A lawsuit and a legacy: A look at past Student Government Association presidents

There have now been 89 administrations of the Student Government Association, each being led by a president elected by the student body. Two presidents stick out as influential members of Georgia State’s history, both serving at a time of substantial change and transition for the expanding university.



Would you believe that Georgia State once had an SGA president so controversial that The Signal dedicated five pages of coverage in one issue simply for a Q&A between a reporter and this president?

It’s true, he exists, and his name is John Knapp. Attending Georgia State from 1976 to 1981, Knapp held the SGA presidency in 1979. In the April 30, 1979 issue, Knapp and reporter Bruce Dunbar discussed high tensions between the president and the publication.

This discussion included talk about an editorial The Signal wrote that claimed Knapp inserted campaign flyers in recent issues. Having placed them inside would have been illegal, as this would be advertising he had not paid for. 

Knapp denied this and said the flyers were placed between the issues, but not in them, which was not illegal. 

“Let me tell you something about that. That was the most irresponsible piece of yellow journalism I’ve ever seen in my life,” Knapp said in the 1979 interview.

Yet, a year later in 1980, Knapp would be not only writing for The Signal, but would be leading it as editor.

“[I] was disappointed in the quality of the newspaper, and I felt like the newspaper should do a better job,” Knapp said in a recent interview. “So, I decided that I could apply for the job and maybe we could bring some fresh ideas and new ways of thinking to the newspaper.”

When Knapp arrived as editor, he recognized that he had disagreements in the past with many of the current staff members and accordingly called an all-staff meeting.

He told the room, “Anyone who had a position at the newspaper prior to my arrival will still have that position but you’ll have to recognize that I am the new editor.’” 

Almost everyone walked out. 

Knapp said he thinks the staff thought the issue wouldn’t go out the following week without their help. However, Knapp was prepared and invited the journalism students he knew who had wanted to be part of the paper in the past to put the next week’s issue together and sure enough it made it to the newsstands. 

The Signal wasn’t the only media organization Knapp feuded with as president. In Dec. 1979, Atlanta Magazine wrote an article about Knapp’s controversial appointments. They soon saw Knapp in court when he sued them for $150,000 in damages for inaccuracies in the story, causing him “public scandal.”

But how did the case end?

“I was successful,” Knapp said. “They did pay me a settlement and write a letter of apology.”

Fate – or a good business deal rather – led him back to Georgia State in 2006 when he came to work as both a professor and the director for the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility. Knapp established an interdisciplinary center in order to incorporate and emphasize the importance of learning ethics into business practices at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Today, Knapp is president of Washington and Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania and thinks his past positions help him better play his new presidential role.

“It’s my policy today as a college president to ask the Student Government Association to take on issues that are important to students,” he said. “I do think that you need the wisdom of the students you serve and the student government leaders, when they are empowered properly, have the opportunity to bring something to the table that only students can bring.”

Knapp has recently brought a few issues to the SGA on his campus and asked them to think the problem through before he makes a decision. 

“In those cases we actually follow the students’ advice because they were very diligent in taking that responsibility seriously,” he said. “[I] don’t know if I would have thought that way had I not been in that role as an undergraduate myself.”



In the Feb. 14, 1984 issue of The Signal, Dexter Warrior was introduced as a candidate for SGA president alongside two competitors: David Adcock and David Lubel. 

Candidates were given a quiz to test their knowledge on SGA, Georgia State and the University System of Georgia. His competitors scored 72 and 68, respectively.

Warrior received the highest score at 84.

Warrior was involved with SGA for three years, which he believed to be a big strength in comparison to his opponents, as he had first served as a senator and executive vice president.

“By building on this and my own qualifications as a leader I think I have just as much if not more knowledge of the senate than the other candidates,” Warrior said in 1984.

Today, his reflection is the same. 

“It was 35 years ago, 1984,” Warrior said. “I had a desire to serve. I didn’t know it would eventually lead to becoming president of the SGA but I felt I was qualified to run for president, so I did.”

Warrior would later win with 63 percent of the vote, a victory that didn’t require a runoff, something he is proud of to this day. He came prepared with several years of experience under his belt before taking on the presidency and attributes that to his success. 

“If you want to call it old-school thinking, I’m from the mindset that I want to be prepared for an assignment when I take it on,” he said. 

The 1984 Rampway identified that Warrior had become the first black president in campus history.

“That was an accomplishment. Back then, the Georgia State population was easily 80 percent white students,” he said.

Warrior remembered that one big initiative he took on as president was getting telephones installed on campus so students wouldn’t have to find a payphone to make a call. Yet, he realizes how antiquated this success was today.

“I don’t think I would be where I’m at today had I not gone through the experiences I had at Georgia State,” he said.

Warrior recounted his struggles, including failing his English class his first year. Today, he sees that it was probably good he failed the class because it forced him to develop his writing skills. 

He still has ties to the university through the Honorary Real Estate Council. Warrior served under three university presidents – Noah Langdale as SGA president and on the Foundation Board as an alumni member for Carl Patton and Mark Becker.

Warrior thinks the primary function of SGA is to represent all students including graduate and Perimeter campus students. Their role is the same as the university’s role: to improve student success. But, with SGA, the priority is on the student perspective – which might include things the administration can’t see. 

“With 50,000 students, that’s not an easy task,” he said. “The question [for student leaders] is: Are we aspiring toward those goals in our organizations to try and make sure I’m leaving it at least a little better than I found it?”