Judicial Board Dismisses Grievance Claiming AS CAPS Fee Referendum was Unconstitutional

Physics graduate student Petia Todorova Yanchulova Merica-Jones has alleged that the Counseling and Psychological Services fee referendum, which passed by a narrow margin during the 2020 A.S. Council elections, violates the A.S. Council Constitution and Election Code. After a series of emails sent back and forth between Yanchulova Merica-Jones and several members of A.S. Council, an anonymous student filed a formal grievance on the matter, which was later dismissed by the Judicial Board.

Yanchulova Merica-Jones outlined in an email to The UCSD Guardian three alleged violations against the A.S. Council constitution. The first two allegations centered around Article VII Section 3, which outlines Election Procedures.

“The CAPS Fee Referendum language change undertaken on March 6, 2020 made by A.S. leaders changing the original CAPS Fee Referendum language approved by the A.S. Senate on March 4, 2020 is unconstitutional,” Yanchulova Merica-Jones wrote on the first violation. “This is because the change was made past the March 5, 2020 deadline to make such changes as stipulated in A.S. documents, on the A.S. website, and expressly stated by the A.S. Director at the A.S. Senate meeting on March 4, 2020.”

The second alleged violation was specifically in regards to the amended elections procedures to the constitution which were put in place on March 12, 2020 in response to the university transitioning to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yanchulova Merica-Jones stated that this amendment violated Article VII Section 3 because “it was made during a period outlined in the Constitution when amendments to the Election Procedure are prohibited.”

The final alleged violation was in regards to Chapter VI, Referenda, Section A.3.ii of the A.S. Council Election Code, which states that a “fee referendum question shall be eligible to appear in a special election if approved by the Senate no later than six weeks before the first day of voting.”

Yanchulova Merica-Jones argued that the CAPS fee referendum violates this code because it was not directly approved of by the Senate, but rather by the Emergency Committee which was created in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yanchulova Merica-Jones filed a grievance against the A.S. Council for these alleged violations on Wednesday, March 20 at 6:39 p.m. Yanchulova Merica-Jones claimed that the grievance was dismissed less than an hour later on the grounds that the allegations did not fall under the realm of Elections Complaints and instead warranted a grievance to be filed with the A.S. Judicial Board. However, only undergraduate students are allowed to file such grievances.

In emails obtained by The Guardian, A.S. Elections manager Danielle Viviani explained to Yanchulova Merica-Jones why the initial grievances were denied.

In regards to the first two alleged violations, Viviani told Yanchulova Merica-Jones that: “You fail to cite a violation made by an individual candidate running, pro/con statements, or the ASUCSD Election Code. Therefore, it needs to be submitted as a formal grievance to the AS Judicial Board by an undergraduate student if it was believed that Associated Students violated any rules.”

In regards to the third alleged violation, Viviani told Yanchulova Merica-Jones that: “You allege the ‘decision by an entity … other than the Senate to move the CAPS Fee Referendum to a special election is a violation’ … As we are utilizing the Amended ASUCSD Election Code, the decision by the emergency committee is valid. If you question the Amended ASUCSD Election Code’s validity, you must do so through a formal grievance to the AS Judicial Board by an undergraduate student if it is believed that Associated Students violated any rules by enacting this.”

This sentiment was later concurred in subsequent emails to Yanchulova Merica-Jones from Hannah Grunwald, the Graduate Student Association Elections Commissioner, and Heather Belk, the Director of the Associated Students Administration.

Yanchulova Merica-Jones later emailed her concerns to the GSA Council on Friday, May 22, urging them to file a grievance on the matter. She also urged them to not vote either way on the proposed fee to prevent the 20 percent voter turnout required for the vote to be eligible to pass. At the time of this article’s publication, the GSA Council had not responded to her email.

The ruling by the Elections Committee was later appealed to the Judicial Board for review. The board concurred with the original decision on Friday, May 22.

“The A.S. Judicial Board upholds the Election Committee’s reasons for dismissal,” the ruling read. “The Elections Committee followed the proper procedure by informing the Complainant that they were not eligible to file due to being a Non-ASUCSD member by Article III of the ASUCSD Constitution; the Complainant’s grievance was also fully reviewed by the committee three hours before the dismissal was given, showing it was fully reviewed. We advise that A.S. fix up their automated email system, as it is their official filing system, to delineate a clear argument as to why complaints are dismissed to help account for issues like this in the future.”

A second complaint was filed by an anonymous student shortly after in regards to the nature of the CAPS fee referendum violating Chapter IV, Section G of the A.S. Election Code, which outlines the rules for Special Elections.

According to Viviani, the Elections Committee dismissed the complaint as it fell outside of their jurisdiction, and the Judicial Board denied an appeal to review the complaint.

Grunwald and Belk could not be reached for comment. Outgoing A.S. President Eleanor Gruddin declined to comment on this story.

The CAPS fee referendum has been the center of controversy since its inception in January, 2020. The Triton filed a grievance against A.S. after the council went into a closed session to hear a presentation on student mental health and subsequently voted unanimously to approve language for a potential fee referendum which became the CAPS fee referendum. The grievance was later denied by the Judicial Board on Feb. 19, 2020.

The new CAPS fee will be charged at $20.71 quarterly beginning Fall Quarter 2020. The fee will increase marginally every academic year thereafter. Among other things, the fee will predominantly “be allocated to funding personnel and programming for CAPS and Health Promotion Services aimed at the prevention, education, and support of the mental health wellness of students throughout the calendar year.” The full details of the new fee can be found here.

Photo by Mariyah Shad for the UCSD Guardian.