SGA Makes A Last Ditch Effort to Bring Pass/Fail Option

University of Baltimore’s Student Government Association has made a last ditch effort to reverse the university back to an alternative grading model. 

Although administration, faculty, and students have deliberated on the issue since earlier this year, little progress has been made as the university has gone without the option since the summer semester.

In early November, the Student Government Association unanimously passed a resolution titled “Resolution 11, Resolution Providing Students with Academic Relief” asking for an extension of the option. At the November 25 SGA meeting, Treasurer Camilla Canner said, “The idea was that during this COVID-19 pandemic, there are a lot of extenuating circumstances that would perhaps make it difficult for a student to finish a class with a grade that would allow them to pass. The Pass/Fail grade gives an option to continue working on their degree.” This was a sentiment shared by all of the SGA, as they felt this was the best way to advocate for students.

Nevertheless, this resolution seems to have fallen on deaf ears. Many faculty members believe that this option not only hampers the ability to track student progress and accurately report information for financial aid requirements but is a blow to the reputation of the institution. 

“Data shows that a pass/fail option is unnecessary,” says interim provost Catherine Anderson. An internal report from the registrar shows similar distributions between spring 2019 and spring 2020 grades with the latter actually being higher and showing fewer withdrawals from courses. 

“Only 5 percent of undergraduate and graduate students used the no credit/credit option and distribution shows that most of those grades were Cs and Ds,” said Anderson. “About the same percent of grades were Fs in the no credit column. In other words, the alternative grading did not greatly boost academic performance.”

She adds, “Ultimately, doing what faculty felt was in the best interests of students, we did not support a Pass/Fail option for students this semester nor did any other USM schools for this fall.” 

Students like senior Zachary Romer believe that a pass/fail option is essential to his ability to graduate without having to incur the cost of a three credit semester in the spring.  To assuage his worst fears, he took 18 credits but did not anticipate the myriad of pandemic-related consequences for this decision.

“When [professors] are not giving full attention to students or even making an effort to try to help students meet their learning objectives,” said Romer. “Ultimately, there is a disengagement from students because they see the disengagement from their professors.” 

“Professors,” he says, “have not abided by their office hours,” citing personal challenges without extending the same leniency to students while also occasionally dropping “ridiculous” grading curves to push them through. 

For the past few months, SGA members have been in negotiations with members of the Faculty Senate and administration in hopes of garnering support for the legislation. Beginning in the summer, attempts to pressure the Faculty Senate to make a recommendation fell flat. Michael Kiel, Faculty Senate president, explained that the Board of Regents’ report addressing UB’s finances released earlier this year has occupied the minds of faculty members.

“I could have probably brought it up sooner and maybe I should have,” said Kiel. “Not a single faculty senator was in favor of discussing it. It gave even more reason to avoid it among other more dominating topics.” 

On December 3rd, SGA president Daniel Khoshkepazi and SGA vice president Kevin McHugh were invited to a Faculty Senate meeting in hopes of being able to speak. Kiel, however, argues that they were under the wrong impression and rather wanted them to simply have a presence in the room. 

The Faculty Senate had passed a resolution encouraging members to “be imaginative, compassionate, and kind in response to student crises,” in hopes that this would ease student minds. 

With time running out and the pass/fail option seeming less likely, some SGA members are seeking better ways to help students. On Wednesday, “Resolution 23, Asking the University of Baltimore to extend the academic probation period due to the COVID-19 pandemic as an academic relief accommodation,” passed unanimously, signaling SGA’s willingness to continue to compromise in the near future while alleviating some of the fears of risk and reputation damage that come with alternative grading. 

The Fall 2020 semester ends on December 18.

Graham Antreasian is a staff writer for The Sting. 

“Never understood the rush anyway”: SGA strikes new candidate for treasurer

Courtesy: University of Baltimore Student Government Association

Yesterday afternoon, SGA executive board members voted against former SGA president Yvonne Harper as replacement for treasurer in a closed door meeting. This comes after the sudden resignation of Hugh Norko last week.

This vote comes with the continued frustration among the SGA, especially the executive board, for President Khoshkepazi’s leadership style and urgency in filling a position with a specific candidate. 

In a leaked recording of the proceedings yesterday, Khoshkepazi expressed his reason for support of Yvonne Harper citing her recent appointment to Maryland Higher Education Commission and her previous experience with SGA.“Based on the interviews, she knows the ins and outs of the position and does not require as much training because she knows the ins and outs of this position and the SGA/CSI relationship and University of Baltimore policies that affect student organizations.” 

Members of the executive board, however, felt the process to be rushed especially considering SGA conducted interviews prior to the application period being concluded.

