Top leaders of the Student Association’s executive branch announced Christian Zidouemba would be retaining the presidency after a vote to remove him from office led to more than a day of confusion, contention and chaos within the SA.
SA Vice President Yan Xu and Communications Director Aiza Saeed withdrew their votes to remove president Christian Zidouemba Saturday in separate emails to the chief justice of the Student Court, ending the controversy that began Friday afternoon when the executive cabinet unanimously voted to remove Zidouemba. Zidouemba, Xu and Saeed released a joint statement Saturday night reiterating that Zidouemba remains president and apologizing for the “confusion, uproar and unrest” the incident caused.
At least seven members of the SA’s executive branch have resigned in the wake of the episode, including Chief of Staff Cordelia Scales and Legislator General Dylan Basescu, two members of the executive cabinet who said they stand by their votes to remove Zidouemba from office.
The statement claims a “rumor” that Zidouemba was preparing to fire members of the executive branch because of policy disagreements sparked confusion and the vote of removal, but the statement claims the alleged firings were “clearly not” going to happen. Despite the statement’s rejection of the “rumor” of potential firings, Zidouemba sent emails firing Scales and Basescu Friday afternoon, even before he knew of the vote to remove him from office.
In statements following their resignations, several former cabinet members – including Senior Policy Advisor Edy Koenigs, dining services secretary Izzy Brophy and accessibility advocacy secretary Maddie Billet – each disputed the statement’s claim that Zidouemba never threatened to fire cabinet members.
“We, as a team, understand that the governing documents should not be used as a tool against the President—and each other—because members of the executive cabinet disagree with The President’s positions,” the statement reads.
Zidouemba did not return a request for comment.
Xu and Saeed said they “misunderstood” Article 15 of the Student Association constitution, which allows the president’s executive cabinet to unanimously vote to remove the president if they are unable to serve. After the executive cabinet unanimously voted to remove Zidouemba Friday evening, he questioned the constitutionality of the move.
The statement says Zidouemba and Xu are working to create “action-oriented plans” to restore SA operations and regain the trust of the student body. It states Zidouemba and Xu will meet with Dean of Students Colette Coleman and “reevaluate” the structure of the executive and legislative branches to put students first.
“Moving forward, members responsible for this crisis will not be part of the Student Association,” the statement reads.
Saeed said in an interview she did not understand the situation during the vote because it is her first year as part of the Student Association. She said during the meeting in which the five members of the executive cabinet deliberated on whether to remove Zidouemba, she thought she was going to be fired regardless of how she voted.
“They were just like, ‘You’re going to be fired regardless because he’s going to find out and he’s going to fire you,'” she said. “So I was genuinely just concerned and confused.”
Saeed said she later called Zidouemba to apologize, and he reassured her that he would not fire her. She said she hopes the SA improves its future communications.
“I want to inform you that I misunderstood the constitution because of the legislator general’s interpretation and description,” Saeed said in an email to the chief justice of the Student Court.
Saeed said SA members need to “put aside” personal disagreements in service of students.
“It’s like, we need to be there for the students,” she said. “Because how can they take us seriously if we’re not taking ourselves seriously?”
More than ten SA Senators submitted a petition to hold an emergency session early next week to evaluate the attempt to remove Zidouemba from office. The petition requests the meeting be convened by Chairperson Pro Tempore Demetrius Apostolis, CCAS-U, due to Xu’s “conflict of interest.”
The petition requests members of the executive cabinet appear for “questioning over their conduct.”
Seven cabinet members publicly announced their resignations over social media due to a lack of confidence in the organization and in Zidouemba.
In a statement following her resignation, former Chief of Staff Scales said Zidouemba’s presidency is rife with “bias, abuse of authority and attempts to undermine” the executive branch through “arbitrary and mass firings.” Scales said Zidouemba failed to timely notify SA members of upcoming meetings and “refused” to listen to women within the cabinet.
“His actions had become increasingly erratic, and you can’t get anything done while walking on eggshells,” she said in the statement.
Basescu, the former legislator general, said if the SA Senate asks him to testify on his “involvement in the removal proceedings,” he will ask the Senate to impeach Zidouemba. He said he will not attempt to formally litigate the removal vote that successfully removed Zidouemba under the SA’s constitution.
“All I can say is, I did my best,” Basescu said in his statement of resignation.
Billet, the former accessibility advocacy secretary, criticized Zidouemba in the comments of his post of the joint statement, saying he failed to effectively lead the SA.
“You pride yourself in being an SA outsider, and I thought I could trust you because so am I,” she said. “Instead, you consistently dropped the ball on communication and transparency with the senate and your own cabinet.”