SGA removes Executive President from office

By RUDY MALCOM | February 21, 2019

file-photo

FILE PHOTO

The Student Government Association (SGA) voted to remove Executive President Noh Mebrahtu from office at their weekly meeting on Tuesday. The three-hour-long impeachment hearing was closed to the student body in accordance with SGA’s constitution. 

Though SGA has not yet released the voting data, its constitution states that at least two-thirds of all members must vote in favor of removal in order to dismiss another member. Therefore, at least two-thirds of SGA members must have voted to have Mebrahtu to be removed.

Former Executive Vice President AJ Tsang, now Mebrahtu’s successor, had presented impeachment charges against Mebrahtu the week before. Tsang had accused Mebrahtu of three main charges: neglecting his duties; appointing a suspended student to Chief of Staff; and repeated unethical behavior. The first and primary charge of neglecting duties accused Mebrahtu of failing to engage with SGA’s Senate and Executive board; to represent SGA to members of the administration; and to represent SGA in public settings.

Under SGA’s bylaws, The News-Letter filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the complete articles of impeachment last week. Internal Affairs (IA) Committee Chair and Senior Class Senator Jennifer Baron, who led the impeachment hearing, wrote in an email to The News-Letter, that she must work with SGA’s advisor Calvin Smith, Jr., before she can provide more details about the charges. 

She explained that some of the information in the 20-page document of impeachment charges, if released, could violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). FERPA is a U.S. federal law that safeguards the privacy of student education records.

Baron emphasized the importance of weighing transparency with confidentiality. 

“We believe in transparency to the students but also believe we must balance this request with the rights of individual students,” she wrote. 

Baron estimated in an interview with The News-Letter that SGA will release summaries of the articles within a week and a half. 

Mebrahtu said in an interview with The News-Letter that most of the charges against him were “slanderous,” echoing statements he made last week. 

According to Mebrahtu, only one or two accusations were legitimate. He stated that he was not aware that his chief of staff, whom he had hired to proofread his emails and help with speechwriting, had been suspended. 

Baron explained that SGA members did not determine which charges Mebrahtu was guilty of at the hearing. 

Instead, Baron said that she and other members of the IA Committee — Freshman Class Senators Alexander Forlenza and Kylie Sharron, Sophomore Class Senator Sam Mollin and Junior Class Senator Madelynn Wellons — presented evidence they had collected from phone calls and one-on-one interviews with witnesses. 

Although Mebrahtu planned to fight each accusation, as he told The News-Letter last week, he explained that he concluded during the hearing that doing so would be futile. 

“Halfway through the trial, I decided to give up on my defense. I didn’t think it was worth prying it out anymore. I felt like people’s biases and opinions had already been formed,” Mebrahtu said. “It was a narrative I couldn’t control.”

Mebrahtu believes that members of SGA were adhering to a false narrative. He admitted, however, that he failed to meet frequently with newly appointed Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka because of his own biases against the Office of the Dean of Student Life. 

He acknowledged that he did not make an effort to communicate with Ruzicka regularly because his relationship with the Office had been contentious in the past. 

Mebrahtu maintained that during his past semester, he chose to prioritize collaborations with administrators like Vice Provost Kevin Shollenberger and University President Ronald J. Daniels that he felt would be more productive. 

“I felt that it wasn’t super necessary, even though the constitution mandated it, to consistently work with the Office of Student Life,” he said. 

Mebrahtu added that the structure of the Hopkins administration added to his relationship with them.

“Student Life has too many layers of bureaucracy,” he said. 

Mebrahtu argued that he had developed positive relationships with both students and administrators as executive president. 

Because of lost emotional energy, Mebrahtu said that he regrets not resigning after the charges were presented against him, which he had initially planned to do.

“I regret how this will look and how it could be used to define all the work I’ve done, but I know that the public, a lot of administrators and a lot of people appreciate it. I don’t really have any regrets,” he said. 

Mebrahtu added that he believes that he did have many achievements during his time as SGA’s executive president.

“I came to SGA to be a student voice, to be a bridge, and in that regard, I know that I’ve accomplished a lot, regardless of whatever SGA thinks.”

He described the Smoking Cessation Resolution of September 2017 as one of his successes and noted that he will now have more free time to push personal initiatives. 

“I don’t really need SGA to be a student voice. I never really did,” he said. “It was just more convenient.”

Mebrahtu expressed his disappointment in the lack of influence the student body has on SGA outside of elections.

He believes that he would not have been removed had the impeachment articles and hearing been accessible to the student body. 

He called parts of the hearing a “personal attack.”

Senior Class Senator Akshay Bhamidipati, on the other hand, characterized the investigation as exceptionally thorough and impartial. 

Bhamidipati noted that the IA Committee considered everyone’s perspective, including people on both Mebrahtu’s and Tsang’s sides. 

Bhamidipati added that though the hearing was emotionally charged, SGA members remained professional.

“We didn’t put personal interests over students’ interests,” he said. “The people who elected us should be proud.”

Sophomore Class President Sam Schatmeyer echoed Bhamidipati’s sentiments in an interview with The News-Letter.

“It was one of the most professional meetings SGA has had,” he said. 

Tsang argued in an email to The News-Letter that SGA’s conduct throughout the impeachment process proves that it is a body that has retained its legitimacy.

“SGA is willing to stand up for its core values, and it’s willing to ensure that every single member of its body adheres, promotes and strengthens those core values, and that if an individual reneges on those values, that we hold them accountable,” he said. “No matter how emotionally straining the past few weeks have been, that gives me hope for the future.”

In an email to The News-Letter, Wellons shared Tsang’s point of view. 

“The only thing I can say for sure is that SGA members will hold their fellow senators more accountable for their actions,” she wrote.

Tsang explained that before the articles of impeachment were brought against Mebrahtu, he attempted to hold Mebrahtu accountable by trying to communicate with him in various ways. Tsang shared his disappointment in Mebrahtu’s lack of responsiveness, which he asserted led him to impeachment as a last resort.

Tsang added that he wishes that the SGA constitution had built more public access into transparency hearings, because he believes that transparency is crucial to sustaining democracy. 

For the future, he outlined his plans to increase SGA’s transparency in general, which will include making his schedule available to the student body and documenting meetings with administrators. 

Tsang also hopes to improve SGA’s institutional memory by better recording its successes and failures and to start outreach hours during which he would go to Brody and ask students what changes they want to see on campus.

“My predecessor was not very present in the lives and work of our senators. Going off of the engagement that I had as vice president, my hope as president is to continue to be engaged in the lives and policy work of the senators of SGA in every possible way that I can,“ Tsang said.

Tsang will nominate senators for the vice president position by Sunday, and then SGA will vote to choose one of the nominated senators this coming Tuesday. 

Schatmeyer hopes that changes under Tsang’s new leadership will improve the student body’s perception of SGA. 

He believes that Mebrahtu’s removal could distract students from the tangible work that SGA does. Schatmeyer also added that the impeachment process will give SGA new energy.

“We are a durable body, and we are resilient human beings,” he said. 

Schatmeyer believes that the way the meeting was handled demonstrated this resilience.

“That was a long and emotional meeting, but we made it out on the other side stronger.”

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