A Northerner investigation: Was Dennis Chaney’s impeachment justified?

Throughout campus, photographs are posted showing the many faces of Northern Kentucky University.’ However, Student Government Association President and Student Regent Keith Kaseke has indicated that there is only one face that speaks on behalf of the students – his. And this point of view may be behind the recent impeachment and removal of office of former SGA Executive Vice President Dennis Chaney. Chaney took action to share a student point-of-view with university officials, allegedly without authorization from the SGA’s executive board, on a perceived threat to student rights.

Now, Chaney is continuing to take action and make claims to counter his impeachment. Chaney claims that the university administration interfered in the impeachment process and encouraged certain charges against him and that the impeachment was malicious and petty.

In addition, Chaney’s exit has prompted a reciprocal and questionably retaliatory impeachment claim against Kaseke. Kaseke stands behind the removal from office of his running mate, saying Chaney was unprofessional and his conduct merited impeachment. The university administration is remaining quiet about the issue and claiming they were unaware of the details of the impeachment, and Chaney said he cooperated with impeachment efforts against Kaseke but did not instigate them and does not feel they were retaliatory.

Chaney’s alleged disrespectful act and alleged interference by University officials

One of the charges in the Articles of Impeachment against Chaney references a debate that arose between the university’s Associate Legal Counsel, Jay Manire, and Chaney at a Faculty Senate meeting regarding the proposed revisions to the university’s Intellectual Property Policy. The policy revision raised concerns in the minds of at least one member of the Faculty Senate, as well as a group of students, including Chaney, because they believed the change gave the university the right to publish student assignments without permission or notification to the student. The Articles allege that Chaney was disrespectful to Manire at this meeting – a claim that Chaney and others deny, including Emily Detmer-Goebel, assistant professor and assistant chair to the English department. She was present at the meeting as a Faculty Senator and wrote a letter of support to the SGA Chief Justice indicating she did not feel Chaney acted disrespectfully.

‘It is my belief that Mr. Chaney represented student government’s concerns with appropriate dignity,’ Detmer-Goebel said in the letter.’ ‘His questions of Legal Counsel seemed quite legitimate and reasonable.’

Manire repeatedly refused to comment on the record specifically about the debate at the meeting. ‘I have no interest, information or opinion on Mr. Chaney, his performance as a representative of the SGA and the impeachment proceedings,’ he said.

However, Chaney claims the Office of Legal Affairs and General Counsel – under which Manire works – had an interest in the proceeding and that Manire’s supervisor, Sara Sidebottom, the Vice President of Legal Affairs and general counsel ‘prompted,’ his accusers to add the claim about arguing with Legal Counsel to the Articles of Impeachment because she ‘apparently feels it is inappropriate for students (to) ask legitimate questions.’
Chaney said it was Kaseke who told him that Sidebottom was behind the charge. Kaseke said he received a complaint about how Chaney acted towards Manire, but he was unsure of where it originated; however, Sidebottom denied the alleged influence.

‘This matter doesn’t involve the NKU legal affairs office. I took no action and did not advise anyone as to the behavior of Mr. Kaseke or Mr. Chaney. Any response beyond that would be inappropriate, as this is a student affairs issue,’ Sidebottom said.

Kaseke also at least wanted Chaney to believe that Vice President of Student Affairs Zebulun Davenport and Dean of Students Jeffrey Waple did not want him to attend a meeting of the Faculty Senate, according to an audio recording obtained by The Northerner.

The debate over a student’s right to their own work

‘The student as the originator of their work reserves the right and know if their work will be published,’ Chaney said. ‘Harm can be done to students if their work is published without their knowledge.’

The example Chaney cited was writing competitions that limit entries based on whether a writing has been ‘published’ according to their definitions. If the university can publish student work with their consent, their actions could impact the students ability to enter the work on their own in other contests, costing them valuable potential scholarship dollars.

This was the concern brought up by Chaney to the university’s administration that served as basis of most of the complaints against him in the impeachment allegations.

‘I don’t think it’s an issue,” Manire. said In one way, this policy actually protects students on long-term projects from having a student who did not substantially contribute to a project and that has since left the university from holding up the entry of a project in an academic contest.

This was part of the issues brought up in the debate, according to Chaney. When Manire raised this and other points, Chaney says, he countered with other legal precedents and standards that he believed indicated that Manire’s examples were inaccurate or inapplicable.

