On Sunday evening, former International Student Senator Linfei Yang ’20 sent an email to members of the student body announcing his intention to continue serving in his position until the end of the semester, an unconstitutional action.

Yang was recalled from his position following the results of the winter 2019 Student Union elections, held on January 30. The recall was the culmination of four months of conflict with the Student Union, beginning with the introduction of a Senate Money Resolution for pianos at the beginning of last semester.

The piano proposal

At the Oct. 7 senate meeting last year, Yang and former Class of 2022 Senator Alex Chang introduced a SMR requesting $765.96 to purchase two upright pianos for Massell and North Quad lounges. In the original proposal, the pianos would also have headphone ports so that residents could use the pianos without disturbing others. The Senate agreed to discuss the proposal the following week.

At the Oct. 14 meeting, Chang and Yang announced that they had managed to find two upright pianos for free, and would need only $150 to transport the pianos in a U-Haul. However, as the free pianos would be acoustic, not electric, they would not be equipped with a headphone port.

To address possible noise disturbances from the pianos, the two senators argued the pianos could be locked during quiet hours by either the on-call Community Advisors or by the Area Coordinator. The Department of Community Living had been supportive of their SMR, and Chang said locking the pianos should be easy to figure out. The Senate voted to continue discussing the proposal as long as Chang and Yang could provide written support from DCL.

The following day, Chang met with first-year quad Area Coordinators Maira Pantoja and Peter Budmen to obtain their written support for the proposal, he explained at the Oct. 21 Senate meeting. But Budmen and Pantoja said DCL no longer supported the piano initiative, because the two first-year quad lounges were not accessible for students with disabilities. They also said the Student Union needed to “quantify” demand for the pianos. 

Chang and Yang expressed their frustration with this predicament at the senate meeting, with Yang asking, “How quantifiable do they want it to be?” Adding to this frustration, Chang said he had found a woman in the area who would be willing to donate a baby grand piano and pay up to $400 to cover the cost of transporting it to campus. She would be moving out of her house in less than a month, so the piano needed to be picked up before then, Chang reported.

Two weeks later, on Nov. 4, Chang and Yang updated the Senate, explaining that the pair had spoken to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tim Touchette, who said DCL would also pay for any security measures needed to maintain the pianos and that DCL again supported the initiative.

The senators also announced that they had found a Black Friday deal on two electric pianos and urged the senate to approve the SMR so they could purchase the pianos before the sale ended. Several senators voiced concerns over the cost of the purchase, following a separate dispute over Senate funding between the Allocations Board and the Executive Board of the Union. Chang held a straw poll to determine support for the SMR if, hypothetically, the funding dispute was resolved. The hypothetical situation had broad support from senators.

Still, Yang pushed back against a delay on the vote, saying he was concerned that a vote on the resolution would be postponed indefinitely. The vote on the SMR was scheduled for the following week’s Senate meeting.

A pair of emails

Two days later, on Nov. 6, Chang sent an email to the members of the MyDeis Class of 2022 Facebook page. Chang said that then-Vice President Benedikt Reynolds ’19 had “accosted” him shortly before that week’s Senate meeting and told him that the Senate only had $80 left in its budget for the academic year, so the Union would be unable to fund the pianos. According to Chang, Reynolds had “warned” him not to share details of the Senate’s budget with his constituents.

Later that same evening, Yang sent a similar email to members of the MyDeis Class of 2022 Facebook page, also stating that Reynolds “accosted” him and Chang and “tried to intimidate” them into delaying a vote on their SMR.

Yang also wrote that at the beginning of the semester, Reynolds had “pressured” him and Chang to find pianos for free, rather than purchase new ones, which Yang said “led [their] project to be delayed for an excess of over two months.” 

Yet the biggest source of friction for the proposal — support from DCL — ultimately had nothing to do with whether the pianos were free or acoustic. It was instead a matter of demonstrating support for the proposal among the first-year student body and addressing concerns with wheelchair accessibility.

Senate funding dispute

Both emails detailed a funding dispute between A-Board and E-Board that had not yet been disclosed to the Senate, according to Chang and Yang. 

In a Feb. 11 interview with the Justice, Finkel challenged the claim in both emails that the dispute had not been disclosed to the Senate when Chang and Yang sent their emails. He said he informed the Senate about budget concerns “a couple weeks” before the Nov. 4 meeting.

Each semester, the Senate allocates roughly $8,000 for the midnight buffet, meaning that it had only $4,000 of its $20,000 discretionary fund to spend on other projects for the entire academic year. By Nov. 11, the Senate had spent $3,758.90 on SMRs, leaving just $241.10 to last for the remainder of the academic year. 

Union Chief of Staff Emma Russell ’19 made an emergency request to the A-Board in Oct. 2018 for $12,000, which the Union believed it was entitled to as part of its $50,000 funding “benchmark” stipulated in the Union constitution. The A-Board rejected this request, but Union President Hannah Brown ’19 vetoed the A-Board’s rejection. A-Board then unanimously voted to overturn Brown’s veto. E-Board was deciding how to proceed from this exchange when Chang and Yang sent their emails.

