The Student Association Board of Directors spent six hours Tuesday night discussing the suspension of SA President Yousouf Amolegbe and voted against lifting his suspension. Close to 80 students –– many of whom came in support of Amolegbe –– watched, spoke and shared their thoughts during and after the meeting, which lasted from 6 p.m. Tuesday to 12 a.m. Wednesday.
Amolgebe was suspended on Jan. 31 due to conflict-of-interest violations, but insists he doesn’t deserve suspension and that he was not given a proper chance to defend himself before he was removed.
At the start of the meeting, for the first time since the investigation began on Nov. 22, the BOD explained its reasons for suspending Amolegbe. It did so by releasing the Rules, Administration and Government Oversight (RAGO) Committee’s investigation report, which found Amolegbe guilty of alleged conflict-of-interest violations related to his CEO position at RAGE Boyz, his entertainment company.
During the meeting, students criticized the report, questioned the suspension vote and alleged that Amolegbe was being held to a higher standard than his peers, specifically Vice President Georgia Hulbert, who students said has neglected office hours without reprimand.
Toward the end of the meeting, Amolegbe declared he would step down from his CEO role at RAGE Boyz if the suspension was lifted. Amolegbe’s promise surprised the crowd. Some BOD members who voted to suspend Amolegbe on Jan. 31 then voted to lift the suspension. Some called it “honorable,” and either an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or an effect of his “love” for SA.” Others weren’t swayed by Amolegbe’s promise.
The vote needed two-thirds majority to pass, meaning Amolegbe needed 13 votes in order to return to office. It failed; eight members voted to lift the suspension, five voted against it and six abstained.
Brandon Hoolihan, a member of the BOD, abstained from the vote to lift Amolegbe’s suspension. He voted in favor of suspending Amolegbe on Jan. 31.
“The reason I abstained from the vote to lift suspension was that there was a call to question almost immediately after Amolegbe told the board he’d step down from RAGE Boyz,” Hoolihan said. “I didn’t think that the board should vote to lift his suspension without discussing the ramifications of that.”
After the vote, the BOD struggled to reach a consensus on what to do next. At midnight, although some audience members wanted to keep the discussion going, the BOD voted to postpone the discussion and a possible new vote until its next meeting. As of Wednesday night, the BOD has not announced a time, date or place for the meeting.
“I did everything I could to find some sort of consensus,” said BOD Chairperson Hayden Gise. “The only way we can move forward is if some sort of conclusive consensus is had between the board. When we’re talking about suspending or unsuspending, we’re talking about a two-thirds vote threshold. If there is not [one] in either direction, there is nothing you can do.”
The BOD’s initial Jan. 31 suspension vote occurred when members determined Amolegbe had not followed two BOD recommendations: that he refrain from mixing future SA business, booking or social media with that of RAGE Boyz and that he update his conflict-of-interest form.
Some board members said they feared Amolegbe’s alleged conflict of interest would affect SA’s attempt to get tax-exempt status, as SA became incorporated in September.
Amolegbe said the RAGO committee’s report was flawed, but admitted that he made “some mistakes.”
“During my term as president, there are several mistakes I’ve made that I deserve to be held accountable by,” Amolegbe said. “The board has every right to hold me accountable for these certain infringements, although suspension is excessive and detrimental to myself, as well as the entire Student Association.”
The six-hour meeting left students exhausted, but increased the interest in the investigation and showed student support for Amolegbe.
Simi Oduntan, a senior economics major and an SA outreach coordinator, said she saw a divide within the UB community and wants to resolve suspension issues so SA can shift its focus to its events and celebrations instead.
“We came to see if there was a way, or if this was one of the avenues we could take, in order to reach a solution or a conclusion to this because Spring Fest is coming up and a lot of people need to be hired in the SA office,” Oduntan said. “It’s Black History Month and all these things that need to be celebrated aren’t being celebrated, rather we’re concentrating on this.”
At the start of the meeting, the BOD voted to release documents pertaining to Amolegbe’s suspension and shared the reasons for finding him guilty of alleged conflict-of-interest violations. While Amolegbe and an anonymous BOD member already explained RAGO’s findings to The Spectrum, this was the first time the documents became public.
The documents list nine violations RAGO said Amolegbe committed and that the BOD used as grounds for his suspension.
The BOD voted to suspend Amolegbe at the Jan. 31 meeting for not following two of the five recommendations the RAGO committee presented after its investigation: updating his conflict-of-interest form and “refraining” from associating any future SA business from RAGE Boyz.