‘Jay (Manire) was making outlandish claims and threatening to sue the school on the behalf of students if any requirements to seek permission to publish material of students (were violated) because somehow a professor who copies a student’s assignment onto a flash drive to grade at home without the student’s permission would be a copyright violation,’ said Chaney. ‘I asked him how that could be true with the Fair Use Doctrine in the 1970 Copyright Act and the exemptions for the academic purpose in copyright violations.’

Manire continuously refused to publicly comment on the conversation or his perceptions.
The situation that Chaney raises appears unlikely. And Manire did say it is addressed in the law and the current policy. Still, Chaney said he believed the risk to students was important enough to continue to be addressed to the highest levels of the university administration, and he wanted to continue his advocacy to that point; a goal that was inconsistent with that of the SGA Executive Board and led to his impeachment.
The revisions to the Intellectual Property Policy have now been approved and implemented. Students that have concerns or issues with the policy can bring their concerns before a university complaint board.

Chaney’s alleged ‘inappropriate contact’ with Board of Regents

According to the Articles of Impeachment, Chaney represented a student point-of-view’ or asked questions of members of the university’s governing board, the Board of Regents, on four occasions. The claim indicates that Chaney made a statement at the Board of Regents meeting on Nov. 11, 2009, regarding the proposed revision of the university’s Intellectual Property Policy after being told not to by Kaseke ‘in the presence of the Dean of Students (Waple).’

Chaney denies that he was told not to address the Board; rather, he says that Kaseke informed him that he would address the issue. Nonetheless, Chaney was recognized to speak at the meeting by the Board of Regents and shared these student concerns, prompting this charge to be included in the impeachment Articles.

‘There’s a difference between speaking up and speaking out of turn,’ Kaseke explained when asked about this complaint.

In an audio recording obtained by The Northerner, Chaney and Kaseke talk about Chaney’s comments to the Board of Regents and Kaseke says his actions were not supported by the SGA.

‘I don’t think you get it, Dennis. It’s not what you want to achieve, it’s how you went about it that was wrong,’ Kaseke said. ‘Now if you dec
ide to act on your own accord, SGA cannot support you on that.’

‘Well, I wasn’t acting on my own accord. I was acting on the accord of students’ interests,’ Chaney responded.

‘But you were acting on behalf of SGA and you’re not the face of SGA. You’re not the face of the person who represents the students,’ Kaseke explained.

In additon, according to the Articles of Impeachment, Chaney directly e-mailed members of the Board of Regents ‘without following correct policy and procedure.’ Chaney claims he was unaware of any policy and procedure and that the Executive Board never articulated one in its written rules.

‘Petty’ complaints?

In the last e-mail, it is alleged that Chaney defamed Kaseke when he said, ‘A number of statements from Regent Kaseke have been discovered to be contradictory and confusing,’ referring to a deadline for when the Intellectual Property Policy must be passed.

Other claims in the impeachment included that on one occasion, Chaney was 33 minutes late to a Faculty Senate meeting, to which he served as a liaison – a claim that Chaney does not dispute. However, Chaney said his tardiness was unintentional.

‘People do make mistakes, but that was not the only thing that was taken into consideration,’ Kaseke explained.’ ‘All those instances put together did warrant an impeachment.

‘It’s just not professional,’ Kaseke added.

Chaney has called these allegations ‘petty,’ a claim with which Kaseke said he disagreed.

In addition, it is alleged in the Articles of Impeachment that on Nov. 16, 2008, Chaney made a disrespectful comment about the SGA leadership and the University’s Student Affairs leaders. In that meeting, it is alleged that Chaney said, ‘I do not care what you (SGA President) or the Deans think, but I am going to Faculty Senate.’

Chaney provided The Northerner with an audio recording which he says was of the conversation in question. The recording includes a conversation on this subject matter between Kaseke and Chaney, but The Northerner is unable to validate the date of the recording or whether it includes the entire conversation.

In that conversation, the alleged statement is never spoken. Chaney says this demonstrates Kaseke’s lack of truthfulness. However, the message behind the alleged statement is present in the recording.’ Chaney consistently reminds Kaseke that he is under a mandate in the SGA Constitution to attend the Faculty Senate meeting, and Kaseke references talking with both the Vice President for Student Affairs (Davenport) and Dean of Students (Waple) about the issue and reminds Chaney he will speak with them again and tell them that Chaney plans on attending the meeting, despite his wishes. He also tells Chaney that he will be attending on his own and not as a representative of the SGA.

The other complaint in the impeachment proceedings was actually an election complaint relating to campaigning practices by Chaney in May 2009.

Kaseke’s impeachment charges: administration over students?

It was not soon after Chaney was removed from office that a new set of impeachment allegations were presented – this time allegations were pressed against Kaseke. The most severe allegation is that he did not take his obligations to the SGA Constitution seriously.

