As SU Vice-President External, Jen Smith is responsible for government lobbying, public relations, awareness campaigns and liasing with senior U of C administration on issues like tuition consultation. External duties are traditionally carried out in conjunction with the SU President, and this year the pair have accomplished much.
Smith and current President Bryan West have both been prominent advocates of post-secondary during the ongoing review of Alberta’s system. Smith landed victory when she became chair of the Council of Alberta University Students early in her term. She is damn smart when it comes to post-secondary and passionate about the student movement.
Unfortunately Smith is still learning how to play nice with others. Alleged conflicts between Smith and SU staff, administration and senior CAUS members have set the SU rumour mill in full swing and many are concerned about how difficult Smith is to work with. Her commission is in tatters, almost certainly divided irreconcilably down the middle. Executive cabinet has rightly tried to deal with her conflicts internally through a process of review and identifying specific behaviours to be avoided, though the drama recently bubbled over into hours of private conversation in SLC thanks to a number of commissioners tired of being left in the dark. When the behaviour and conduct of an SU VP becomes an agenda item at SLC, alarm bells should go off.
Regardless of the nature of the accusations and the immaturity of SU drama, Smith should be shouldering a hefty chunk of blame for allowing her conduct to alienate so many of the people she has to continue to work with, both within the SU and without. Her actions toward staff have severely hampered her ability to work with the SU’s communications department. She is tough, never shies from conflict and will defend her beliefs to the end. These are admirable qualities, but she must learn when to be more diplomatic in order not to hijack her own agenda.
She truly believes the SU belongs to students, and should act in their interest rather than its own. She is one of the most active participants in SLC, asking intelligent questions about every topic.
Smith admits she is not always perceived the way she wants to be, but unfortunately her accomplishments have been overshadowed by the squabbles of her commission. She has accomplished much, notably bringing Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock to the U of C in his first one-on-one with students. Tuition consultation was a success, and Smith has spearheaded a number of creative media campaigns.
Her commission organized a successful political action week, though her focus on student activism was unpopular with some even in the planning stages, and cracks were beginning to show.
Smith is a capable VP External. If she can overcome the personal hurt of coming under fire from a good portion of the SU, patch up her commission and swallow the tarnishing of her name, she could be a great one. It won’t be easy.