SU VP External in the hot seat

Students’ Union Vice-President External Jen Smith has come under fire from her fellow SU officials over allegations of poor conduct and damaging the reputation of the SU.

The accusations emerged during question period in the Tue., Nov. 29 Students’ Legislative Council meeting, and revolved around Smith’s conduct during a Career Services luncheon involving human resource executives from some of Calgary’s biggest corporate employers. According to Smith, she asked those present a question about the focus on hard science jobs over those in the liberal arts.

“I asked if they could include somebody from an organization that hired primarily from the arts rather than the hard sciences,” said Smith, noting the way she was perceived allegedly insulted a senior member of University of Calgary administration who later expressed reservations about working with Smith.

Conversation and questions about this specific incident led to a number of inquiries about Smith’s other relationships with SU staff, the SU’s lobby groups, and other stakeholders. Commissioners led the charge, asking why the SU Executive Cabinet had not brought the information to council sooner.

“I’m concerned on how the SU is being represented and perceived by members of the organization itself, the campus community and administration, the provincial legislative community and the local business community,” said Academic Commisioner Sona Sandhu during question period. Sandhu said she was concerned with allegations of Smith’s behaviour toward other groups as well.

“I would like to ask Miss Smith and the other members of the executive how they respond to these allegations and how they think this hinders the SU’s ability to effectively advocate on behalf of [students],” Sandhu asked.

Smith said the allegations were partially over-exaggerated and said she has spoken to the U of C administrator since and discussed the incident. Sandhu and others also expressed their concern that SLC had not been informed about conflicts between Smith and SU staff.

SU President Bryan West defended both Smith and the actions of the executive in dealing with her performance issues, and trying to settle staff disputes internally.

“The executive takes the reputation of the organization very seriously,” said West. “We have dealt with specific issues over the past seven months. Bringing stuff to SLC is not the first step. It’s rather one of the last things you do when you encounter performance issues.”

Later in the discussion, West acknowledged a demand from council to more formally address Smith’s performance, and the topic was added to the agenda for the Tue., Dec. 6 SLC as a private in camera discussion item.

Two of Smith’s External Commissioners, Emily Wyatt and Michael Soron, argued to have the discussion moved out of in camera in order to have it on the public record, but were narrowly defeated in a vote of 10-9. Smith withdrew from the table for the vote.

After nearly two hours behind closed doors, council finished the meeting without any disciplinary resolution against Smith. She said afterwards that rumours around the SU and troubles within her own commission had been largely responsible for the allegations.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything immoral, and I would never do anything intentional to damage relationships between the SU and any individual or organization,” said Smith, admitting she does not always come off the way she intends in front of others. “I think it’s obviously very emotionally trying to be dragged through this but I’m a very emotionally strong and positive person.”

Smith admitted her communication skills are at least partially responsible for the controversy, but also blamed SU in-fighting on the political ambitions of her commissioners. She said she was looking into communication coaching.

“It wouldn’t be a year in the SU without one big drama,” she said. “I hope this thing doesn’t overshadow everything else that’s been accomplished this year.”

West said the conditions executive cabinet set out were ongoing.

“There were conditions we set down with the VP External before that meeting and basically council wished to know what was going on and review the actions we had taken to that date,” he said.

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