Undergraduate Student Government Senator Deborah Machalow doesn’t like being called a grammar Nazi, rather a grammar girl. English is one of her minors, the other is history, both on top of majors in political science and economics. But for this sophomore from Valley Stream, the passion and respect for grammar has isolated her amongst student senators.
For more than an hour, Machalow called for one amendment after another, citing grammatical errors and clarity issues with proposed legislation reforming the current USG election bylaws. “We are the government of the students; we are supposed to represent and help the students,” said Machalow, who ran for re-election with the platform of upholding grammar.
“As a student, I wouldn’t take the government seriously if there were grammatical errors.”
And with each amendment, explanation and correction, the majority of senators grew even more weary, annoyed and impatient. Every time Executive Vice President Alex Dimitriyadi called on Machalow for another amendment, the tone of disdain in his voice grew.
“I think that having grammatically correct legislation is important, but we have rules that allow ample time to correct grammar in legislation,” Dimitriyadi said. “A lot of the changes Senator Machalow proposes are more stylistic rather than incorrect usage of grammar. The time on the Senate floor should be used to debate issues of substance.”
At the end of what was a two-hour USG senate meeting, 29 amendments were made to revise the elections bylaws legislation, offered primarily by Senator Machalow. Dimitriyadi, who wrote the legislation, also points to academic focus, saying that his major is part of the reason why there were many grammar errors in the legislation. “As a Computer Science major, I deal primarily with logical operations and binary data,” said Dimitriyadi. “We have no time for proper syntax.”
The proposed bill was sent to Legislative Review, where it was seen by five other senators. “In committee, if we see significant errors in writing, we correct them—general writing errors—lack of punctuation, incorrect spelling, et cetera,” said Tahir Ahmad, sponsor of the bill and chair of the Legislative Review committee. “I am not trying to say, ‘Hey, all of us are terrible at writing.’ I don’t think we are particularly bad writers, I just think the errors picked on weren’t significant or substantial grammatical errors,” said Ahmad.
There is a little added tension between Machalow and Dimitriyadi, stemming from a vote for the Senate’s leader, the President Pro Tempore (PPT). Dimitriyadi, as the USG Executive Vice President, breaks tied votes in the Senate—such as the tied vote for PPT. Dimitriyadi voted Senator Kirin Mahmud into the leadership post, rather than Machalow.
Machalow had previously served as PPT for several days. Machalow was elected in an early meeting, legally attended by less than half the number of current USG Senators—a quick, short-handed election held so that a PPT could help form the committees needed to begin the Senate’s business. That meeting, in which Machalow won the election, was later invalidated. The full Senate wanted to choose a leader, so they voted to reject the minutes (the notes taken that become the official record) of the earlier meeting. Machalow lost the PPT spot in a new election. As a result of the way she was removed from the position, Machalow has filed a USG court legal brief challenging both the method of nullifying the meeting with the first election and Dimitriyadi’s authority in breaking the tie vote.
Suggesting amendments to the elections bylaws, Machalow insists on adhering to the rules of grammar and strictly following the USG constitution. It’s a trait she has that has somewhat alienated her from the rest of her colleagues—something she says she finds disappointing and sad. “It’s embarrassing, we’re elected to represent student government, why is it that I am [one of the only few] catching these things?”
But even that debate comes down to a matter of priority. “There are much more serious issues that we as a student government have to deal with, and grammar is the least of our worries,” said Dimitriyadi. “We have a 3.1 million dollar budget that is not being utilized to its potential.”
And while many of the amendments touched on minor grammar issues, for example, changing the word, “less” with “fewer” or replacing “undergraduate students” with “undergraduates,” Machalow insists that every little detail is important.
“There’s a joke in law, anything is legal if you put the comma in the right place,” Machalow said.