Aswani faces backlash from cabinet

In a rare display of discord within the Student Association executive, members of Vishal Aswani’s own cabinet publicly criticized him this week for being ineffective and isolated, and threatened to resign if he does not “shape up.”

The cabinet members met with the SA president on Sunday afternoon, days after SA spokeswoman Tabisa Walwema resigned. Walwema is the third vice president in Aswani’s cabinet to resign since September, following JP Simon and Frederick Girard.

Aswani’s hand-picked cabinet, including his chief of staff and vice presidents of financial and community affairs, said they have worked and advocated for students throughout the year, but Aswani threatened their jobs if they spoke to the media. They also said Aswani has not attended many of their events.

Walwema’s resignation was the catalyst to the cabinet’s discussion with Aswani, members said.

“As vice president of public affairs you are supposed to highlight what others in the SA do,” said Walwema, a sophomore, in an interview. “I was not allowed to share what I wanted to share. Instead of allowing me to use the media as a positive tool, he isolated all of us from journalists.”

In her resignation letter, Walwema said she decided to resign after an online conversation during which Aswani was filled with “paranoia and distrust.”

Sophomore Jason Lifton, vice president of community affairs, said he planned various events this year including a community coat drive, the Foggy Bottom clean-up and a Thanksgiving dinner at St. Mary’s Court. Lifton said Aswani did not attend many of the events he planned.

“We had the Foggy Bottom community clean-up where we had dozens and dozens of people show up on a Saturday afternoon to help clean up,” Lifton said. “Vishal showed up late, stayed for five minutes, was complaining about something and left.”

Greta Twombly, Aswani’s chief of staff, said it is unfortunate that the cabinet’s work on behalf of students has gone unnoticed because of Aswani. Twombly added that it is frustrating that Aswani missed events that cabinet members have planned, like the diversity town hall last week.

“All the work they are doing has been really good, but it’s really frustrating as chief of staff to not be able to publicize it,” said Twombly, a junior. “It’s frustrating to not have them get the recognition they deserve and to not let the student body know what’s going on.”

After meeting with Aswani, members of his cabinet said they are hopeful that the situation will improve.

“We had a very honest meeting, where we discussed all our issues we had with Vishal,” said Chas Pressner, vice president of financial affairs. “He was very receptive to our criticism and comments and vowed to make the necessary changes to ensure we have a productive year.”

Aswani pledged to change after the confrontation with his staff.

“All in all there has to be a communication change from the top down,” Aswani said in an interview after Sunday’s meeting. “That is inclusive of the way the organization as a whole advertises an event, all the way down to staff-level communication.”

After Walwema resigned Friday, Executive Vice President Kyle Boyer sent an e-mail to Aswani and the cabinet calling for a “leadership summit” to reassess priorities and settle differences.

Aswani said he is attending the summit, which Boyer noted is a step in the right direction. Over the course of the semester, Boyer said he was largely excluded from Aswani’s endeavors, though he said he hopes this closed-door policy will end.

“I, to this point, have been very disappointed in the way Vishal has approached his job, and it has hindered my ability to work,” said Boyer, a junior. “But up to this point I haven’t openly criticized him because I wanted to and still want to give him a chance to be the effective leader that a lot of people thought he could be.”

He added, “That being said, if he does not change his approach to his job, I am going to go in a completely different direction.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.