OUSC in rebuild following E-Board resignations, Legislators striking over pay


Noora Neiroukh

A look at empty offices inside of OUSC’s office. With all the recent turnover and special elections coming soon, the space will be seeing some new faces.

Oakland University Student Congress (OUSC) is rebuilding mid-semester following a Legislator strike over unpaid wages that led to the resignations of six members of the Executive Board (E-Board) including President Adeline Perhogan and Vice President Annabella Jankowski. 

The organization is set to hold its first special election since 1982 to elect a new president and vice president. Voting will be open from Thursday, Oct. 7 to Thursday, Oct. 14. The validations hearing will take place Friday, Oct. 15 and the tentative date for inauguration is Monday, Oct. 18.

Once the president and vice president are elected, they’ll have to recruit and hire new staff to fill the vacant E-Board positions. Interim President and Steering Chair of the Legislature Jeremy Johnson has uploaded ads onto Handshake so whoever the next president is can have options to fill these positions, still this unprecedented situation presents significant challenges for OUSC moving forward. 

The predicament has not been helped by a rocky transition period caused by lasting resentment between former E-Board members and the Legislative Chairs who are now left running the organization. Legislators describe everything from office doors being locked to computers having files deleted. They’ve struggled acquiring office keys and gaining access to OUSC email accounts. 

“What [resigned E-Board members] did and have done and honestly are still doing because we don’t have access to any of our accounts … All of that is disrupting student activities,” OUSC Legislative Affairs Director Jordan Tolbert said. “We’re just trying to get [OUSC] back on track.”

So where does this resentment come from? Well, for most of the Perhogan/Jankowski administration, which officially began last May and lasted until their resignations (Sept. 20 for Perhogan and Sept. 13 for Jankowski), OUSC E-Board members and Legislators have been deeply entrenched in a battle over Legislators not receiving compensation for the hours they were working.

Historically, OUSC Legislators have been unpaid workers. Despite performing services essential to the congress, Legislators weren’t ever compensated. Last year under then-President Ethan Bradley and Vice President Jankowski, student workers in the organization decided it was time for a change and that Legislators should be compensated for their work.

“We felt as though Legislators had not been treated as equals,” Johnson said. “Out of that came the idea to begin compensating Legislators … Throughout the Bradley/Jankowski administration, they were never able to finalize it, Legislators were never paid.”

A bill sponsored by Bradley, Jankowski and Johnson passed during the Fall 2020 semester that clarified OUSC procedures for compensation and opened the door for Legislators to start getting paid. For the winter semester, OUSC budgeted salaries for Legislators, though none ever received compensation for their work. According to Bradley he made attempts to post Handshake ads that fell through.

“I submitted the form to have legislative positions posted on Handshake multiple times and somewhere beyond my control it fell through so that the application was never posted,” Bradley said.

OU uses a service called Handshake for hiring. Organizations post ads on Handshake, students apply, then a hiring process is completed through the organization (in this case OSI) and Student Financial Services. Students cannot receive compensation for their work until this process is completed and OSI has a policy of refusing any back pay.

With multiple steps and people involved, this hiring process can be cumbersome, though it’s not impossible as is evidenced by the fact that Perhogan and Bradley completed the process for E-Board members to receive compensation during the winter and summer semesters. The process just requires follow up and due diligence from those in positions of leadership. Which brings us to a common thread between these semesters, OSI Senior Director and OUSC advisor Jean Ann Miller.

During the process of rectifying a summer budget, despite the bill that was passed the previous fall, concerns were expressed by Miller and E-Board members about Legislators potentially abusing their new ability to be compensated. To help resolve the issue, Legislators began working on specific legislation outlining procedures to prevent corruption, while insisting their salaries still be budgeted for the summer. This was met with resistance from Miller. Tension came to a head during a meeting last May.

“[Miller] was upset with me for pushing for Legislator compensation,” Tolbert said. “ … She had been very adamantly against it the whole time. I wanted it done. I thought we could do stipends. She said no. I thought that we could do [less] hours. She tried to say no, whatever it was like she just didn’t like it … and was actively involved in resisting Legislators getting paid. At that meeting, she pretty much just ripped into me.”

