Milikaleakona "Tonga" Hopoi's decision to sever Oregon State University's ties with a lobbying organization has put her status as president of the Associated Students of Oregon State University in doubt.
She's one of only a handful of student body presidents to have faced impeachment, after the ASOSU House of Representatives voted Oct. 12 to impeach Hopoi. The next step is a trial by the student government Senate, scheduled for Nov. 1. Actions that could result range from formal reprimand to removing her from office.
The bill of impeachment charges that Hopoi violated her constitutional oath of office because she didn't attend three board meetings for the Oregon Student Association. The nonprofit lobbying group's members represent nine Oregon community colleges and public universities, and their activities include lobbying the Legislature on issues of student interest, especially student tuition.
After Hopoi and the ASOSU executive branch staff attended the Oregon Student Association transitional meeting at Lane Community College in June, they concluded that the group wasn't doing a good job.
In July, Hopoi sent a letter to the student association indicating that OSU no longer would be part of the Oregon Students Association, and she and the OSU delegation missed three meetings over the summer. Hopoi announced that she would not give the student association the $75,745 in required dues line-itemed for it out of the total ASOSU budget, which comes from student fees. However, OSU and other members of the student organization aren't invoiced for their dues until early fall, so the Oregon Student Association took no financial hit this summer because of the decision.
However, the impeachment bill states that Hopoi overstepped her authority by taking action before she formally attempted to change the ASOSU laws that require the student body president to attend Oregon Student Association board meetings.
Hopoi said Monday that she'd planned eventually bring the matter before the ASOSU congress - made up of the ASOSU House of Representatives and the Senate - to sever OSU's ties with Oregon Students Association and that she wanted to speak to ASOSU leaders during the summer about asking the student association to lobby state lawmakers to enact a five-year tuition cap at OSU.
"I wanted to revisit any kind of contractual obligation and have it defined or updated," she said.
However, both Hopoi and Drew Hatlen, the speaker of the ASOSU House of Representatives, say there was a communications breakdown over Hopoi's move to split with the Oregon Student Association.
Hopoi said she tried to meet with Hatlen over the summer about her proposal; Hatlen said he didn't see the letter about the action regarding the Oregon Student Association until Sept. 26, the first day of fall term. It was a moot point anyway; the House doesn't meet over the summer, so no business should have been conducted.
Hopoi said she wasn't told that her impeachment was up for a House vote until the day before it was taken.
"I was really disappointed in the lack of respect," she said.
Not only did the student representatives vote to impeach Hopoi, they passed motions to return to sending delegates to board meetings and to form a committee to look at the university's relationship with the Oregon Students Association.
But Hatlen, who wasn't one of the four authors of the impeachment article, said that both OSU's role in the Oregon Student Association and the designation of fee dollars to the organization was decided last year. To make any changes - including the requirement to participate in the organization - would require work between ASOSU's legislative and executive branch and with the Student and Incidental Fee Committee that would need to be done this year.
Hatlen said he has regard for Hopoi's contributions:
"I think she does a great number of things for students and is quite a powerful voice for students at OSU. But this is an organization that needs to work together when making decisions that affect this many students."
Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or email@example.com.