The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) says they removed embattled president Coden Nikbakht from his position, but it wasn’t because of sexual assault allegations levied against him in March.
The USSU released a statement Tuesday morning saying Nikbakht was “no longer president” because of “personal circumstances” and that a byelection to replace him and fill open positions would be planned.
USSU General Manager Caroline Cottrell confirmed the decision was made because Nikbakht was no longer a “student in good standing,” and according to the union’s bylaws he couldn’t continue in his role.
Nikbakht was embroiled in controversy after he ran unopposed for USSU president in March. Two Facebook posts made on behalf of anonymous friends accused him of sexual assault, prompting protests on campus calling for his removal. David D’Eon, student president at the time, also refused to participate in the transfer of power.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Nikbakht told 650 CKOM the allegations were false and a “malicious attack.”
“When it came out I was bewildered, I was appalled,” he said. “I never imagined the opposition would go to that extent.”
But he said the stress of facing the accusation forced him to seek academic accommodations to allow him to pursue his course work beyond the end of term and into the summer.
Nikbakht said he felt uncomfortable in the classroom because many of the students who protested for his removal were taking the same courses, and he alleges they harrassed him by holding posters and creating social media pages calling him names.
“Campus wasn’t a safe place for me,” he said, noting he had a meeting with U of S vice-provost Patti McDougall and president Peter Stoicheff to discuss his options.
“I expressed that I’m now missing class, and I don’t feel like this is fair when it’s other’s people’s actions that’s causing this,” he said. “They assured me they’d make full accommodations.”
However, Nikbakht said when he went to register for the one class he would take in the fall term while serving as president, the College of Arts and Science wouldn’t let him — citing his incomplete courses from second term.
Nikbakht said he was issued a Requirement to Withdraw (RTD), which would force him out of class for a full year.
He added that 90 per cent of his coursework for his accommodated classes was complete, and he was ready to write the final exams and move on to his new course. He said he didn’t receive any communication about the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to register.
Nikbahkt told 650 CKOM he tried to resolve the issue with the college’s dean and contacted Stoicheff, but they wouldn’t reverse their decision.
“It was my understanding that I had the full support of administration and anyone involved in this, that I would have my academic success assured,” Nikbakht said.”But I was wrong.”
He said later Friday evening he returned to his USSU office and discovered he had been locked out of his email and presidential social media accounts. When he asked staff what was happening, he found out he had been removed.
“I was told I needed to leave, and that I was no longer president,” he said.
In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, vice provost Patti McDougall confirmed she and Stoicheff met with Nikbakht in March to discuss the situation he was facing.
She said her role was to “activate” the staff who could help Nikbakht develop a plan for his academics, but she wasn’t directly involved in providing accommodations.
She noted students who face an RTD are notified by email of the situation, along with an explanation of an appeal process which could nullify the RTD. She said students who aren’t eligible for the fall term are notified in June, and are able to appeal by Aug. 1.
Nikbakht said he wasn’t informed until he tried to register for classes on Friday.
“There’s a lot of things happening here that aren’t transparent and aren’t out front,” he said. “Promises that were made initially have, for whatever reason, been pulled away.”
Nikbakht added he is working with a lawyer on legal action against the USSU and U of S over the situation, while also communicating with Saskatoon police on an investigation into the allegations made against him.
U of R student president steps down
In an unrelated move the same day, the University of Regina Students’ Union president stepped down from his position.
Haris Khan was voted in May 2018 to become the next president. He was the vice-president of external affairs in 2017.
A statement from the union Tuesday said Khan decided to step down to personal and family reasons.
A byelection will be held in October to fill the president position as well as other vacancies.