author: ethan williams | staff writer
Facebook spat lands URSU president in hot water
DISCLAIMER: Our Editor-in-Chief, John Loeppky, is a part of this story
A war of words on social media involving the University of Regina Students’ Union [URSU] president Jermain McKenzie caused a bit of a stir this past week, with many people jumping in on the conversation.
On his personal Facebook page on Feb. 5, McKenzie shared an article from the Manitoban, the University of Manitoba student-run newspaper, announcing that the University of Manitoba Students’ Union had voted to continue their membership with the Canadian Federation of Students [CFS].
The CFS is a federation that lobbies for students’ rights across Canada. McKenzie commended the U of M Students’ Union for their decision, saying that he was “Glad to see students winning over petty politics.”
McKenzie’s comment, however, was challenged by Carillon Editor-in-Chief, John Loeppky, who claimed that there has been dysfunction within the CFS, and that they have ignored his needs.
“As a disabled person student I can confidently say they do nothing for me except ignore me as a human being during conversations in the owl [sic],” Loeppky was quoted as saying in the comments section of the post.
McKenzie and Loeppky then engaged in discussion about the matter, with McKenzie stating, “I am not interested in the personality politics and who felt slighted by who on a personal level.”
He then went on to say that URSU had worked to challenge the CFS in the past, namely by not paying fees to the federation.
But other students were not satisfied with McKenzie’s response. Some took to the comments section to blame McKenzie for not listening to Loeppky and his concerns.
Shawn Doll said that Loeppky was “expressing his views as he sees them and you [Jermain] seemed to have openly attacked those views and questioned his integrity.”
He then stated he believed it was a “personal attack” and seemed “out of line.”
At one point, McKenzie seemed annoyed that he was being challenged on the issue, and sent this reply to student Mark Matthies who accused him of attacking both Loeppky and another student:
“I take it from your comment that you are just here for kicks and giggles. Go and make a funny video and post to YouTube or whatever you do for attention.”
Matthies then replied to McKenzie, questioning his pointed response.
“I mean aren’t you supposed to represent us? Not belittle us for calling you on your mistakes as OUR (yours) student union?”
Another issue rising out of the conflict was the point regarding McKenzie’s direct affiliation with the CFS in terms of payment. McKenzie is paid by the CFS, as URSU is an affiliated institution with the federation.
Loeppky claimed that at URSU’s Annual General Meeting [AGM] last year, McKenzie was asked the question of whether the organization paid him for his involvement, at which point McKenzie reportedly told the crowd gathered that he was not paid.
McKenzie clarified on the Facebook thread that he was unaware at the time of any compensation from CFS but later understood that he would be receiving an honorarium.
Benjamin Berger was the student who asked that question at the AGM, and says that he felt he was lied to.
“As the AGM was a few months ago, I do not remember exactly what he stated. From my recollection, he reported that he does not get paid and receives zero dollars from the CFS. I do not believe he could have been referring to anything else. I think everyone was lied to. I asked Jermain if he was paid by the Canadian Federation of Students when Jermain seemed to be strongly supporting the CFS without reason. It seemed he had a conflict of interest in the matter. After learning that he does earn an honorarium from the CFS, I lost a lot of respect that I had for Jermain.”
He says that he has trouble believing that McKenzie was not aware that he was paid.
“I trusted him at the AGM and find it difficult to believe that he was not aware he would receive this payment. If he disclosed his honorarium and included valid facts as to why we should stay with CFS, I would not have had an issue with his position. Once URSU found out that Jermain receives payment from CFS, they should have come forward to clear the air. Not telling us made it look as though they were hiding something,” stated Berger.
Berger also mentioned that he felt McKenzie did not handle the discussion with Loeppky very well.
“I further lost the respect that I had for Jermain after seeing his demeaning and bullying comments toward students on Facebook. A ‘leader’ of our student body needs to be aware of how to properly engage with students on a public forum. He asked [Loeppky] to sit down with him and insulted [him] rather than addressing [his] claims.”
When asked if he felt if the CFS was doing its job advocating for students, Berger said he did not believe so.
“I do not hold a wealth of knowledge about the CFS and what they have done. In my opinion, that is part of the issue. In the four years that I have been a student at the U of R, the first time I heard about the CFS was at this year’s AGM. With that in mind, I do not believe the CFS is doing an adequate job for the students of the University of Regina.”
Jermain McKenzie was contacted for an interview regarding his comments; however, he did not return our request.
VP Student Affairs Shawn Wiskar posted that he, too, felt the CFS was not doing its job. Commenting on the post, responding to both McKenzie and another student who had defended him, Wiskar voiced his frustration with the organization.
“Nothing against you or jermain [sic], but this argument makes no sense […] the CFS refuses to recognize online voting and plebiscites.”
McKenzie said he didn’t appreciate “when someone plays politics with the truth.”
He added that the issue regarding post-secondary education institutions leaving the CFS was not just because of plebiscites, but because of other issues, including remittance of fees.
Upon asking Wiskar for his views on the matter, he declined to comment.
“Personally, I will just say that I have no comment at this time,” he replied.
VP Operations and Finance Derek Gagnon also declined to comment on the matter.
“The events that have recently taken place are under review. I don’t think it would be appropriate to comment at this time.”
URSU Arts Director Colton MacDonald met with Saskatoon West MP Sheri Benson as well as two other representatives from CFS on Feb. 7 to discuss post-secondary education.
“We discussed some important initiatives that would make education more accessible for all”, Benson said on her Facebook page.
McKenzie praised the meeting when he shared the post.
“The education system is in need of a great deal of reforms, but most of these reforms can’t take place without better funding for universities,” he wrote.
The CFS was formed in 1981. On its website, the organization states, “Students who are being pushed out of the current model of colleges and universities today are disproportionately Indigenous, racialized, queer and trans, people with disabilities, people raised in single-parent homes and people from low-income families. Our public education system must not further marginalize these communities. Education is a pathway to liberation.”
Stay tuned as the Carillon continues to monitor and provide updates to this story.