Fallout from emails

In the wake of these emails, the Nov. 11 Senate meeting was heated. Assistant Treasurer Adrian Ashley ’20 explained the funding dispute between A-Board and E-Board in a presentation to the Senate. Senators expressed frustration that the emails had disrupted important meetings scheduled between branches of the Union. Finkel also announced that he was drafting a constitutional amendment to revise the checks and balances between the branches of the Student Union. 

As was agreed the week prior, the Senate voted on the piano SMR by roll call. The first round of voting resulted in a tie.  On the second vote, the SMR passed by one vote.

Before the meeting adjourned, Reynolds was visibly emotional, and Ashley reminded the senators of the consequences of their actions. Chang apologized for the effect of his email on the Union. 

In a Feb. 3 interview with the Justice, Linfei said the email he sent out to members of the student body along with Chang “may have” been disrespectful.

At the following Senate meeting, held on Nov. 18, Reynolds announced that he would be stepping down from the vice presidency at the end of the semester, citing health concerns. At a Dec. 4 Senate meeting, Chang and Yang apologized to Reynolds for their actions, and Yang followed up with his own apology to Chang for causing “unprecedented levels of vitriolic hatred ever directed toward a freshman.”

Recall petition

In late November, following Reynolds’ announcement, Class of 2019 Senator Kent Dinlenc and Ridgewood and Ziv Quad Senator Leigh Salomon ’19 drafted a petition to recall Yang from his position as International Student Senator. They partnered with then-Secretary Lian Chen ’19 to distribute the petition to Yang’s constituents. Salomon told the Justice the first signature to the petition was added on Nov. 30.

The petition included the following assertion: “Throughout his two years on the Student Union, he has been warned multiple times regarding his disrespectful demeanor for his colleagues and chairs during Senate meetings and committee meetings.” 

President Brown verified this assertion in a statement to the Justice. She said that she and Russell had met with Chang and Yang on Nov. 8 to discuss their conduct at Senate meetings, and that then-President Jacob Edelman ’18 had had a similar conversation with Yang last year.

In a Feb. 11 interview with the Justice, Finkel said of Chang and Yang that they would “talk behind people’s backs” and “talk amongst themselves during the meetings,” laughing at things on each other’s computer screens. He added that Chang and Yang’s conduct “borders on bullying.”

Finkel continued, “I think most of the toxicity has come from them. … If they came to [the] office hours [of E-Board members], if they reached out [to E-Board members] individually, they would have learned everything they possibly could have wanted to know.”

MyDeis admin controversy

The recall petition also took issue with Yang’s assumption of an admin position on the MyDeis Class of 2019 and the MyDeis Class of 2020 Facebook pages. Salomon explained that Yang had become an admin of the MyDeis pages sometime “before October 15,” because at that time Dinlenc requested that Yang add him as an admin to the Class of 2019 page. Dinlenc wrote in a message to Yang that Yang had made Class of 2019 Senator Vidit Dhawan a moderator, not an admin, for the page. “I think it’s only fair a senior also be a full admin of the Class of 2019 page,” he added.

Yang did not respond directly to Dinlenc’s messages, instead messaging Salomon to “please tell Kent [Dinlenc] that Vidit [Dhawan] will be the senior admin of MyDeis 2019 effective immediately.” Yang never made Dhawan the admin of the Facebook page.

Two days later, Yang responded directly to Dinlenc’s admin request: “I understand your concerns Kent. But the thing is, we can’t get all the positions we want sometimes however qualified we may be. I could consider making you a moderator if you still want to but otherwise, if I’m expected to be okay with the way things are, you should be too.” 

Yang confirmed that he assumed the position of admin on both the MyDeis 2019 and the MyDeis 2020 Facebook pages in a Feb. 3 interview with the Justice. However, he was unable to give a rough estimate of when he did so. Yang explained that he assumed that position “out of responsibility as a Student Union Senator,” and that he was “glad to protect the MyDeis groups from falling into the hands of unsavory people.” He claimed that he “forgot” he was admin for about a month, then emailed the Admissions Department, which creates the pages. Yang said he got an out-of-office reply and that no one followed up with him, though he did not provide evidence to substantiate that claim.

In a Jan. 16 email sent to Yang and provided to the Justice, the authors of the recall petition explained the extent of Yang’s behavior: “[Your constituents and fellow Student Union members] feel that by appointing yourself sole admin of the MyDeis Class of 2019 and 2020 Facebook groups without the rest of the group-members’ consent, disabling comments on your own post and ‘pinning’ others in the ‘Announcements’ section, and excluding other senators from joining the MyDeis Class of 2020 Facebook group, you have exhibited unfaithful behavior for your constituency.”

