Explainer: How the SA could address mounting calls for body’s president to resign

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor

Since allegations of sexual misconduct against the SA president came to light Friday, more than 30 SA senators have called for his resignation.

Updated: Jan. 27, 2021 at 4:47 p.m.

After claims of sexual misconduct surfaced against Student Association President Howard Brookins and at least a dozen SA cabinet members have left the organization since December, uncertainty remains over Brookins’ future in the role as calls for his resignation mount.

In a series of tweets published Friday evening, a female student said Brookins touched her without her consent and “crossed clearly set boundaries” throughout their friendship. That evening, three of the remaining cabinet members wrote a letter calling for Brookins to step down.

The Hatchet does not identify people, outside of public means like social media channels, claiming to have experienced sexual misconduct without their consent.

At least a dozen student organizations and 31 SA senators have called for Brookins’ resignation since Friday evening.

“We the undersigned senators no longer have confidence in President Brookins’ ability to lead the Student Association,” the senators wrote in a statement released Saturday. “We are requesting that President Brookins resign his position immediately as Student Association president so that we can begin to repair the damage inflicted on the Student Association’s reputation and its members.”

As pressure for Brookins to leave and possibilities of impeachment or censure loom, here is everything you should know about the future of the SA if Brookins were to exit office:

Brookins resigns
If Brookins resigns, SA Executive Vice President Brandon Hill would be next in line for the role, but if he “fails to succeed” to the presidency, the senate would elect a new president, according to the body’s constitution.

Hill, the executive vice president, said he cannot commit to assuming the presidency if Brookins resigns, adding that the decision will depend on the GW community’s response.

According to the SA constitution, the senate is not explicitly required to elect someone within the body as president if the executive vice president does not take the position. If the executive vice president does not take the position, the SA Senate would elect a new president, according to the constitution.

“A lot of it depends on the sentiments of the student body in regard to if they want someone external for the role or they think that I’m the best person to preserve the integrity of the Student Association,” he said in an interview Saturday.

Hill said the senate cannot impeach Brookins based on sexual misconduct allegations. The Student Code of Conduct prohibits student organizations from taking “adjudicatory or sanctioning action” for violations of University policies without the written approval of the director of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

Hill said senators can only impeach a member of the SA if they violate the organization’s bylaws.

“I think it would really hurt the student body to say, ‘We believe survivors, but we can’t act upon the story brought forward because it has to go through official University channels, so we can only impeach him on these charges,’” he said.

On whether the senate should attempt to impeach or censure Brookins for claims that he created a “negligent and careless” work environment, Hill said he hopes Brookins “would spare” the senate a trial “out of respect” for himself, the SA and the student body.

“If that were not to happen, I think, and granted that I’m supposed to stay objective for all actions taken by the senate, if I were a senator, that would definitely be something I would pursue – necessary action within the confines of our governing documents,” he said.

If Hill assumes the presidency, the senate’s chairperson pro tempore – currently SA Sen. Thomas Falcigno, CPS-G, who has served as both acting and permanent executive vice president as an undergraduate – would temporarily fill the vacant executive vice president position, the constitution states.

Within two weeks of an executive vice president vacancy, the constitution requires the new president to nominate a new second-in-command to serve the remainder of the term, which would require confirmation by the senate.

“If there were a situation where I would need to step in as acting EVP, I would absolutely honor that responsibility and ensure a seamless transition into whoever was confirmed by the senate to be EVP,” Falcigno said in an interview Saturday.

Falcigno said he would feel “very comfortable” stepping into the role of executive vice president again given his past experience.

“There’s a lot of institutional knowledge that I think would be important,” Falcigno said. “And in times of such uncertainty, I think that having somebody in that role that understands it is important, and it shows strength and continuity in government.”

Brookins doesn’t resign, faces impeachment
If Brookins does not resign, the senate could attempt to impeach and remove him from office.

To initiate impeachment proceedings, one-third of senators would need to sign a petition outlining charges against Brookins. The body would then send a copy of the petition and charges to Brookins; Hill, the executive vice president; and Maggie O’Brien, the Student Court’s chief judge — the senate’s bylaws state.

The chief judge, along with the senate’s presiding officer, would then schedule and preside over an impeachment hearing between 10 to 15 days after Brookins is given notice to appear before the senate. The hearing would include the presentation of evidence against Brookins by a non-senator on behalf of the senate, and Brookins would have the opportunity to speak on his own behalf, be represented by counsel and produce witnesses in his defense, according to the bylaws.

Following closing arguments, Brookins would leave the hearing, and the senate would subsequently debate the evidence presented and decide if he is “more likely than not” guilty of the charges.

A two-thirds majority in the senate would be required to vote to convict and expel Brookins from office, the bylaws state. More than two-thirds of senators have called for Brookins’ resignation, but senators have not publicly said whether they would sign a petition initiating impeachment proceedings or would vote to convict him.

Falcigno, the senate pro tempore, said the signatories comprise more than a two-thirds majority of senators.

“It should be noted that as it will stand on Monday evening, there will be a total of 43 Senators with one vacancy,” he said in an email. “This means that in order to successfully convict a member of the SA through the impeachment process, only 29 members of the senate need to vote in the affirmative to convict and remove from office.”

He said in an interview that he personally believes Brookins should resign.

“I don’t know how someone could effectively lead the SA after this, I think all options are on the table,” he said. “And that’s something we’re really going to be looking into because we want to make sure that any process we initiate is done by the book, done correctly and done fairly. And I think that really helps us rebuild trust and confidence in the Student Association and in its leaders.”

Brookins doesn’t resign, faces censure
If the senate chooses not to proceed with impeachment, the body could choose to issue a formal disapproval.

The body must forward censure charges to an accused SA official at least five days before the censure vote would be held, according to the constitution. Any elected SA official may be censured by a two-thirds vote of the senate for failing to “fulfill their duties and responsibilities,” the constitution states.

Should the body present censure charges against Brookins, he would have the opportunity to answer the charges before a vote is taken and would have the right to counsel. The senate would then decide any penalties resulting from the censure vote, barring removing the accused official from office, according to the constitution.

“Invocation of this provision by the Student Association Senate shall in no way preclude further action from being taken by the Senate under any other provision of this constitution,” the constitution states.

This post has been updated to correct the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that a senator would present evidence against Brookins in the event of an impeachment trial. The SA’s bylaws state an individual who is not a senator will present the prosecution on behalf of the senate. We regret this error.

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