SGA announced the opening via Facebook and Instagram on Thursday, August 27, roughly two days after Norko’s resignation with a deadline of Friday, August 28 at 11:59 for applications to be due.

“We did everything we could to find as many students as we could,” said Khoshkepazi to The Sting. “We advertised the position on social media and all members looked for people who could possibly be a good fit and possible considerations.”

Yet, according to emails obtained by The Sting, President Khsoshkepazi conducted his final two interviews on Friday, August 28 at 3:30PM and 4PM with two finalists, graduate students Jimmy Zheng and Yvonne Harper. At roughly 7:55 that evening, Khoshkepazi had made his selection of Yvonne Harper in an email sent to all SGA members and requested an emergency meeting be scheduled to fill the appointment.

An emergency meeting occurs without input from students who are not on SGA. Defending the meeting, Khoshkepazi said to The Sting, “This is an internal deliberation, and it is not unusual for organizations to dive into closed sessions especially when they are discussing personnel matters.”

Furthermore, President Khoshkepazi and Speaker of the Senate Joseph Ha requested that previous executive board members who had a working relationship with Yvonne Harper abstain from voting.

Secretary April King and Chief of Staff Amadou Bah served in their previous capacities to Yvonne Harper during her tenure as president. Vice President Kevin McHugh ran against Harper for her slot as president. If the three abstained from voting, Yvonne Harper would either not be able to be voted by the Executive Board or be bypass the executive board by default.

The reluctance to support Yvonne, says Khoshkepazi, comes from these previous relationships and is a clear example why these executive board members should abstain.

“The Finance Committee is supposed to meet as early as next Friday and the only person who can realistically do the role in such a short notice is Yvonne Harper”, said Khoshkepazi, in the email sent on Friday evening. “She has spearheaded the constitutional rewrite last year that created the process we have now, and based on her myriad of experiences is the perfect candidate to pull us forward.”

Later, this claim would be debunked by both CSI director and SGA faculty advisor Anthony Butler and another employee of the Center for Student Involvement, Zachary Lumen.

“If you select a treasurer and the Senate confirms them tomorrow,” explained Butler, in regards to the meeting yesterday. “It is unlikely that person can get up to speed on all of the previous committee discussions on student organization allocations in a way that would be helpful to the appeals meeting.”

“We are at the start of the semester and over the summer we worked hard to make sure that we were ahead”, explained Khoshkepazi when asked by The Sting about the urgency in filling the position. “The position of the treasurer is a vital role, and we need to recruit someone as soon as possible to ensure that all duties of the treasurer can be performed. We are a team, and a team cannot work efficiently when there is a vacancy.”

On the night prior to the meeting, an argument amidst the email thread to submit an agenda for the emergency meeting.

In emails to arrange the emergency meeting, Secretary April King expressed concerns that President Khoshkepazi was acting outside of constitutional boundaries. She insisted that the executive board had not properly approved the candidate as required by the constitution.

April King refused to place Yvonne Harper as the candidate for nomination on the agenda as she felt Khoshkepazi failed to earn the constitutionally mandated support of the executive board. Khoshkepazi responded by stating that the executive board would have the opportunity to approve or reject Harper at the meeting prior to the Senate confirmation.

“As the executive board hasn’t voted on a candidate to be nominated, I wrote the agenda according to the correct Constitutional procedure,” said King in the email. “I think it’s important to have the agenda detail the procedural steps of the process.”

The constitution does state that compiling and approving candidates is a function of the entire executive board not the president exclusively.

Khoshkepazi argued that it was the responsibility of the president to make appointments and for the Senate to approve. King and Bah were the most vocal in their disagreements with Khoshkepazi’s interpretation of the constitution.

At Wednesday’s meeting, all three executive board members in question voted against the nomination of Yvonne Harper and against placing Jimmy Zheng as a graduate senator.

“The executive board needed more time to consider candidates for this position,” said Kevin McHugh, after the meeting. “I never understood the rush anyway.”

SGA Treasurer Resigns Before Start of Semester

Hugh Norko was elected treasurer in April and previously served as speaker of the SGA senate. He resigned last week. Photo courtesy: Hugh Norko

SGA began the 2020-2021 academic year without a treasurer after the sudden resignation of Hugh Norko last week.

A MPA student who graduated last May with an B.A. in Politics, Policy, and International Affairs, Norko previously served as speaker of the senate prior to being elected last April after running unopposed.

In his resignation letter, no specific reason was cited as he implored other members to, “commit themselves to acting with decency, integrity, and the upmost respect to those working for the common good.”

By email, he informed The Sting of why he resigned.

“I absolutely loved SGA and dedicating so much to thinking of ways to improve UB but it was becoming increasingly difficult to justify spending so much energy on it with other pressing matters like employment opportunities, studying for the LSAT, and spending time with family,” said Norko. “It was really time for me to pursue better opportunities.”

