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ASUA perseveres during Bernsen investigation

By Anthony D. Avila
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006
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Student government officials said yesterday they have doubled efforts to run the organization smoothly while the Dean of Students Office privately conducts investigations within the organization about complaints made earlier this month and in November.

The Associated Students of the University of Arizona president Cade Bernsen has been on leave since Jan. 12 after firing three appointed officials, who were reinstated the next day, while the Dean of Students Office investigated the firings.

According to earlier statements by Bernsen, he dismissed the three officials in part because they spread lies concerning the sexual harassment allegations filed against him in November, which are also being investigated.

ASUA treasurer Keven Barker said there's been no word from the Dean of Students Office about when the investigations will end, but the office is in the process of interviewing members of ASUA to gather testimony about the allegations. He said he is scheduled to meet with the dean of students this week.

Erin Hertzog, ASUA executive vice president acting as president in Bernsen's place, said she has been "pretty hands off" about the situation, but all the ASUA officials are hoping everything will be resolved quickly for the sake of the students they represent.

"Everyone's hoping for something to happen," Hertzog said. "Either have Cade come back or move on from there, but whatever the outcome, students have to stay the priority."

Bernsen was present at last night's senate meeting, despite having been virtually absent from ASUA for two weeks, saying he was there to attend the open meeting.

"I'm here to observe and support the senate," Bernsen said.

Bernsen said it wasn't the first time he has been around student government business since he took his leave from office, though he wouldn't comment further.

Bernsen also wouldn't give details about the ongoing investigation or any timeframe, but said he didn't think it would take much longer.

"As I understand it, it's going to be done rather quickly," Bernsen said.

The Dean of Students Office declined to give any specific information yesterday on the complaints surrounding Bernsen, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which limits access to students' personal records.

Veda Kowalski, associate dean of students, said any complaints levied against students will prompt an investigation into the validity of the claims by checking documents and conducting interviews.

"Any investigation will continue until it's final," Kowalski said.

Penalties resulting from the complaints vary from a warning to expulsion if a student is found to have violated the Code of Conduct, Kowalski said.

No timeframe is given for the completion of investigations as each one is unique and varies case by case, Kowalski said.

Melissa Vito, dean of students, said in an e-mail she is out of the office until Monday.

In spite of the obstacles facing ASUA, all the officials who remain in office are cooperating to make sure everything gets done.

"We're working harder than ever because of this stuff to keep the integrity of the organization," Barker said. "It is tiring, but everyone is getting charged up (to keep working)."

Hertzog agreed that the situation is difficult, but everybody in ASUA is concentrating on projects and keeping business moving forward.

"There are really strong people working and not focusing on the situation," she said. "But it'd be ignorant to say it doesn't affect us."

Hertzog was busy this week, leading the student forums for the UA presidential candidates this week, meeting with the administration and students officials about tuition and sitting on various other committees.

"I haven't seen the inside of a classroom for a good week," Hertzog said.

She and other officials have made sure all 40 to 50 committees that ASUA officials sit on have been filled, even if it takes some balancing of schedules.

Bernsen said he is still on campus to attend classes to finish his degree in May and move on to graduate school.

"It's been tough, but obviously school comes first," he said.

Bernsen also said he's been working on getting funding for the solar energy project during his leave of absence.

- Nick Smith contributed to this report.

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