author: john loeppky | editor-in-chief
Another scuffle for the books / Jaecy Bells
URSU’s replaced board chair speaks
URSU has been embroiled in their fair share of controversies over the last few months, one of which was URSU Chair of the Board and former URSU President, Devon Peters, not being rehired by the board. In effect, being removed.
In an interview, Peters said that his view of his removal was that members of the executive were uncomfortable with his presence during the previous year.
“I think there was a few factors. Obviously, having an old president in the room means there’s a lot of experience and perspective and I think that made some of the folks on the executive a little bit uncomfortable. I think the timing was a little bit questionable, given the fact that afterwards, during the same meeting, the contracts of the executive were discussed at length while I was no longer chairing the meeting and an executive was chairing it.”
It has been confirmed that the executive member who was chairing the meeting at the time of the contract discussion was Haris Khan. The issues with those contracts, particularly in terms of work hours, were covered by the Carillon previously.
Peters said one of the main issues at the board governance level was with conflict of interest, where someone’s personal wants are at odds with their professional obligations.
“During my year leading up to that point I’d been pretty aggressive about pointing out when people were in conflict of interest and on more than a few occasions that was the executive and I don’t think that they liked it very much.”
“When the previous board began discussing contracts for the new executive the old executive felt that it was important that they participate in the conversation and participating in a conversation is one thing, but there’s a difference between giving feedback and sitting in advocating voting on a decision.”
Peters was referring to executive members returning to their position lobbying for clauses to be changed and removed.
“When the previous board was advocating for having the internship disqualify you from having the day job of executive (not from having the position of executive) there was a lot of tension in the room.”
Peters highlighted how his professional judgment put his own position “at risk” because those he was calling in conflict were the ones with the power to remove him from his position as chair.
“Haris took over the role of chairing the meeting for me when I left the meeting. So, at the start of the meeting I was asked to be excused and Haris had sat down and while they were discussing my participation as chair, whether or not they wanted to rehire me, I was left in the lobby for about three hours. During that time I checked back in twice to see if a decision had been made and was told to wait.
After collecting his computer, Peters left without being told about his role as chair and was not told about his position until being informed by Khan a week later via email. During the time that Peters was outside of the meeting, URSU GM Carl Flis was also excused. Questions were then raised with him surrounding possible conflicts of interest in relation to the contracts and asking him advice about how to resolve an issue of such a magnitude.
“Dating back to my era URSU has had a problem with executives that are not completing work or are not working in good faith to the organization.”
Peters said that policies have empowered the board since then, but have been undercut by divisions related to personal relationships.
“URSU has banned slates from running but if you are able to convince friends to run then you run into that conflict of interest problem and I would say that URSU has a problem with conflict of interest and that because of those conflicts of interest, folks are either unwilling or at best slow to see when there’s issues with people not completing their hours of work, not completing the work that is expected of them, not doing much of anything at all, in some cases.”
Peters said that commitment to the position has been a problem dating back to his time transitioning into the URSU presidency
“I can remember when I was receiving my training jokes were being made about the level of work that you have to do sometimes and I found, once I got into the role, that there was an enormous amount of work to be done, but you have to be very self starting to find it and to make it happen. The problem for URSU is that if an executive chooses to not be self-starting and to not independently seek out new work then you can have an executive that does nothing and they continue to draw.
“The contracts as rewritten would have given the board some recourse, the option to terminate an employee while leaving them in their position and hiring someone who is willing or able to do the job, but because of the lobbying efforts of the current executive… the board is back to having very little power to control the operations of URSU.”
Peters noted that a number of the issues facing URSU are not unique in terms of student unions, including managing elections and the lack of respect shown by those who run for positions in regards to the rules. He also said that the board needs more training and that outside professionals should be hired in order to advise or give guidance.
“Without those kinds of voices in the room students don’t know how to do better, necessarily.”
Peters also pointed to the tension between the current executive and current general manager, Carl Flis, calling the relationship between the two groups, “complicated.”
“I think that Carl has shown prowess as a business manager and for some reason I think that is maligned by the current executive and I don’t understand why.”
Peters said that the human resources committee, “is being politicized in a way similar to the way that the board is.”
“I think it’s unfortunate, but I do think it is allowing discussions that didn’t have a place before. So, it’s at once valuable and I would say that it is going through growing pains.”
Peters said that students should be concerned with how URSU’s governance policies are operating.
“I think students really need to be concerned by the notion that there are opportunities for corruption within the organization. I’m not saying that there is, but URSU people operate with limited oversight and very few limitations on what they choose to do within their roles.”
He went on to say that these procedural limitations left students “not getting your money’s worth if you’re not holding people to a high standard.”
“I think URSU fixes this by promoting a culture of respect and compliance with the policies.”
When reached for comment, Interim President Jermain McKenzie replied in a message that, “Those are all board decisions,” and refused to elaborate further.