The head of the UNC system’s student leadership organization is threatening to fire any of his officers who publicly criticize it.
On Friday Atul Bhula, president of the UNC Association of Student Governments, sent an e-mail to the association’s executive officers, directing them against freely corresponding with the press and speaking negatively about the association.
In Atul Bhula’s e-mail:
- “If I hear anything that may hurt the credibility of ASG (such as an anti-ASG, anti-ASG’s fee, or anything to that effect ) and/or you are endorsing a candidate with such a stance, then I will have to ask you to step down from your position.”
- “I have stated in the past that I am willing to fire EOs, and I have not relaxed my position if your performance is not satisfactory or if your work and vision is not aligned with that of ASG.”
- “When dealing with the media, please be sure to get clearance from Dakota or I to answer any
In the e-mail, Bhula warns officers that endorsing student body president candidates whose platforms don’t align with the “vision” of ASG will result in dismissal.
The association includes delegates from all 17 UNC-system schools and is funded by $1 annually in student fees, which pays for officer stipends and travel costs to monthly meetings throughout the state.
Members of the UNC College Republicans, who are campaigning to put the University’s participation in the association to a vote, said the e-mail demonstrates how closed the association is to criticism.
Anthony Dent, chairman of College Republicans, said for an organization that represents students, the e-mail is not a good example of transparency.
“It’s a great arrangement for Atul and other officers of ASG because they all have huge stipends and get to attend monthly meetings in four star hotels,” Dent said.
But Bhula, whose annual stipend is $7,000, said he was reminding officers of the association’s ethics act which prevents them from getting involved with campus elections.
Getting involved with campus politics as an ASG officer can interfere with representing students on the state level, he said.
“My e-mail was to address that point right there in addition to an anti-ASG stance,” Bhula said. “The way I see it is, if you’re anti-ASG then why are you working for us?”
Rick Ingram, a delegate of the association who is running for student body president at UNC, said the e-mail sounded like a threat.
“I was a little bit disappointed in it just because I think it’s taking an overly aggressive tone. When in reality, we’re just trying to question whether we’re getting the most out of what we’re putting into it,” he said.
In a recent editorial in the Carolina Review, Marc Seelinger, associate editor of The Carolina Review and the appointed ASG cessation czar of College Republicans, writes that Bhula’s e-mail is an example of “authoritarian” rule that allows for little criticism of the organization and how it is funded.
Seelinger said the e-mail proves the association feels threatened by the College Republicans petitioning to allow for a student referendum on ASG’s fee.
So far, Seelinger estimates the College Republicans have collected 600 signatures in support of the student referendum. They need more than 2,900 signatures in total.
Junior Dakota Williams, who is ASG’s senior vice president, said despite the movements made against ASG, members of the College Republicans have never contacted the association.
“All we hear is that ‘you’re doing it wrong,’” he said.
Williams said ASG is not opposed to criticism if it is constructive.
“We at ASG are certainly receptive to change,” he said. “We are open to opinions.”
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