He will soon be starting a new position as a legislative editor for the General Assembly in Annapolis.

Internal conflicts among the new members of the SGA, explains Norko, did however play a role especially with the newly elected president, Daniel Khoshkepazi.

“I had a considerable yet silent concern about his abrasive behavior but I did not heavily protest. I wanted to maintain a professional working relationship and be courteous to different leadership styles,” said Hugh Norko, by email to The Sting. “By my resignation, his conduct progressed into outright animosity, disregard for organizational norms and procedures, and an unwillingness to hold oneself accountable for their own actions.”

Further, he added that the organization had become a tool for the President’s “self-realization, rather than a collaborative mechanism to bring good to the student body” adding that anyone who provided criticism was subject to a torrent of manipulative and retributive attacks.

Daniel Khoshkepazi, who is pursuing a M.A. in Global Affairs and Human Security, was elected in April along with Norko.

Khoshkepazi, when asked by The Sting, replied, “The reason I know was stated in Treasurer Norko’s resignation letter that he shared with me and the executive board to announce his departure. “

“His resignation was certainly unexpected but I believe students must do what is best for them in these uncertain times,” added Khoshkepazi. “We are focusing on moving forward, we have a great senate and finance committee ready to work out the remaining tasks and energized for the year ahead. ”

He expressed that a search for a replacement began almost immediately with a candidate narrowed down after a weekend of interviews. “We have already done a search and shared posters about the recruitment for this position and soon we will be making the decision.”

Sources close to Khoshkepazi and Norko have claimed that former SGA President Yvonne Harper was the candidate referenced.

Khoshkepazi refused to comment rather stating, “I can tell you that we had qualified candidates and the best one will be picked to served in the role.”

Anthony Butler, SGA faculty advisor and director of the Center for Student Involvement, echoed Khoshkepazi.

“While it is unfortunate any time an organization member resigns, SGA has worked to fill this vacancy in accordance with its constitution. The SGA has a strong executive board and senate in place to ensure the organization functions smoothly while a replacement is appointed and trained.”

On Norko, he remarked, ” I found Hugh to be a responsible and hard-working student leader.”

Leonard Robinson is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sting

Voting for SGA Opens Wednesday, Candidates Pursue Open Spots

“I Voted” stickers on pink background. Getty Images.

Editor’s Note: As editor-in-chief of the UB Post, my decisions have been guided by principles of fairness, minimizing harm, and high ethics as laid out by the Society of Professional Journalists. As a result, I am making an extra effort to disclose my relationship with two candidates mentioned in this article. Abraham Rodriguez is a friend and one of my two roommate. Daniel Khoshkepazi is a neighbor, friend, and the father of two pleasant house guests in the form of plants that I have been watching since he returned home at the COVID-19 outbreak. Under ideal circumstances, I would have passed this along to another UB Post writer but COVID-19 creates less than ideal circumstances. I nor the UB Post will be endorsing any candidate in SGA elections. 

Monday marked the first day of campaign season for the Student Government Association with voting beginning on Wednesday. 

Candidates are vying for president, vice president, chief of staff, treasurer, and secretary. 

The candidates for president are graduate student Daniel Khoshkepazi and junior Abraham Rodriguez

Graduate student Kevin McHugh, current president of the Student Events Board, and senior Hugh Norko, current speaker of the SGA Senate (and full disclosure, a contributing writer for the  UB Post writer) are running unopposed for Vice President and Treasurer, respectively. 

Amadou Bah, current chief of staff, is running for re-election against challenger Maricriuz Abarca. 

Sophomore Emily Kamp and freshman Randy Wells are seeking two of the 12 seats in the SGA Senate while John Lucas and junior Ashlyn Woods are returning for their second terms. 

At Tuesday’s forum, both Rodriguez and Khoshkepazi spoke of their previous experiences working with students. 

“As someone with over 5 years experience with student affairs and student life, both at UB and other institutions,” said Khoshkepazi, to the UB Post. “I want to help our Student Government Association fully utilize its platform to represent students to the fullest at the university and not be afraid to stand up for what students believe.” 

Daniel Khoshkepazi, seeking a graduate degree in Global Affairs and Human Security, highlighted his graduate assistant at the Center for Student Involvement and his student affairs work as an undergraduate at SUNY Plattsburgh in New York. This included creating a rainbow bridge to honor marginalized students who came from families and backgrounds that were not supportive. 

Furthermore, he emphasized his platform’s focus on increasing student services, such as providing feminine products and contraceptives on campus, while also creating new SGA Vice President positions that address various areas of student life, such as Academics, Student Affairs, and Public Relations. 

