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Robert Head, the representative for graduate students on the Board of Governors Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik

Grad student Robert Head clashes with student unions, La Rotonde

The University of Ottawa’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD) is demanding the removal of Robert Head, the graduate student representative on the university’s Board of Governors (BOG), it said in a statement released on Nov. 16.

According to GSAÉD, the request for Head’s removal came after a BOG meeting where he voted in favour of a budget which included tuition increases for students of up to 10 per cent back in May. They also take issue with a motion he brought forward to distance GSAÉD from the union CUPE2626, which represents some U of O employees.

Head vs. GSAÉD

Head said his proposal to leave CUPE 2626, where he was previously the Chief Steward Anglophone last year, made him a target.

He detailed how he proposed the idea of GSAÉD “self-representing” at a board meeting in July. He says that members were receptive and he was told to get further information, but the council meeting with GSAÉD board members on Sept. 29 didn’t go over as smoothly, where they refused to hear his report.

GSAÉD’s statement details the meetings and actions that lead to their demand, going so far as to say that Head’s behaviour—voting for a budget including a tuition hike and trying to remove CUPE 2626—contravenes the university’s Code of Ethical Conduct and Responsibilities of Members of the BOG.

“Robert Head is trying to bring down our labour union over what appears to be retaliation over an old grudge, said,” Antoine Przybylak-Brouillard, GSAÉD’s internal commissioner.

The release asked “that students take up this call to action, and help in the demand that the graduate student representative resign or be removed from office.”

The release also included a link to a petition to have Head removed.

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), which represents undergraduate students, also publicly denounced Head at a General Assembly held on Nov. 14. “Currently, we are in the process of supporting GSAÉD to remove their graduate rep on the BOG just because their rep had not fully represented their membership,” said Vanessa Dorimain, vice-president of university affairs.

Head vs. La Rotonde

Head has also butted heads with La Rotonde, the U of O’s French-language student newspaper, who have criticized his decision to vote in favour of a budget that includes tuition increases, as well as his opposition to CUPE 2626.

Head has criticized their coverage of himself and his husband, Eric Chen, who ran and was acclaimed as Health Sciences representative on the U of O Senate. La Rotonde alleged that Chen didn’t pay tuition fees because of Head’s position with the university, but issued a correction on Nov. 3, after learning this wasn’t the case.

However Editor-In-Chief Didier Pilon, says the issue could’ve been avoided if Head had communicated with them. He says Head gave no sign that he was willing to speak at any point prior to publication.

Head and La Rotonde have disagreed on other issues as well.

Head said his husband was given more scrutiny by La Rotonde during his candidacy for the SFUO by-elections due to their connection. Pilon disputes this saying, “he (Chen) was the only candidate that didn’t come to our office to meet us, which right away sets off flags; everybody else communicates with media.”

Head also took issue with the Sept. 21 edition of La Rotonde, the cover of which featured an illustration of Head waving his hands and yelling next to a veiled Muslim woman and a dark-skinned man, both with tape over their mouths. Head said the illustration was “ highly offensive.”

He said the caricature portrayed him “as taping the mouths and the binding the hands of a Muslim woman and a black man, you know, as this towering, menacing white, racist character.”

Pilon said that the illustrations portrayed Shahad Khalladi and Vincent Mousseau, the two undergraduate student representatives who voted in opposition of the budget.

“If you read the article this becomes clear, and these are also caricatures that have been used and reused for these people. We have caricature that we use for certain figures that come back, so readers of La Rotonde will recognize these people and will know who they are,” he said.

Head stated he would not sue for libel, saying, “I had personally investigated it and decided it was not a course of action that I wanted to pursue.”

In a letter to Pilon, Robert Giroux, Chair of the BOG, wrote that he “deplored the tone and content” used to express their criticism of Head’s vote.

The BOG refused to comment on the situation surrounding Head, stating that the BOG “does not discuss their members’ activities outside of the Board.”

The next BOG meeting takes place on Dec. 7, 5:30 p.m. in the TBT 083 Senate Room.