Past URSU execs issue open letter calling for change
by sara birrell and taylor balfour
The Carillon is able to independently confirm that URSU General Manager, Carl Flis, was terminated on Friday, March 19. Flis, who has been with URSU since February 2016, was let go following the results of the URSU general election. He is the third staff member to be fired in under a year.
While URSU will be welcoming a new board and executive on May 1, the decision to fire Flis was made by the current board. Flis told the Carillon that he cannot speak at this time. Ziyang Li, the Vice President of Student Affairs and the only member of the current executive who will be returning for another semester, also declined to comment due to policy. Current URSU President Gurjinder Singh Lehal said he will be providing a statement “soon.”
The Carillon attempted to get comments from staff, however staff were extremely reluctant to go on the record, with one staff member, who did not wish to be named, telling the Carillon “could you just say you reached out to staff for comments but they were to (sic) scared to reply other than that this decision has created major mental health stress for the staff that actually do the work the execs take credit for.” As noted in previous Carillon stories, some members of the board have resigned citing mental health concerns brought about by the conditions within the students’ union.
Those who were willing to go on the record include some of the board members who have resigned over the past several months. Kiegan Lloyd, a former board member who resigned in late February, told the Carillon, “I was surprised and not surprised at the same time,” when he heard that Flis had been fired. Lloyd, who previously represented Luther students, said that he and others “had a feeling the executives would try and get rid of Carl back in January, but I was surprised that the executives would do this just before a turnover of board of directors.”
Lloyd says that he believes that the current board, which only has nine remaining members and the executive, operates on a “herd mentality” and are “only interested in projects, ideas, and programs when it benefits them.” He said that “Carl is the backbone of URSU along with his staff/team. It’s insulting that the current executives don’t see that Carl and his team are needed.”
Alfred Adenuga, who resigned as Arts Director in February, said that the reason for firing Flis “could be valid, but because of how non-transparent the removal process has been, there is cause for serious concern.” Adenuga added that “It is no secret that the exec team and Carl Flis have not been on the same page, especially since the firing of a marketing manager in August. The execs have always felt that the General Manager holds too much power in the organization and they have always done everything they could to undermine Carl; this is evident in the number of conflicts they had.”
Of course the current executive isn’t the first one to butt heads with Flis. During Jermain McKenzie’s time as URSU president, there were also credible rumours that McKenzie wanted to see Flis fired. Last month McKenzie told the Carillon that within student unions “there is generally some level of tension that exists between student leadership and staff […] it can easily turn into a situation where permanent staff come in and pretty much try to cement themselves within the student union.” Other past executives have also noted the existence of tensions, not only between Flis and the executive, but between General Managers in student unions and those unions in general.
It’s certainly possible that Flis’ firing is warranted, although Adenuga said that he’s troubled by the timing. “It affects stability and continuity in the organization,” he said. “The current executive team (with the exception of Zeo) and most of the board will be departing, and [two] crucial elements of the organization – the Operations Manager and the General Manager – are no longer present. This will in no doubt negatively affect the transition process for the new board and executive team. They already have a lot to fix and it can only get worse without the [two] people who are an integral part of the fabric of the URSU.”
Adenuga said that the recent spate of resignations adds to his trepidation about the firing. “I will not question the legitimacy of board decisions but it is important to note that there are only [nine] board members on the current board. This means that whatever decisions being made are barely representative of the student body.”
One of the remaining board members, Emily Camposano, the representative for part-time students, resigned following Flis’ firing. Camposano, who was re-elected and will return with the new board in May, told the Carillon she resigned because “I felt that we were not given time to consider all matters and a vote was made too quickly on a matter so serious.” She did not wish to say anything further for confidentiality reasons.
Katlyn Richardson, who resigned as Director for Students with Disabilities in February 2021 and was re-elected the following month, said that she believes that “the executive often acts without regard for policy or impact of decisions. If they like it they do it and no one is allowed to point out why their decisions are in bad faith or not fully examined.”
Adenuga said he just wants the students’ union to be open about what’s going on. “If Carl Flis has truly done anything wrong, I think a reasonably transparent statement to that effect is in order.” A statement from the executive is apparently forthcoming, and it remains to be seen what reasoning is behind the termination.
On March 22, an open letter from former student union executives was sent to URSU’s current Board of Directors detailing their concerns with Flis’ firing: “By firing your General Manager with 40 days left until the next Executive begin their terms, we believe you are going to cause irrevocable damage to URSU and the service it is able to effectively offer in the coming years.” The letter states.
“The time frame immediately preceding [Flis’] hiring, the organization had no fewer than 3 GM’s who all lasted no more than a year and a half. The organization was, at different points in that time period near insolvency, and students suffered.”
“Each of us believe we left URSU better than we found it, follow in our footsteps and do the right thing.” The open letter has been signed by 15 past executives.
The Carillon will issue updates as they emerge.