Yet Yang continued to closely monitor this page. According to screenshots provided to the Justice by a former moderator of the MyDeis Class of 2020 page, Yang and Chang worked in tandem to extend invites to each other and other accounts for non-University profiles to become admins of the page, as recently as Jan. 22.

According to the screenshots, Chang was an admin for the Class of 2020 page on Jan. 22. At 10:10 p.m. that night, Chang invited Yang to be an admin for the page. Yang accepted the invitation at 10:10 p.m. Two minutes later, Yang invited a person named “Susan Thomson” to be an admin for the page. 

One minute later, Chang demoted himself from admin to member. Another minute later, Yang invited the newly-demoted Chang to be an admin for the page. At 10:15 p.m., “Susan Thomson” accepted the admin invitation. Three minutes later, Yang changed his position from admin to member. A minute later, “Susan Thomson” changed the permissions “so only admins and members can approve member requests,” according to the screenshot. At this point, Yang and Thomson were the sole admins of MyDeis 2020. 

At 10:27 p.m., “Susan Thomson” removed Dinlenc from the group and shortly thereafter approved a request for membership for another profile, “Michael Ray.” “Susan Thomson” then invited “Michael Ray” to be an admin for the page. “Michael Ray” accepted the request.

The former moderator told the Justice they believe both “Susan Thomson” and “Michael Ray” were fake accounts based on the content of their profiles. “Susan Thomson” posted an announcement about “Branchan” on the page as an admin, then proceeded to pin that announcement to the top of the page. “Susan Thomson” was later removed as admin by Sara Lodgen, an Admissions staff member. The moderator said that the two profiles have since been deleted.

Branchan is a spinoff website of 4chan, an anonymous image board website. It was created by Alex Chang last semester. He currently moderates the site.

Yang told the Justice in a Feb. 3 interview that he gave up control of the MyDeis pages before the end of the fall 2018 semester, citing the high “amount of bullying” he said he received during his vice presidential campaign.

The recall vote

On Jan. 16, the organizers of the petition sent an email to Yang informing him that they had begun the process for his recall. At the time the email was sent, the petition had garnered 128 signatures, 110 of whom were verified as international undergraduate students by the University Registrar, according to the email. 

According to the Union’s constitution, to trigger a recall vote, 15 percent of a Union member’s constituents must sign a petition calling for them to step down. With an undergraduate international student population of 725, the petition was signed by 15.17 percent of Yang’s constituency.

The organizers first presented the petition to then-Secretary Qingtian Mei ’21, who also held the position of Chief of Elections. But Mei recused himself from that role due to a conflict of interest, as he is an international student, transferring his duties to Brown, the Deputy Chief of Elections. Brown certified the petition and began the process of organizing a recall vote.

In the Jan. 16 email, the organizers requested that Yang resign rather than continue with a recall vote, “to give you the opportunity to end your service as a Student Union member on a more positive note.” The email was signed by Dinlenc, Salomon, Chen, Junior Representative to the Board of Trustees Zosia Busé ’20 and international student Wilson Chen ’20. 

Yang replied, “Thank you for your kind offer, but I'm afraid that I have to respectfully decline.”

66 international students voted in the winter Student Union elections. Of those, 42 voted in favor of Yang’s recall, while seven voted in opposition. The Union’s constitution stipulates that an official “shall be recalled if two-thirds of the official’s constituents vote in favor of a recall.”

The Judiciary initially ruled that this meant Yang had not been recalled, since less than 10 percent of his constituents voted in the election in the first place. Brown and Dinlenc contested the ruling in an email, arguing that no other vote in the Student Union requires a two-thirds majority from an entire constituency — just from the voting population. 

The Judiciary subsequently reevaluated their decision, and replied to Dinlenc’s email, writing, “some justices do not know the protocol for past elections and have now heard this perspective.” They then overturned their previous ruling, deciding that two-thirds support from the voting body is required for a successful recall, not two-thirds of the constituency. That final ruling made Yang’s recall official.

Another email

Yang’s Sunday email called attention to the “alarming prevalence of nepotism” in the Union and criticized the Senate’s passage of a set of “draconian 1984-esque conduct codes” at last week’s meeting. Finkel responded to this in a Feb. 11 interview with the Justice: “The senate voted on it.” If the codes were so abysmal, Finkel said, why would the Senate have passed the measure?

Yang also wrote: “As a wise Israeli man once said to me, after this semester, the current administration will be gone – much like a Limebike being slowly submerged in the snow.” He added that the current Union members who “want to meddle … will ultimately be forgotten.”  

He concluded his email, “Don’t worry about Alex and I, we are doing fine. It is our ailing Union that you should be worried about… So just sit back and play some piano.” Attached to the email was a quote from a Justice opinion piece written by Dinlenc: “We live in a society…”

— Emily Blumenthal contributed reporting.

— Kent Dinlenc is a staff writer for the Justice.