LETTER TO THE EDITOR: SGC-MMC Chief Justice responds to VP of Student Affairs’ decision

It has recently come to my attention that the Vice President of student affairs, Dr. Jones, has overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling in Udhnani v. Torres. I wanted to take a moment to respond to the assertions made about the Court and offer my disapproval of the actions taken by the FIU administration. To put it bluntly, this ruling has not only undermined Student Government officials, but also the FIU students who have entrusted us to represent their interests within SGA.

I would first like to address the jurisdictional issue the opinion released by Dr. Jones touches upon. The following section of the opinion is especially troubling, “…where a claim is not raised in the lower proceeding, it will and should not be considered on appeal.” I am simply baffled at where this rule came from. I have reviewed the SGA Constitution, the SGA Statutes as well as applicable Florida Statutes, and I simply cannot find the basis from which this rule emerged. Although the new rule included in this opinion might seem intuitive and in line with federal and state law to an outsider, the parameters under which SGA operates forces the Court to act as a hybrid between a trial court and an appeals court. This is evident through the Court’s power to subpoena persons and documents and our procedures to accept evidence and witnesses. I would like to make it clear that the FIU Supreme Court does not operate under the same rules as state and federal courts.

The second point I would like to raise is a simple question. Where does the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs draw the jurisdiction to overrule the Supreme Court? It is quite ironic that a five-page ruling released by Dr. Jones primarily claiming that the SGC-MMC Court does not have jurisdiction to hear this case, does not even touch upon where the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs finds the jurisdiction to overturn a Supreme Court ruling. According to Florida Statute § 1004.26 the Student Government Association draws its power to operate autonomously from the State of Florida. Subsection 4(a) of this same chapter reads “The qualifications, elections, and returns, the appointments, and the suspension, removal, and discipline of officers of the student government shall be determined by the student government as prescribed by its internal procedures.” The ruling issued by the FIU administration does not meet any of the internal procedures as prescribed by the FIU Student Government.

Furthermore, the FIU Constitution does give the Vice President of Student Affairs the power to delete or replace specific sections of our Constitution. I would like to ask if this is where Dr. Jones draws her jurisdiction from and if so I would like to inquire as to what specific sections of the SGA Constitution are being deleted or replaced? If no section of the Constitution is being altered I fear I arrive at the same conclusion, that the office of the Vice President of Student Affairs had no jurisdiction to overturn our case.

Taking a step back from the legal arguments I have presented I would like to simply ask, if our decision was to be overturned why was the Supreme Court simply not contacted? We would have been happy to sit down with administration and explain our position and answer many of the questions that I am sure Dr. Jones had. This decision by FIU has in the end taken the rights away from the student body and set a dangerous precedent regarding the administration’s involvement in SGA.

Ultimately, Florida Statute § 1004.26 – 5 explains that “There shall be no cause of action against a state university for the actions or decisions of the student government of that state university unless the action or decision is made final by the state university and constitutes a violation of state or federal law.” I fear that the only thing FIU has accomplished with the release of this ruling has been to open the doors to legal action against the institution by having intervened in internal Student Government affairs and overturned a legitimate Supreme Court decision by clearly violating state law.

Octavio Mella
Florida International University
SGC-MMC Chief Justice

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