Amolegbe updated his form before the Jan. 31 meeting and believed he had refrained from associating the two, without realizing the BOD considered listing his two roles in his Instagram biography to be a conflict.
The other recommendations included the BOD restricting Amolegbe from approving SA purchase orders or contracts with Michael Dare [DJ Mike West, Co-CEO of RAGE Boyz], a mediation session for the e-board and having “further actions” deliberated on by the BOD.
The RAGO committee found Amolegbe “negligent” in following the conflict-of-interest policy in these cases:
1) “The appearance of Michael Dare [West] during Spring Fest ‘19.”
2) “Admittedly failed to familiarize himself with the conflict-of-interest policy adopted by the board.”
3) “Failed to disclose RAGE Boyz Entertainment as a potential conflict of interest on the annual written conflict-of-interest policy.”
4) “Failure to disclose that [West] was a business partner and roommate of Amolegbe (as required by New York nonprofit law).”
5) “Reaching out directly to [University at] Albany’s booking agent whom Amolegbe had admittedly done business with through RAGE Boyz in attempt to pursue future business partnerships in his role as SA president.”
6) “Failure to disclose DJ Wire’s affiliation with RAGE Boyz to the board of directors previous to booking DJ Wire for Fall Fest.”
7) “Pursuing Fivio Foreign as an opener for trap fest even though Fivio Foreign was not listed on the student entertainment survey.”
8) “Facilitating a joint deal between SA and RAGE Boyz where Fivio Foreign would perform at a RAGE Boyz event the same night as [Nov. 8] SA Trap Fest, as well as failing to disclose this joint deal with the board of directors and professional staff.”
9) “Booking [West] for Gala, even after being made aware of the conflict of interest (as required by New York nonprofit law).”
The president’s response
Amolegbe spoke for 26 minutes and insisted he wants to continue as SA president. He repudiated the BOD’s allegations against him by reiterating what he told The Spectrum and wrote in his letter to the editor on Feb. 3. He says he was unaware his work at RAGE Boyz was a conflict and called his omission of West (whom Amolegbe says is a frequent SA vendor) on his conflict-of-interest form an “oversight.” He insists he changed his behavior quickly and believes the BOD did not give him sufficient warning of the allegations or time to defend himself.
The crowd was mostly in favor of lifting the suspension, as most offered Amolegbe clear support with cheers, snaps and public comments in his favor.
He also said the BOD made mistakes and omitted key details in its report. Amolegbe offered the following main points to defend his actions:
1) He said he did not invite West to Spring Fest 2019. Rather, West reached out to DJ Wire (whom SA hired to perform) to join him on stage. West, who was present at the meeting, confirmed this.
2) Once he learned of BOD worries about conflict of interest after Trap Fest, he says he took “necessary action” to avoid conflicts.
3) Amolegbe said he didn’t list RAGE Boyz as a conflict of interest because SA’s legal counsel told him it would not be a conflict as the two “don’t do business together in any capacity.”
4) He said all of West’s appearances were “group decisions,” made with the chief of staff, the SA e-board and the entertainment department. He says the former chief of staff hired West for Afro-Caribbean Fest, and that West has not received “extra benefit” from SA.
5) DJ Wire is not an affiliate of RAGE Boyz, but rather a vendor RAGE Boyz hires.
6) He sees nothing inappropriate about booking Fivio Foreign, even though the artist did not appear on the student entertainment survey. He does not believe the president is obliged to book students’ top choices. He said Fivio Foreign only became popular after the survey went out.
BOD members defended their decision to suspend Amolegbe, insisting they followed all SA bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Procedure.
Some BOD members said they needed to be careful about conflict-of-interest violations since SA applied for tax-exempt status as a not-for-profit.
BOD member Zackary Graham cited NYS not-for-profit corporation law Section 714 and 715, stating that suspending Amolegbe was in compliance with the law. Eric Weinman, chairman of the RAGO committee, said the IRS is particularly concerned with conflict-of-interest violations and could deny SA tax-exemption status if it discovered such violations.
“The reason this is all so important to the board is that this year we applied for tax-exempt status,” Graham said. “And the conflict-of-interest policy is one of the things they look at most vehemently when they’re assessing whether we get [that] status.”
In response, BOD members who abstained or voted against suspending Amolegbe at the Jan. 31 meeting had 10 combined minutes to speak.
