By Daniel Johnson-Kim, Editor in Chief
New Students’ Association President Sarah Pulis said the SA Congress is focused on looking forward and moving past the impeachment of her predecessor Daniel Paul Watkins, which rose after long-lasting issues among the Cabinet members.
In her first interview since she became SA President, Pulis, senior political science major from Longview, argued the impeachment was a legitimate process that was a final solution to resolve issues of unethical behavior, deception and divisive actions by Watkins, senior political science major from Fredericksburg, Va.
“I think that the impeachment was the right decision, not only for our Cabinet, but our student body,” Pulis said.
The Students’ Association Congress voted 25-5-2 to impeach Watkins on March 4. In the impeachment hearing, which was closed to the public, Chief Financial Officer Luke Cochran charged Watkins with failure “to lead the Students’ Association in a positive manner,” accused him of “disrespect for the Abilene Christian University community” and said he did not “adhere to the ethical standards of conduct as noted in the Abilene Christian University Campus Policies.”
Cochran said Watkins also damaged a chair worth more than $250 and damaged a framed picture in the SA Congress office that would have cost more than $200 to replace. Cochran said rather than spend students’ money on replacing the frame, the Cabinet members chose to purchase a cheaper frame.
Watkins refuted the charges and declared the impeachment was unconstitutional because less than three-quarters of the SA Congress participated in the final vote. He said the charges were not impeachable offenses, according to the SA Constitution and By-Laws, the governing documents of ACU’s student government.
Watkins said he was looking at ways to challenge the decision, but no such process currently exists in the SA Constitution.
“I’m relying on God to be on my side and deliver justice,” Watkins said.
Cochran, junior accounting major from Round Rock, refuted Watkins’ claim that the action was unconstitutional and said all of the Cabinet members and SA advisers Dr. Jean Noel Thompson, vice president, and Dr. Jeff Arrington, dean of Student Life, agreed on the legality of the impeachment process.
“It was not personal,” Cochran said. “The impeachment process was agreed upon by everyone, including Daniel Paul.”
Cochran said issues between Watkins and other Cabinet members began during the first month of his term as SA president, and the impeachment was a last resort to resolve those issues after several attempts of reconciliation throughout the year.
Pulis confirmed there were issues between Watkins and other Cabinet members that stemmed from Watkins’ inappropriate behavior, but neither Cochran or Pulis would discuss specific examples of Watkins’ actions.
“Because of the closed nature of the meeting and the fact that specifics were known to be confidential at the time, I don’t feel comfortable disclosing that information,” Cochran said.
Parliamentarian Caleb Archer, the only Cabinet member who voted not to continue the impeachment process, acknowledged that Watkins’ leadership style may have been “divisive,” but he thought impeachment was an unnecessary approach.
Archer said he is a close friend of Watkins, but his private relationship has not created tension in the SA Congress office after the impeachment.
Watkins cleaned out his former office Thursday evening and said he has not been by the SA Congress office and does not plan to attend SA Congress meetings in the future.
Cochran said he has pointed inquiring students to the stories that printed in the Optimist to find out what happened in the hearing. He said he has chosen not to privately discuss what happened in the impeachment hearing.
Watkins said he has not had any negative encounters with faculty or staff and has not discussed the impeachment much. He said he has encountered some Congress members who voted to impeach him, and they have discussed spring break more than the impeachment. He said he has smoothly made the transition back to life as a student who is not a representative of the student body and has confidence in Pulis and Congress to continue to advocate for the student body.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a regular student, so it doesn’t feel incredibly different,” Watkins said.
Pulis said Congress will discuss when to conduct a general election to replace the vacant vice president position.