—even though Gray-Little is herself a woman of a color.
"I believe that the independent student government proposed…is not an optimal way to achieve the goals we have for diversity and inclusion at the university and, indeed, may lead to greater divisiveness," Gray-Little argued.
Greater divisiveness, indeed. Over the last year and a half, MSG was able to obtain university funding—$1 from students, rather than $2—and semi-recognition. But now its president is facing possible impeachment proceedings, and maybe a debate over whether the impeachment itself would be illegitimate.
Humphrey's letter claims that Jackson is "treating MSG as a student organization with privileges as opposed to a central government," and objects to her organizing activities like movie night, presumably because that's something a student group does, not an all-powerful central authority. But the student newspaper has described MSG differently: as a "sibling organization" of the Student Senate, not its own thing.
As Humphrey has his Chancellor Palpatine/"I am the Senate!" moment, it will be interesting to see whether his coup succeeds. In the meantime, remember that this is merely an extreme example of a familiar process. Student governments, after all, are often hijacked by activists and forced to debate pointless political issues well beyond their purview. That's how they prepare fledgling politicians for the real thing.