There was a Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) scandal recently. Unfortunately, this is a sentence you’ve heard a lot over the past few years.
Recently, it was when the federation’s executive coordinator Vanessa Dorimain took away students’ voting cards at the Winter General Assembly. In past years it was the U-Pass, or the federation’s near bankruptcy.
How can the SFUO reduce such issues going forward, and even respond to them in a more positive way? The answer is the president. You don’t always see them in focus during such crises, but making sure they’re a part of the process is important for everyone involved.
When there have been SFUO scandals, there have often been completely different people in focus, or just “the SFUO” in general. In some cases, people don’t even think of the president, which is simply counter productive.
Earlier in the school year, the SFUO’s Board of Administration (BOA) passed a comprehensive motion to clarify and reorganize the roles of the executive positions, and the president position saw a lot of changes.
For example, many of the duties of promoting the federation by interacting with students and media were moved from the vice-president communications (which will be called vice-president internal) over to the president.
The rationale was simple: The president is supposed to be the face of the SFUO, and as such they should be the one who deals with major news related to the federation, and interacts more with media and students.
But while the SFUO is rolling out their new executive roles, they need to focus on more than just having the president do sound bites as part of their public-facing role.
One reason having the president take a more public-facing role, especially during SFUO scandals, is accountability within the federation.
There have also been reports of a toxic work environment in parts of the federation. If the president, who is the elected leader of the entire federation, knows that they are going to get scrutiny, they have more incentive to create a positive work environment.
Also, having the president be a person students see as someone they can approach might actually allow for better communication. When the point of contact is just “The SFUO,” or communications reach the president in a more indirect way, it’s harder for students to empathize, or even connect in the first place.
And actually, the federation did do this early on in the year, with positive results. After a CBC story about how frosh guides at 101 week weren’t allowed to carry naloxone, the SFUO initially started receiving bad press. But president Hadi Wess actually started to go out and talk to a lot of media about the issue and what the SFUO was doing to work on it, and it improved public perception of the SFUO on the issue.
If the SFUO can make this a regular thing, it might make the students feel less cut off from the process, and, conversely make the SFUO more accountable to students.
In order to help out with this expanded presence for the president, one tool the SFUO can use is public consultations like town halls. The idea has been bandied about for a while, but following through with it could really help facilitate communication with the president.
Now, this shouldn’t be done in a way where the president gets no support, or where they are allowed to be personally attacked. That doesn’t benefit anybody.
When the SFUO and the BOA follow through with restructuring executive positions, they need to make sure that the president is right at the centre of the issue.