The Student Association’s executive cabinet voted Friday to permanently remove Christian Zidouemba as SA president and appoint Vice President Yan Xu in his place in an acting capacity.
In a letter to SA leaders, Xu said five executive cabinet members voted for Zidouemba’s permanent removal in a stunning move that could close out the shortest SA presidency in recent memory, barring a potential challenge in the Student Court. SA members said a lack of confidence in Zidouemba’s leadership and his alleged mishandling of the SA’s response to demands for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ firing from GW Law’s faculty led to the vote.
Xu, SA Legislator General Dylan Basescu, Chief of Staff Cordelia Scales, Treasurer Faheem Ahmad and Communications Director Aiza Saeed accounted for the votes, according to Xu’s letter, which he sent to the Student Court’s chief justice and the SA Senate’s chairperson pro tempore Friday.
“The Executive Cabinet have voted unanimously to determine that President Christian Zidouemba is permanently unable to execute the powers and responsibilities of the Office of the President,” the letter reads. “President Zidouemba has therefore been removed from office on July 1st, 2022 at 5:38 p.m. Eastern Time.”
The letter states Xu has immediately assumed “the duties of acting president” before he will become the permanent president one week later, despite later acknowledging in a statement to The Hatchet that Zidouemba is also still the current president.
SA Sen. Demetrius Apostolis, chairperson pro tempore and CCAS-U, will also become acting vice president if he accepts the position in a week, according to the letter. Two weeks after the two take on their new positions, Xu will be set to nominate a new vice president, which a two-thirds senate majority must approve, the letter states.
Zidouemba said he is “fully capable” of acting as SA president and disputes the legitimacy of his removal because one of his two chiefs of staff, Keanu Rowe, was not present for the vote, which is required to be unanimous for the removal of a sitting SA president. He said he fired Basescu and Scales “for failure to properly execute their duties” before Xu announced his removal, which he argues invalidates the move. But Xu’s letter indicates that Basescu and Scales voted before they were fired from the SA.
In a video that Zidouemba posted to Instagram, he stressed that he still holds his seat as SA president.
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“I’m still the president of the SA!” Zidouemba wrote in the caption of the post. “A power hungry cabinet is attempting to misuse Article 15 to remove me from power while I’m at work and can’t respond. I’m obviously not ‘permanently incapable’ of fulfilling my responsibilities and will ALWAYS work to represent students!”
The executive cabinet – which consists of the vice president, chief of staff, legislator general, treasurer and communications director – can vote to decide if the president is “temporarily or permanently unable to execute the powers and responsibilities of the Office of the President,” according to the removal procedures under Article 15 of the SA Constitution.
Xu said the senate should hold a public hearing with executive cabinet members to explain their reasoning for the removal vote. He said cabinet members approached him with concerns about “mistreatments” from Zidouemba and requested to hold an emergency meeting, where they ultimately voted to remove him from office.
He said he will “defer” to the Student Court to handle the constitutional and political nature of the issue.
In an initial statement to The Hatchet, Xu said he would not alter the structure of the executive branch during his time as acting president, but he revoked those comments in a subsequent statement shared moments later.
“I encourage all members of the public and press to treat all involved parties with kindness and grace, wait patiently for a clearer picture to emerge and not propagate hateful or harmful rumors in the meantime,” he said in an email to The Hatchet. “I take the legitimacy of our democratic institution very seriously. The student body ought to have the final say in who represents them.”
Basescu, the legislator general, said Zidouemba had previously threatened to fire SA members if they included their SA positions in an open letter calling on GW to fire Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas from his role as a lecturer at GW Law after the overturn of Roe v. Wade. He said Zidouemba eventually allowed SA members to sign the letter with their SA titles attached, and the letter lists eight cabinet members, including Scales, as signees.
“The only reason this was invoked is that I disagreed with them on one course of action,” Zidouemba said in an email to The Hatchet.
Xu’s letter states the executive cabinet voted to remove Zidouemba at 5:38 p.m., less than 15 minutes before Zidouemba fired Basescu and Scales at 5:52 p.m. in an email to SA leaders, which was obtained by The Hatchet. Scales said Xu submitted the letter of removal at 6:05 p.m. to Student Court Chief Justice Devin Eager and Apostolis, the chairperson pro tempore and CCAS-U.
In an email sent to SA members and circulated via social media Friday night, Eager said he has “several concerns” about Zidouemba’s removal from office. The email states Xu misinterpreted Article 15 when he said he and Apostolis would assume their new positions in seven days.
Eager declined to comment further.
Apostolis issued a statement via Instagram Saturday morning, saying he had no prior knowledge of the vote to remove Zidouemba, and he is not assuming the role of vice president. He reiterated that Zidouemba remains the president of the SA.
Basescu said Zidouemba made “erratic and wild and unreasonable threats” to fire him and Scales leading up to Friday evening.
Basescu said he is “prepared to litigate” the removal, especially against Zidouemba’s argument that only one of his two chiefs of staff was present at the vote. The SA Constitution does not state whether both chiefs of staff, if two people hold chief of staff positions, must participate in a removal vote.
“After hearing the evidence and deliberating upon it fairly extensively, we came to the conclusion that this was a necessary step to take,” Basescu said in an interview. “So this was about the holistic performance of the executive branch and about Christian’s ability to work effectively with those around him.”
Basescu said he hopes the SA will “persevere” through Zidouemba’s removal to continue serving GW.
“If the president had chosen to appoint only one chief of staff, as is typical, that’s the person that would have been required,” Basescu said. “But he chose to appoint two chiefs of staff, and the chief of staff did vote to remove him, Cordelia Scales.”
Scales said Zidouemba became “difficult to work with,” threatening cabinet members’ positions and creating a “manipulative environment.” She said Zidouemba fired her before he received notification of his removal, but after the vote had taken place.
“He’s always said that if we take an action permitted by the governing documents, but he doesn’t like it, he will kick us out of the SA and work with the administration to make sure we never work for the SA again,” Scales said in a statement to The Hatchet.
Zach Blackburn contributed reporting.