The Post reached out to Miller. She declined giving an interview. Though, according to Tolbert, she apologized generally to all involved in that meeting shortly afterwards.

Bradley says similar resistance, Miller being reluctant about Legislator pay, took place last winter when he was president.

“Yeah, she was saying similar things. I don’t agree with the way [Tolbert] represented [Miller’s] resistance but certainly she was pushing back at certain points about not only whether we’re going to pay legislators but also how,” Bradley said. “I think that [Miller] was trying for a mixture [that ensured] our budget is safe for after [COVID-19] when we’re able to spend more money on student activities … On that same sort of preventing corruption thing, not really suspecting that anyone currently in Congress would make corrupt changes, but that we wanted to make sure they couldn’t.”

The summer budget eventually passed with salaries for Legislators being budgeted. Legislation passed July 26 to address corruption concerns, still Legislators were not immediately paid despite repeated inquiries about what they needed to do so Perhogan could complete their hiring process. 

“Several times I asked [Perhogan] to submit my paperwork,” OUSC Judiciary Chair Andrew Romano said. “It seemed like it was always another excuse to why they couldn’t get it submitted in time. After we budgeted for it, and after that was approved, and after the Handshake thing came up, then it was [a new excuse] … There was a resistance … it was being delayed as much as possible.”

The Post reached out to Perhogan with an interview request last week. She never responded.

Student organizations do have limited resources, so hours are often budgeted and capped according to positions and how intensive the required work is. To prevent budgeting issues caused by workers going over budgeted hours, OSI will have workers sign agreements that state any hours worked above their budgeted amount is volunteer work. So while that process exists to reject pay for worked hours, Legislators volunteering was not the case this summer.

“[Perhogan and Miller] should have said something like, ‘Okay, until you turn in your financial paperwork, this is [volunteer work],’” Director of Diversity & Inclusion Murryum Farooqi said. “ … The only indication we have … was that they [sent an email to a Legislator], maybe a few weeks after she hadn’t shown up to some meetings. And we’re trying to say, ‘You’re not apprentices anymore, because you didn’t show up to these required body meetings.’ So to me, that’s a sign that you’re punishing people for not showing up to work when they’re not being paid.”

Since The Post broke this story last week, Miller and OSI have agreed to back pay for five Legislators. This decision came after a long discussion Tuesday. While those five Legislators will receive something, the back pay doesn’t include all of the hours they worked under the budgeted agreement. Compensation instead dates back to whenever the Legislator’s paperwork was submitted, a process which was delayed imminently by the inaction of Perhogan and Miller. Of the 10 Legislators who were denied compensation this summer, four remain unpaid and one has apparently opted out of receiving back pay.

While the dispute over compensation was the main conflict, it was enhanced by personal issues between Legislators and E-Board members. These issues date back to last March’s contentious campaign between Adeline/Perhogan and Tolbert/Brennan Smith. The campaigned was marred by dirty politics and ideological differences over actions taken by the Oakland United Student Workers Coalition (OUSWC).

OUSWC is a student activist group that has made a name for itself by taking direct action to protest university cuts to student jobs and services. Last March they successfully reversed some cuts to housing jobs and this summer they protested to bring back Bear Buses. Their actions brought on retaliation from the university, with several OUSWC members losing their housing jobs following last March’s protest. E-Board members say they shared concerns about university cuts, but disagreed over OUSWC’s tactics.

“The election was a lot closer than it normally is. And I think I would attribute a lot of that to conflicts over [OUSWC],” Bradley Said. “ … At the Vice President’s debate, a question was asked about [OUSWC] and [Jankowski] expressed that she was unsure about some parts of it … that sparked a huge conflict. Most of the rest of the election was centered around people arguing that because of that [Jankowski] wasn’t supporting workers and more generally, that she wasn’t supporting students. In my view, that tension has never been relieved.”

Jankowski’s exact statement in the debate was, “While I do understand the grievances, and I do very much agree with them, I think that there are other ways to go about addressing them.” She also expressed concerns about misinformation in OUSWC’s communications about the issues. Perhogan/Jankowski went on to win the election by 24 votes. 

