Dwight Ma (17Ox, 19C) emerged as a refreshing underdog candidate for Student Government Association (SGA) president last Spring. He made bold promises to increase transparency and accountability in student government, and inspired students to vote against his more experienced opponent. Unfortunately, nine months into Ma’s tenure, his presidency has been characterized by anything but accountability. In the past, the Editorial Board has criticized Ma for his failure to live up to his platform. However, Ma’s latest action, firing Elections Board Chair Justin Cohen (20C), crossed a line by clearly violating the Code of Elections and the SGA Constitution. Ma’s election promises have fallen flat; he is no revolutionary, only power-hungry and incompetent. The SGA legislature must fulfill its obligations to the student body by reclaiming authority over the elections process and immediately beginning impeachment proceedings.
The SGA legislature is tasked with overseeing elections, but the constitution permits it to designate that power to an elections board. Since Ma is a member of the executive branch, he lacks the authority over the Elections Board and thus cannot legitimately fire Cohen. Furthermore, the removal of an Elections Board chair requires a two-thirds vote by the SGA legislature, per the Code of Elections.
Ma blatantly disregarded SGA’s governing documents. His unconstitutional usurpation of the legislature’s power is especially troubling given issues the Board faced in last Spring’s elections. Instead of preserving the Board’s independence, Ma has called into question their impartiality should Cohen’s firing proceed. And by firing Cohen just months before the elections, Ma risks allowing last year’s failures to recur.
Ma’s decision to fire Cohen was spurred by disagreement over the timing of the Spring 2019 elections. However, this move is not the first time that he has poached those who disagree with him. Ma fired SGA Chief of Staff Ben Palmer (18Ox, 20C) in December, and recently removed vice president of Finance Paul Park (17Ox, 19B). While within his prerogative, those actions represent a stark departure from his goal articulated to the Wheel during his presidential campaign to listen to and collaborate with others. These and other actions Ma has taken as president, including threatening College Council (CC) with a probe into its allocation of funds while denying the Wheel access to the public documents associated with that investigation, undercut his promise of an SGA executive board that remains “accessible and accountable to their electorate after the election.”
This is not to deny that Ma has made the office of SGA president more accessible to the general Emory population. Ma has repeatedly attempted to branch out to Emory students by hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, holding office hours and escorting students stuck in the rain without umbrellas to their destinations. Ma has been an approachable president with good relations across much of the student body. As a person, Ma’s casual demeanor and social media presence have brought people from different sectors of Emory together.
But Ma’s leadership has been defined by a lack of accountability, including the aforementioned ill-conceived investigation into CC and threats of legal action against the Wheel for negative coverage. As divisional councils sought to change the allocation of the Student Activity Fee (SAF), Ma failed to lead deliberations in an open manner, instead co-sponsoring a bill to push through changes with little debate by suspending the Finance Code. In addition, Ma’s lack of transparency during the undergraduate club audit further suggests that he is not suited to serve as president. His failure to supervise an unethical and inaccurate audit set a poor precedent and harmed the student body’s faith in our elected officials going forward. That Ma did not moderate or even attend the SGA town hall about the audit, when he oversees the entire organization, allowed BBA Council President Jay Krishnaswamy (16Ox, 19B) to influence the audit process despite his role as a divisional council president, which gave him a vested interest in the audit’s result.
Should Ma leave office, SGA Executive Vice President John Priddy (19C) would replace him. Priddy is more suitable for the role and has openly opposed Ma’s erratic actions. Even though Ma only has two months left in his term, the stability of this years’ SGA elections are vital to the future of good student governance. We cannot leave them in the hands of a student whose leadership style is more erratic than his hair.
For the good of the Emory student body, we implore student legislators to rein in a president who continually discredits student government by failing to adhere to its most basic provisions.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Isaiah Sirois, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei. Kimia Tabatabaei is a freshman legislator on College Council and recused herself from this piece.