This op-ed was written as part of a two-sided debate series. The opposing argument can be found here.
During last spring’s Student Government Association (SGA) elections, I was one of the members of the Wheel’s Editorial Board to interview Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C). Ma impressed me with his detailed and articulate vision, which aimed to bridge gaps between international and domestic students and increase transparency. The effort that Ma put into campaigning was unmatched, and I respected his genuine outreach to students. Putting aside concerns about his relative lack of student government experience and alleged ethical violations, I voted for him.
Unfortunately, Ma’s tenure has revealed that vote to be the wrong decision. His promises to run a more accountable SGA fell flat, as he presided over a failed audit and has not offered a solution to an over-allocation of thousands of dollars in student funding. Rather than work with student government to rectify these issues, Ma instead fired those who expressed disagreement, including Chief of Staff Ben Palmer (18Ox, 20C) and Elections Board Chair Justin Cohen (20C), whom he reinstated after a invalid dismissal.
Finally, SGA Vice President of Communications Tiffany Haas (19C) recently alleged that Ma sent threatening and intimidating messages to her. Individually, each of Ma’s actions is troubling. Collectively, they reveal an individual unfit to hold the SGA presidency and who has committed the “gross unethical behavior, [or] abuse of power” required for impeachment. At the Thursday impeachment hearing, SGA legislators should take the necessary and appropriate action of impeaching Ma.
As a president, Ma demonstrates a startling lack of accountability and capability in carrying out SGA’s core function of allocating money to student organizations. His erratic decisions and poor leadership have been notable, including his quickly aborted investigation into College Council’s finances last summer. Ma had neither the authority nor the appropriate evidence to undertake the investigation, and its failure later proved ironic when SGA’s over-allocation of $28,000 in student funds came to light. Ma failed to realize this blunder until January.
Additionally, Ma attempted to circumvent the Finance Code by vetoing the budget passed by the previous SGA administration, with the intent of reallocating funds from College Council to BBA Council. When that gambit failed and SGA decided to instead conduct a semester-long audit, Ma was conspicuously absent from informational meetings, allowing BBA Council President Jay Krishnaswamy (16Ox, 19B) to unduly influence the process and likely contributing to the audit’s ultimate failure. Emory students deserve a president with sufficient knowledge of the Finance Code to ensure that their Student Activities Fee (SAF) is allocated equitably and effectively.
The position of SGA president requires a willingness to work with divisional council representatives and SGA officials with divergent viewpoints and interests. Ma lacks this attribute, as demonstrated by his firing of three SGA officers. The firings of, Vice President of Finance Paul Park (17Ox, 19B), Palmer, and Cohen occurred under different circumstances, but all began with simple disagreements that escalated into needlessly heated confrontations. Though SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C) opposed Ma in each case, the firings occurred without consulting the legislature or other members of his executive board. While Ma possesses the right to pick members of his own cabinet, his actions defeat the purpose of the these positions, which exist to provide honest feedback rather than unconditional agreement.
The Constitutional Council found that Ma’s firing of Cohen violated the separation of powers laid out in the SGA constitution, which states that the legislature, not Ma, has the power to oversee the Board of Elections. At the Constitutional Council hearing concerning the matter, Ma failed to reasonably explain why a disagreement over the timing of elections warranted Cohen’s firing. Ma’s justification is further belied by his underhanded attempts to install a fourth justice to the court last week and to cancel the hearing by reinstating Cohen just one hour before it began.
Similarly, allegations that Ma threatened and intimidated Haas concerning her control over official SGA communications are extremely concerning and deserve a thorough investigation. However, such allegations aren’t surprising, as Ma previously threatened to sue the Wheel for defamation due to its elections coverage. Ma’s decisions create a disturbing pattern: he attacks those charged with holding him accountable instead of accepting responsibility for his mistakes. This norm may prevail in national politics, but it should not in our student government.
When Emory’s student body voted for Ma as their president, they voted for a candidate who promised to “create an SGA that is accessible and thus accountable to our student body.” Sadly, Ma’s campaign promises have not translated into realities. While a little over a month remains in Ma’s tenure, we cannot let someone with such an erratic governing style remain in office. SGA is in desperate need of a shift towards openness and accountability, a course correction which cannot take place with Ma at the helm.
Andrew Kliewer (20C) is from Dallas.