From that point on, there was a clear divide in OUSC between E-Board members skeptical of OUSWC and Legislators, many of whom were involved in OUSWC protests. Of those involved, tension was particularly high between Tolbert and Perhogan/Jankowski. 

As Legislative Affairs Director, Tolbert acts as a liaison between the E-Board and Legislators. According to Tolbert, conflict between her and Jankowski put a strain on her ability to perform her responsibilities.

“I believe [the issues were] between [Jankowski] and I … [Perhogan] and I just never really talked,” Tolbert said. “ … [Jankowski] started being hostile towards me … because she chaired all of the meetings as Vice President, she would just be hostile towards me. Like she would say my name in a rude way … she would cut me off.”

The Post reached out to Jankowski with an interview request last week. She never responded.

Issues between Tolbert and Jankowski spread through the rest of OUSC. Given the circumstances, tension between leadership and being denied pay, Legislators were generally suspicious of and felt disrespected by the E-Board. Their suspicions were confirmed when screenshots of the E-Board Slack group chat revealed E-Board members were openly mocking Legislators during an OUSC meeting on July 26. Uncomfortable with what was being said by members of the E-Board, Farooqi effectively became the whistleblower, sharing screenshots of the chat with Legislators. 

“I was in shock … I would never expect [E-Board members] to get like this,” Farooqi said. “ … I didn’t realize they hated [Legislators] that much … I knew they didn’t like each other … I didn’t realize it was that intense.”

The messages in Slack were unprofessional, but nothing egregious. Romano was mocked for trying to enforce rules by Bradley. Jankowski said she was annoyed and that Legislators were wasting time.

“There was some gossip and venting in the [E-Board] channel. Some of us were frustrated by some of the legislators, and we were talking to each other about that,” Bradley said. “Then one of the [E-Board] members shared that with a Legislator, they were understandably upset.”

This event significantly escalated tension between the sides. That night, once word got out that Legislators knew what was said during the meeting, Perhogan deleted their Slack and sent out an email to everyone in OUSC that group chats were banned. 

In that email thread Perhogan justified deleting the Slack by saying that “Too many people have gotten hurt and disrespected.” Johnson responded by asking for details about specific instances that would warrant the deletion saying, “This seems out of the blue and very confusing.” Perhogan responded by saying that she couldn’t reveal specifics without violating people’s privacy. She reiterated that, “There have been many hurtful discussions/chats, gossip, disrespect, harassment, and bullying.”

This explanation was polarizing, with different individual’s interpretations of the event depending heavily on what side of the conflict they were on. Former E-Board members support Perhogan’s explanation that the Slack was used inappropriately by both sides and the deletion was necessary to prevent further toxic interactions. Legislators acknowledge taking part in heated discussions, but say those discussions were always related to work, while comments from E-Board members crossed the line and became personal. Legislators feel that the motivation for deleting the Slack was to destroy evidence. Ultimately, few screenshots of the chat exist and it’s impossible to confirm the exact nature of all that went on.

E-Board members also felt that their privacy had been violated by the screenshots. While the conversation was certainly not intended for everyone to see, the Slack in which the screenshots were captured from was designed specifically for OUSC. OUSC is a transparent student organization at a public university. Any forms of bullying, harassment, etc. between OU students are still considered an OU issue regardless of whether they happen in private.

An emergency E-Board meeting was held via Google Meet on July 27 to address the situation and to try and out whoever had shared the screenshots. Presumably through process of elimination, Farooqi was suspected, though E-Board members never quite confirmed it was her. According to Farooqi, during that meeting Perhogan insisted all E-Board members keep their cameras on and questioned members about what had happened.

“[Perhogan] literally opened [the meeting] being like, ‘so somebody took screenshots of our E-Board chat yesterday during the meeting,’” Farooqi said. “[Saying] that [their messages were] personal information that was shared without consent. And so when they were using words like personal information and consent, that scared me … they suspected that I told people.”

Following that meeting, Farooqi was essentially othered by the E-Board. In a process she refers to as “the great shunning,” other members of the E-Board started giving her the cold shoulder. This increased tension in the office and ultimately led to Farooqi being excluded from certain E-Board activities. 

