Abilene Christian Student Leader Ousted - Higher Education
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Abilene Christian Student Leader Ousted

by Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas

Abilene Christian University’s Black student body president has been impeached six months after he reported finding a noose on his chair, although students and officials say that had no connection to his ousting.

The Students’ Association Congress voted 25-5-2 Wednesday night to impeach Daniel Paul Watkins, saying he had not fulfilled the 20 hours of required work per week as an executive officer, was frequently late to meetings and talked to a professor disrespectfully.

Watkins said he “made a pretty compelling case” that he should remain in office, then was asked to leave the meeting. He said he was not disrespectful to anyone and was late and had missed some student government work when he broke his leg last fall.

Then members voted after he was out of the room for two hours, although the university’s constitution says impeachment requires a three-fourths vote of the entire student government body and all 43 members were not there. Then the association’s vice president was named the new president.

“It feels like the rules were changed in the middle of the process, but I didn’t know what my recourse was,” Watkins, 20, a political science major from Fredericksburg, Va., told The Associated Press by telephone Thursday. “It feels like there’s a concerted effort to get me out of office for whatever reason.”

In an e-mail to faculty, Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, the university’s vice president for student life and a co-adviser to the student government, said the impeachment process — a three-fourths vote of the members or those present — had been determined beforehand and adopted by the association’s cabinet, including Watkins. Thompson said the co-advisers met with the school’s attorneys to formulate the process because it was unclear in the bylaws.

Luke Cochran, the group’s chief financial officer who presented the “charges” against Watkins that came from multiple students, told the AP the impeachment had “absolutely nothing” to do with his race or the noose incident. He said problems with Watkins had been going on since early fall but declined further comment.

Watkins, the student body’s vice president last year, said many students congratulated him last spring after he was elected to the one-year term as president. He said he thought things were going smoothly with his fellow student government members. Still, he said he is not sure if race was a factor.

“I don’t look like other Student Association presidents, so it came down to a personal vendetta,” he said.

About 13 percent of the 4,700 students at Abilene Christian University are Black. The percentage of Black students has doubled over the past decade, said officials with the Church of Christ-affiliated university about 150 miles west of Fort Worth.

The impeachment has been the talk of the campus and in online networking sites, but many students have been offended by Watkins’ suggestions that his ouster may have been racially motivated, saying the majority of the mostly White student body elected him.

The story on the Web site of the university’s newspaper, The Optimist, was so popular it had more than 3,000 hits as of Thursday night, while top stories usually get about 300 hits, said editor Daniel Johnson-Kim.

In September, Watkins reported finding a noose in his campus office chair, which prompted an immediate investigation and denouncement from school administrators. Nooses evoke images of an era when Blacks were lynched in America.

University Police Chief Jimmy Ellison said the probe is continuing and was unrelated to the student government’s action.

Watkins said more than half of the allegations against him, including calling other faculty and staff members derogatory names, were brought up after he was forced to leave the meeting. He said he read about them in Thursday’s Abilene Reporter-News.

“I always thought the right to face your accusers was important,” he said.

Watkins said he will spend next week’s spring break back home in Virginia thinking and praying about the situation. Then Watkins, who plans to attend law school after he graduates in May, will decide whether to challenge his impeachment.

“No matter what happens, I want the truth to come out,” he said. “I don’t want hearsay and rumors to besmirch my reputation. What’s most important is that students at ACU are advocated for and a fair resolution comes about.”

A student body president has not left office mid-year at the university since 1942.

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