BOD member Omran Albarazanchi, who abstained from the suspension vote on Jan. 31, said parts of the report were “flawed” and that Amolegbe’s alleged failure to comply with two of the BOD’s recommendations did not “constitute grounds for suspension.” Some BOD members who weren’t present at the Jan. 31 meeting or weren’t able to vote as they were new members of the BOD, said they thought Amolegbe wasn’t “given due process.”
SA Treasurer Kendra Harris said she voted against suspending Amolegbe during the BOD’s Jan. 31 meeting because she thought he had essentially done what the BOD asked. Harris said she oversaw Amolegbe signing a conflict-of-interest form before the Jan. 31 meeting and, therefore, thought the motion to suspend Amolegbe during the meeting was unjust.
“Because I saw [Amolegbe] sign the initial conflict-of-interest at that meeting with SA legal counsel Josh Korman, I felt like that was enough grounds for me to understand that [Amolegbe took the recommendations seriously],” Harris said at the meeting. “The only recommendation that was not fulfilled was recommendation three, which called for a mediation session between our SA e-board and the only reason that wasn’t executed was because [Hulbert] was away.”
Board members also discussed Amolegbe’s right to bring a lawyer to the Jan. 31 meeting. Some members argued that since SA counsel recommended Amolegbe bring a lawyer, he was made aware, while others argued that he wasn’t given “due process” since he didn’t know the BOD would vote on his suspension on Jan. 31.
After board deliberations, roughly 20 students spoke, most in favor of lifting the suspension, two in favor of maintaining it and one who lamented the “divisiveness” of the suspension.
A few students who spoke criticized the suspension, insisting SA and the student body hold black officials to a higher standard than white officials. Students cited previous instances of black students being questioned on their office hours, including previous Spectrum coverage where SA officials came forward about their peers’ office hours. Students also said Hulbert, who was at the meeting, is often absent from her scheduled office hours and is not held to the same standard as black officials like Amolegbe.
Hulbert declined to comment on the criticism.
Amolegbe, toward the end of the meeting, asked for students to avoid discussing Hulbert or other officers.
“If you support me, you need to stop any hate,” Amolegbe said.
Some students said comparing Amolegbe’s suspension with the alleged neglect of another e-board member was important to the discussion, while others said the discussions should’ve remained focused on Amolegbe.
“I feel like there was a lot going on,” board member Ameerah Ahmed said. “There wasn’t order as the board would say. That, I feel like, took a toll on the deliberation in a way.”
Other talking points included compliments to Amolegbe’s character and the changes he made to SA –– including the introduction of its legal counsel after the dissolution of Sub-Board I, his advocacy for the African and African American Studies program and the popularity of fest events under his leadership.
What happens next
The BOD decided it would meet again after the motion to lift Amolegbe’s suspension did not pass. At the BOD’s Jan. 31 meeting, 12 members voted in favor of suspension, one voted against and four abstained. Some members of the BOD changed their minds after hearing student concerns and Amolegbe’s promise to leave his RAGE Boyz position if the suspension was lifted, while others did not have a chance to vote or were absent at the previous meeting.
Gise motioned to postpone further action and deliberation.
“It’s 12:08 [a.m.] currently,” Gise said. “I did not see a scenario where we got to the other side of this tonight. I don’t think that that’s possible and I think the closest thing I can find to consensus is to give people, directors specifically, more time to let this sit with them.”
Albarazanchi said he was moved by Amolegbe’s promise to “step down” from RAGE Boyz as well as the audience’s dedication to the meeting. Albarazanchi abstained from the Jan. 31 suspension vote but voted to lift Amolegbe’s suspension on Tuesday. He said he hopes the BOD can unite and move forward, regardless of the action the BOD takes.
“I am extremely disappointed that we are at this stage where we have gridlock and I have to work in SA. I don’t want to see a divided SA,” Albarazanchi said. “Whatever we do, whatever action we take to [move] forward, I hope it’s one that brings us together.”
Jaycee Miller, a member of the RAGO committee and a member of the BOD, hopes the BOD will be able to cooperate in the future. Miller, who voted in favor of suspension on Jan. 31, voted to lift his suspension on Tuesday.
“I can only say I look forward to some future cooperation between the board members because after six hours, we ended in more or less gridlock so I’m hoping we take new information into account and approach the situation with compassion.”
The news desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brenton J. Blanchet is the 2019-20 editor-in-chief of The Spectrum. His work has appeared in Billboard, Clash Magazine, DJBooth, PopCrush, The Face and more. Ask him about Mariah Carey.
Julian Roberts-Grmela is a senior news editor for The Spectrum and an English and philosophy major. His favorite book is “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith and he hopes that one day his writing will be as good as hers.