URSU executive in turmoil
author: John Loeppky | Editor-in-Chief
Executive contracts a source of debate
In an effort to solidify the human resource policies of the University of Regina Students’ Union [URSU], a committee was set up last school year in order to clarify the responsibilities of URSU executive members within their employment contracts. Under suggested changes, URSU executives were unable to hold school-year internships because they were required to work twenty hours per week in the office during regular office hours, as per previous agreements.
Former President and current Vice President Student Affairs, Jermain McKenzie, is currently completing his education degree internship and would have been in violation of his contract if the board had accepted proposed agreements. The Carillon has confirmed that, upon reading the proposed new agreement three executive members, Haris Khan, Heather O’Watch, and Jermain McKenzie, spearheaded an effort to have the internship clause removed.
McKenzie said that he believes he is capable of handling both positions, despite the requirements, having been president for the last two years as a full-time student.
“As a student, when I was president in a more demanding role than the role that I’m currently filling, I was a full-time student taking five classes and I think, based on my performance as president, I would say that I was able to manage my academic responsibilities along with my responsibilities as president quite admirably. So, I don’t see there being an issue in me fulfilling my responsibilities as VP Student Affairs and doing my service position as a teacher-in-training.”
McKenzie also highlighted the intertwining of his two interests as part of his current workload.
“Education and representative politics are both passions of mine and they’re something that I’ve always had an interest so, for me, finding the time to do both, is not as stressful as it might seem for some people. I enjoy doing both things and spending my time here on the weekends or coming into the office and ensuring that I’m here during school hours. It’s not going to be a problem for me, personally.”
McKenzie further defended his position on the issue.
“The contract allows for exceptional circumstances for students and I would take it that an educational program that I’m enrolled in and required to pursue as an educational student would meet that requirement.”
URSU General Manager Carl Flis, had a different view.
“The reference is more to short term conflicts or problems, so if you can’t be here a day or two. Something that’s three months long or longer, I don’t see that as extenuating circumstances, but I guess it’s never been tested and the board has to make a judgment on that definition.”
Elsewhere on campus, for example as part of the Education Student Society by-laws, a student currently on an internship is barred from running for an executive position. This approach is one that McKenzie says is not a good example when compared to URSU’s policies.
“I don’t think that the requirement[s] of being part of the educational student council are so rigorous that it would mean that it’s impossible to fulfill the duties of that role while being an intern. Maybe it’s an old thinking that has never been challenged. Also, I think the nature of my job is different. Being an executive is not the same as being a front desk assistant, where you’re required to be at your desk a certain number of hours a day.”
Flis said that executive accountability has been an issue for some time.
“Some modifications to the executive employment agreement template, which would be used for this year and every other year going forward, and one of the modifications was the addition that, for example, they weren’t allowed to be involved in a practicum plus there was some modifications to the termination clause. So, the three of them [confirmed to be President Haris Khan, VP External Heather O’Watch, and McKenzie] managed to get some of that taken out of the agreement, basically reverted back to the previous agreement.”
The hours clause, Flis confirmed, is still an expectation of executive members to complete. He did confirm that McKenzie is not currently in violation of his contract in relation to his internship status.
“It’s not just Jermain, there are others who have been in violation of the expectations. Not only the expectations, but the requirements, as per URSU’s governing documents, to work twenty hours a week. It’s been an ongoing struggle for quite some time.”
Flis said that the main issue lies in the accountability procedures at URSU.
“The struggle is that I think when the 20/40 was put in place years ago I think you have to bear into account what was the intention back then and it was basically that this was a full-time position. Yet there were accommodations made for executives being students and that it wouldn’t necessarily always be a nine-to-five job, they put in a lot of hours after business hours attending events and whatever and that was all to be taken into account. I think over the last several years, though, that definition and that intent has become too loosely interpreted.”
Flis said that URSU’s accountability issues stem from the policies having a lack of teeth.
“Part of the problem is enforceability. So, the executive is accountable to the board and it’s up to the board that has to monitor compliance in various areas, whether it be the executive agreement or other policies and they need to hold their executives accountable to those.”
When asked if progress was being made in the area, Flis said that it is an ongoing process.
“There is progress being made in that area but not fully, no. So, for example, there’s an HR committee that meets regularly now, but at the higher board level, no. Given, they only have three meetings behind them and I’m not sure if they are fully aware of some of the concerns or violations of various policies.”
Flis declined to disclose which other policies were being violated at this time. In separate news, URSU President Haris Khan has stepped down from his position citing personal matters. As per URSU policy the VP Student Affairs, in this case McKenzie will take over the position until the October by-elections. URSU released a statement on Sept. 4 in regards to the change, praising Khan for his work.
“URSU thanks Mr. Khan for his leadership and significant contributions to the University of Regina’s campus community.”
McKenzie will now juggle two positions and his internship.