“[They were] acting like I’m the one that caused the problem,” Farooqi said. “… Acting as if saying … mean things to Legislators on the chat, as long as if I hadn’t leaked it, nothing bad would have happened. … [My feeling was] you’re not helping the problem by still saying stuff like that on the chat. You’re still fostering all the tension and negativity and hostility, even if you’re saying stuff behind people’s backs. That’s not trying to move towards the solution if you’re continuing to say things behind people’s backs.”

Tensions continued to escalate in August as OUSC began preparing for the fall semester and the return of students to campus. In what some E-Board members saw as an abuse of power, Legislators used the Slack incident along with other perceived breaches of power to justify a push for the removal of E-Board members.

“Their response to [the Slack incident] was to immediately demand resignation or removal of anyone who had said anything during that conversation. And to write a bill that would reduce the hours of those individuals until they had resigned or been removed,” Bradley said. “They started just refusing to communicate with us in any way outside of general body meetings. What I believe was the appropriate way to go about that would be to set up a meeting with our advisors and show them the screenshots and then let the advisors handle it.”

In student organizations, advisors exist exactly for the purpose of resolving issues between students and making sure the organization functions. However, due in part to OUSC’s design, there is an inequity between the relationship Legislators and E-Board members have with the organization’s advisors. Advisors meet more regularly with E-Board and therefore are more likely to foster closer working relationships. Legislators perceived Advisors Miller and Jessie Hurse as being totally on the side of the E-Board and weren’t going to ask them for help.

“[If I were a Legislator] having problems with [Jankowski] and [Perhogan] I would never be like, ‘Yeah, let me talk to [Miller] and [Hurse],’ because they always sided with them at meetings,” Farooqi said. “ … If it was me, I wouldn’t go to them and expect them to help me out.”

The Post reached out to Hurse with an interview request last week. He did not respond.

In early August, Miller tried to defuse the tension and get Legislators to fall in line by saying during a meeting that the continued conflict was having an adverse effect on E-Board member’s mental health. Ultimately, mental health concerns were a common thread in the E-Board resignation letters that were to come.

Amid all the Slack drama, Legislators renewed their push for compensation and had some success once it was obvious that a strike including their refusal to pass a fall budget was possible. Before the end of the summer semesters, some Legislators received one paycheck. According to former Director of Financial Affairs Ethan Bradley, approximate summer salaries were $16,291 total combined for all E-Board members and $473 total for all Legislators. 

$473 total was not enough to pacify Legislators and the strike occurred. A fall budget was not passed and the semester began without most of the organization being able to receive compensation. Articles of Impeachment were brought against Perhogan and Jankowski and the E-Board exodus ensued. 

OUSC’s procedures for impeachment don’t allow for much agency from E-Board members once articles of impeachment are filed against them. The Judiciary Chair is impartial in theory, but current Chair Romano has been firmly on the side of Legislators throughout the conflict. While Perhogan and Jankowski could have appealed if their impeachment had gone through, had their case heard by a body of students not involved in OUSC and been reinstated, there was a lack of faith from E-Board members in the impartiality of that process. Based on how the summer had gone, the feeling among those who resigned was that if they didn’t resign they’d be impeached sooner or later. 

On Sept. 13, Vice President Jankowski resigned minutes before her impeachment hearing and Director of Student Services Bailee Gierman resigned. On Sept. 16, Director of Financial Affairs Ethan Bradley and Director of Sustainability Mallory Kean resigned. On Sept. 20, President Perhogan resigned minutes before her impeachment hearing and Director of Marketing Jadah Fletcher resigned.

The organization now moves forward under the leadership of the Legislators. While their united vision for leadership could in theory be better for OUSC than all the conflict that happened this summer, still members of OUSC with years of governing experience were forced out due to these conflicts not being resolved. The experience has left a bad taste in the mouths of former E-Board members who were caught in the crossfire of this struggle over compensation.

“I don’t think everything should fall on a 22-year-old [Perhogan’s] shoulders.” former Director of Sustainability Mallory Kean said. “The advisors watched this happen and they let this happen … Advisors stood back and watched and they essentially left [Perhogan] and [Jankowski] to struggle on their own … the advisor’s job is to step in and help if something like that happens and they did not do that.”