Oxford Union president Brendan McGrath resigned on Tuesday evening, issuing a public statement. McGrath was widely condemned for his treatment of Ebenezer Azamati, a blind postgraduate student, with the events attracting scrutiny by international media and numerous politicians.
McGrath’s resignation comes after the resignation of the Secretary, Chengkai Xie, the Director of Press, the Director of Operations, the Chief of Staff, two members of Standing Committee and a member of the Secretary’s Committee, amid calls to resign from the incumbent Librarian and Treasurer. A motion of impeachment against McGrath on Tuesday morning reached the required 150 signatures needed for an vote in a matter of hours.
In his resignation statement, released on Tuesday evening, McGrath said: “Fundamentally, it is the President’s job to ensure that every Member feels welcome at the Oxford Union. This is a goal I have manifestly failed to reach. For all my shortcomings, and all of my mistakes, I apologise profusely and unqualifiedly.
“From start to finish, managing the response to Mr Azamati’s eviction from the No Confidence debate has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever been charged with. I was asked, on the basis of accounts from those present, to bring a disciplinary complaint against Mr Azamati on behalf of a member of staff. I was advised that this was my responsibility as President: to represent the staff in an area in which they cannot represent themselves. This obligation to the Union’s staff is integral to my Office, but I should have recognised a wider obligation.
“The right response would not have begun with prosecution and apportioning blame, it would have been addressed immediately in the extreme distress of all involved, and pursued constructive solutions to the institutional problems highlighted.
“I can only hope that my relative public silence is not interpreted as being uncaring, or taking the matter lightly. My priorities have always been to make this right, as far as that is possible, in Mr Azamati’s eyes; to address his concerns personally; and to ensure that the Union body understands what has happened, and takes comprehensive action to make the Union a society which its Members can be proud of. I have not wanted to make a statement which would endanger those ongoing discussions with Mr Azamati.
“The measures I have proposed include a full, public, and independent review of the Union’s policies in respect of disability, to be conducted with the assistance of the Disability Advisory Service. We as the Standing Committee have taken immediate action to publicise a disability policy, but we must recognise that this problem requires intensive and expert review. I have proposed a professional review of how the Union trains its staff, particularly whether the current security system is fit for the purpose of a student society. I have proposed regular equalities training, on a termly basis, for the Union’s staff and committee, with the aim of fostering a culture of respect and inclusion.
“The society cannot recover with one resignation. I trust that you, and future members of the Standing Committee, will follow through on these measures earnestly.”
Harry Hatwell, who raised a Point of Order immediately after the incident to ask for an investigation and also recently gave evidence in defence of Mr Azamati, brought the impeachment motion to members. Hatwell and Nwamaka Ogbonna, President of the Oxford University Africa Society, told Cherwell: “We are glad that the President, Mr Brendan McGrath, has made the right decision to resign. The fact that nearly 300 students signed the impeachment motion today shows how important these issues are to the Union’s membership.
“We are aware there is still much more work to be done. The Union has still not publicly apologised for the incident or arranged for an investigation.
“The new Acting President, Sara Dube, must immediately do so. We will continue to push for meaningful reform and look forward to discussing this with the Acting President.”
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