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Bernsen fires 5 ASUA officials

Taylor House/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Andrew Record, along with four others sitting on the ASUA board, received a dismissal letter on Tuesday from ASUA President Cade Bernsen.
By Nick Smith
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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Both sides complain to Dean of Students

Student body president Cade Bernsen fired five student officials Tuesday, including three Arizona Students' Association directors and two cabinet members, sources said.

Bernsen, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona president, sent dismissal letters and e-mails to ASA directors Fernando Ascencio, Andrew Record and Christopher Dang, as well as Breanne Bushu, the cabinet coordinator, and Rebecca Rodl, the assistant elections commissioner.

Bernsen said he fired the directors because his lawyer, who researched the situation, told Bernsen that he had the right to fire them based on evidence Bernsen had collected against the students.

The officials who were fired cried foul at their sudden dismissal and said they each filed a complaint to the Dean of Student's Office stating that the dismissals were retaliatory and baseless.

"We do feel this is a reactionary act," said Ascencio, a political science senior.

Bernsen said he in turn filed complaints to the dean of students about the five appointed officials as well as two senators.

Bernsen said the fired employees were instrumental in "spreading lies" concering the sexual harassment complaints made against him to the Dean of Students office in November. Bernsen has denied the charges.

"It was never about seeking justice," Bernsen said. "They wanted to publicly humiliate me to a point where I would resign or be impeached real swiftly."

Melissa Vito, the dean of students, said she could not verify whether complaints had been filed this week by either party, citing federal privacy laws. But the office will investigate the validity of any charges that may have been made, she said.

"One of the staff who works in Judicial Affairs in the office will handle the investigation," Vito said. "The length of time that a case can take varies depending upon the complexity of the investigation, the number of witnesses, availability of witnesses, etc."

Bernsen said he plans to leave office for five days as part of an agreement he made with the Dean of Students office.

ASUA adviser Jim Drnek said students being fired is uncommon but not unheard of. The ASUA constitution does not have provisions that cover student dismissals, he said.

The students fired said in their defense they had done their jobs as well as they could have and were unaware of any grievances.

"I was confused because we hadn't gotten any prior notice of any of this before," Bushu said. "I've always done my job to the best of my ability. (I've) only been told (by Cade) how good of a job I've done. I've never gotten a negative report."

Dang said the letters were entirely unexpected and believed they were unwarranted.

"We've been on our game and on the ball," he said.

Record said the firings came at a bad time because the Arizona Board of Regents tuition setting session is approaching.

"By getting rid of us so close to tuition setting, it really puts the students at a disadvantage," Record said. "It's a very dangerous time to be getting rid of those who know what's going on."

ASA serves as an independent lobbying advocate for university students, according to the ASUA Web site.

Record thought the dismissals were less about job performance and more about speculation.

"It feels like the firings were completely based on propositions of conspiracy, which are non-existent," Record said.

Student Regent Ben Graff said the firings might mean a weakened ASA stance on tuition.

"I work closely with the ASA team on each campus about student concerns," he said. "My main concern will be if there is a strong ASA team on campus."

Matt Boepple, an ASUA senator and political science sophomore, said the firings were unfounded.

"I think our directors were doing their jobs," he said

If the firings are proven to be a result of retaliation, they would be against the UA Code of Conduct and Bernsen would be subject to university disciplinary procedures, according to the UA Web site.

Bernsen hopes the complaints will get sorted and the positions filled in a timely manner.

"I believe in the end, the truth will come out and justice will be served," he said. "We're going to put some good people in those positions and the senate will be involved in the interview process."

Bernsen said he would also invite the executive and administrative vice presidents to sit in on the interview process.

Anthony D. Ávila contributed to this report.

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