The Articles of Impeachment against Kaseke claim that he said: ‘If I want to follow the Constitution and be gung-ho about it, I would, I could do that… Yeah, that is what the oath is about. You know, there is a lot more to life that just following the Constitution, and the rules, and having things your (Dennis) own way.’

Kaseke admits making this statement; however, he offered an explanation for his statement and said he suspects it is being using out of context.

‘I think he misinterpreted that,’ Kaseke said. ‘Together with those items, those are things as just as important. You can follow the (SGA) Constitution, but still do things wrong. You will not get anything achieved. They are still other things that you need to do…In addition to following rules and regulations and the (SGA) Constitution, there are other things that you have to do in order to run an organization. My focus is to have a good relationship with everybody but keep the students’ interests at heart. But, we all know, students cannot get anything achieved without the (university) administration.

‘I’m definitely there for the students,’ Kaseke says.’ ‘We are fortunate here that we have a (university) president and (a university) adminstration that is here for the students … You can still get along, I’ll still stand my ground, but I’ll respectfully do that.’

The Articles of Impeachment include several other charges including that Kaseke wasted an entire meeting by not following the proper procedure in the appointment of student senators and that he violated campaign promises to be open and transparent in his governance.

Was the impeachment of Kaseke retaliatory?

Of the nine complaints raised in the Articles of Impeachment, six relate directly to Chaney and/or his impeachment. They state that Kaseke ordered the SGA advisors out of the impeachment hearing against Chaney without authorization, that he failed to follow several of the proper procedures in the impeachment of Chaney, that he was ‘dishonest or grossly ignorant’ about his own actions relating to the impeachment procedures, that he defamed Chaney with false allegations in his impeachment and that he allegedly directed his opposing candidate in the SGA presidential election, Kevin Reynolds, who is no longer an SGA member, to attend Faculty Senate meetings, despite this duty belonging to Chaney.
However, it was not Chaney who filed the charges. SGA Senator Nicolas Georgescu filed the Articles of Impeachment against Kaseke. Nonetheless, the timing of the impeachment allegations is questionable.

‘The impeachment of Kaseke was not my idea. I was only asked for any relevant information pertaining to the investigation being performed by Senator Georgescu and Finance Chairman (Sean) Henry,’ Chaney said. ‘I do not believe the impeachments were retaliatory. If you read the impeachment of Kaseke, each claim is supported by citations to the relevant sections of the Constitution and the standing rules which Kaseke swore an oath to uphold and unfortunately violated.’

And Chaney said the possibility of seeking impeachment of Kaseke was explored prior to the allegations being brought against him, but were not pursued. However, he said he provided them with audio recordings and other evidence at their request after his impeachment, which may have given what they needed to finalize their charges.

‘Senator Georgescu and Chairman Henry take their oaths of office seriously and sincerely care that the Constitution and standing rules of order that Kaseke also swore to uphold and adhere are followed.’ They felt he had violated those rules, and felt obligated by their oath to author the impeachment Articles to uphold the Constitution,’ Chaney explained.

Is this a personal dispute playing out publicly?

One of the complaints Chaney has raised against Kaseke is that the President excluded Chaney from an SGA Executive Board meeting, of which Chaney was a member at the time, along with Kaseke, Vice President of Public Relations Wade Miller, Vice President of Administration Danielle Hawks and Vice President of Student Involvement Max Swartz. The purpose of this meeting, Chaney alleges, was to discuss the potential impeachment of Chaney. According to Chaney, he was told the meeting was canceled by Kaseke and Swartz, a claim Kaseke denied.

Despite denying that anyone told Chaney the meeting was canceled, Kaseke nonetheless told The Northerner that the meeting in question was not a formal meeting of the SGA Executive Board.

‘We did meet as a group but it was not as a defined SGA E-board meeting,’ he said.
Chaney refers to this as the time when the Executive Board met ‘surreptitiously’ to impeach him

However, Kaseke denies that any personal bias was behind the impeachment.
‘I don’t have any beef with Dennis. I did this for the students first to achieve our goals. We need to be productive. I thought that part of SGA wasn’t productive,’ Kaseke said.

Kaseke still in office, should he resign?

Kaseke’s impeachment has still not been fully adjudicated. Chaney has called for Kaseke to resign in light of the impeachment allegations.

‘In regard to the actions President Kaseke has undertaken this year, knowing full well the constitution and standing rules of order, he should resign, effective immediately,’ Chaney said.

However, Kaseke laughed when asked if he planned to resign.