Abraham Rodriguez, a Jurisprudence major, highlighted his work in the Boglomony Library as a Student Staff Manager and his role as vice president of the History Club. Rodriguez cites working with SGA in these capacities and having less than positive interactions as his inspiration for running. 

Rodriguez focused his remarks on Tuesday to his platform issues of easing burdens for clubs and returning the Counseling Center to campus after its spring 2018 closing. Echoing the words of President Schmoke, Rodriguez argued that if students showcased their need for stronger mental health services that they could possibly receive them. He also emphasized his support for veteran students who are “often spoken about with little actually done for them”. 

“Unfortunately, the general population of the university thinks all we do is fun activities. However, the greatest benefit that SGA actually has is the voice of the students,” said Abraham Rodriguez to the UB Post. Khoshkepazi concurred adding, “Students can use the SGA platform to advocate for changes that they believe will better this campus and allow for their voices to be heard by the school administration.” 

Kevin McHugh, the de-facto Vice President, was absent from the forum yesterday and unable to be reached in time for publication. His platform, as shown on the candidates website, states his plans to “expand student discounts, expand travel grants for students, support UB’s campus pantry, work on offering affordable textbook options, and collaborate with student organizations to enhance your experience at UB.” 

Hugh Norko, the de-facto treasurer, spoke of his plans to ease the co-sponsorship process allowing for SGA to provide funding for activities for clubs, such as transportation, food, and lodging on out-of-town trips. 

In the race for chief of staff, Bah emphasized his previous experience in the past term specifically his open-door policy of “always willing to listen to students and advocate their ideas”.

Abarca, his challenger, at Tuesday’s forum, explained that her position as an advocate gave her a unique advantage for this role. In November of last year, Abarca was profiled in Reuters for her work advocating for undocumented students at the university and in the greater Baltimore region. 

Other candidates addressed specific changes that they planned to address. 

Randy Wells, in his run for a Senate seat, explains that he plans to advocate for non-traditional and working students. “I know, for me, the biggest challenge in the beginning was trying to get to school on time, finding parking, and getting to class on time before a professor won’t let you in for their lecture,” said Wells, to the UB Post. A possible solution, he adds, could be “ SGA working with administration and professors to maybe show a little more compassion with students when trying to get classes especially during that rush hour period and by making sure students discuss that with their professors at the beginning of the semester.” 

Voting through the MyUB portal begins on Wednesday, April 15 ending on Sunday, April 19. 

A recording of Tuesday’s forum can be found here.

Leonard Robinson is editor-in-chief of the UB Post.

Hello, Mr. President

By Olivia Dudley

Editor in Chief

On March 15th, 2018, Noah Johnston was elected president of the Student Government Association (SGA). Knowing the struggles that the University of Baltimore is facing, he accepted the challenging role of president, ready and willing to hear the voices of his peers and be the voice for them. With the current struggles facing the university, the position seemed mildly unappealing to other members of the student body, Johnston stepped up; armed with three years of SGA experience as well as the added experiences of working in the office of politicians, he believed he had what it took to run and win this election.

Johnston did not face much of a challenge campaigning, as he was the only person running for this position.

“Personally, I would have preferred competition even if that would have resulted in a different outcome of the election. I just want people to be involved in making a difference on campus and running for office is one of those ways. The weight of the position may be a reason of why I was

the only candidate, but I know I can handle it.” Johnston told me within his first ten days in office.

Thanks to his presidential win, Johnston hopes to grow the student culture as well as increase student involvement in these upcoming large campus decisions. Johnston again stated “While we may seem to be struggling, I believe the current administration in partnership with our intelligent student voices will be the drivers of much positive change.”

In the brief interview I had with our hopeful new president, he made a pledge when asked what plans he has for the UB community now that he is leading the SGA: “I pledge to maintain the efforts of the current ad- ministration while also creating my own initiatives. Some of the things we are working toward for the end of this semester is setting up a donation program for graduation regalia. This is to benefit those who can show true financial need and begin a stockpile of used caps and gowns to be borrowed by UB students. We are also striving for a more open and honest relationship with Financial Aid and the Bursar’s office to allow for faster, more efficient, and more accessible service through these offices. Finally, there is a process being set up and funded by the SGA to provide business cards templates through the career center. Make sure to keep a look out for future marketing once these new initiatives are put into place.”

As the UB community welcomes President Johnston into his new position, he has urged his peers to reach out to him if they ever have an issue he can help them solve.

Johnston may have been the only person running, but that is because he believes he can handle the challenges that will be coming his way. He will persevere through struggles and complications because he must do so for the sake of his peers. The UB community is expecting a noble and helpful president to help it become the best it can be, it is there hope that President Johnston will stick to his word and be exactly that.