Fifth URSU board member resigns
And another one gone
Another URSU board member has resigned, bringing the total number of resignations in 2021 to five (six, if you count Operations Manager Neil Middlemiss who gave notice earlier this month). The representative for students with disabilities, Katlyn Richardson, tendered her resignation on February 18. In a public Facebook post Richardson wrote “Since 2019, I have represented the side of Student’s [sic] with Disabilities in everything I have done at the university from representing students in disciplinary hearings to trying [to] make our voices heard in board meetings. I cannot say this was a decision I wanted to make but will say it was one I had no choice but to make. I do hold hope in a better year of fighting for students in the 2021/2022 school year. I may not be a director anymore but I will continue fighting for you no matter what obstacles are faced in the future.”
Richardson’s resignation is troubling, not the least because she said it wasn’t a decision she had any choice about. It’s also troubling because it’s a signal of more of the internal turmoil that VP External Amir Said told the Carillon had been interfering with URSU’s ability to advocate for students, and in a year in which more students than ever are needing – and often struggling to get – accommodations, being down a disability rep is not a situation we want to see our union in. We’re already seeing drastically reduced activity from the union. Executives have only worked the minimum required hours twice this year – Gurjinder Singh Lehal in May and Amir Said in November. According to Lehal, there has not been enough work, given the lack of in-person and online events. It’s understandable that there are simply fewer activities taking place and I’m sympathetic to any student that has seen their employment impacted by the pandemic. But it also seems like this would be an ideal opportunity to focus on building capacity for future direct actions against tuition hikes, austerity, and other issues that impact students. URSU is a multimillion-dollar organization with an executive that has time on their hands. If they’re struggling to figure out how to use that time to increase student engagement and build momentum for when in-person actions can be resume, they should be engaging outside help.
Former URSU President Jermain McKenzie said he believes that at least part of the problem of internal conflicts lies with the overall governance structure of the students’ union, and students’ unions in general. “If you look at even other student unions, you will see that 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.” It’s unclear if that’s the situation inside URSU, and McKenzie is known to have clashed with URSU General Manager Carl Flis in the past. What is known is that, while the current culture inside the students’ union seems acutely toxic, none of these problems are unique to this executive. Boards in general can have strife, and there are professionals who can come in and address those internal issues from an outsider perspective, which McKenzie said has been done at Simon Fraser University (and which the Carillon will cover in a future article). It’s difficult to conceive of a scenario in which URSU, either under the leadership of this executive or the next, invites in outside help and ends up in worse shape than it already is. Students should be demanding an external review.
So far the executive has done nothing to acknowledge the Carillon article that came out on February 11 which brought to light serious accusations of bullying and general toxicity, although the Carillon has independently verified that they immediately began an investigation into who leaked information about the internal misconduct (notably, they did not deny any of the allegations). The student body deserves to hear from them. After all, students paid more than $5 million in fees to the union in 2019-20 (full disclosure: roughly half of the Carillon’s operating budget is derived from student fees). With at least one, and possibly more, of the current executive planning on running for URSU again this spring, the fact that they have so far refused to address students or provide any plan or even assurances for how they will examine their own conduct and make efforts to earn back student trust and build a healthier, more inclusive student union, suggests that they don’t feel they need to be accountable to the students who elected them.
In the spirit of being accountable to the students we serve, the Carillon would like to acknowledge our own mistake. On February 19, URSU’s marketing department reached out to inform us that the image that accompanied our February 11 article – URSU’s logo consumed by a flaming trashcan – was, in fact, their old logo. The Carillon regrets this error and has updated the flaming trashcan image in accordance with URSU’s new branding standards. We hope that rectifying this mistake gives the students’ union more freedom to worry about the trash fire and less about their image.