Allegations come before 2018 SFUO general election
Students from federated bodies, clubs, and services on campus have come forward with allegations against the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), ranging from poor management to misallocation of budgets.
Some of the students who raised these concerns are current and past employees of the SFUO, members of federated bodies, and members of clubs, and chose to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to personal safety and job security. Their identities have been confirmed privately by the Fulcrum.
Some service coordinators feel that there has been a lack of concern for staff by the federation’s executives, failure to follow the collective agreement between management and employees, instances of intimidation leading to a toxic work environment, a lack of accountability for SFUO executives and confusion over the budget and allocated funds for services.
Other claims include SFUO management setting unrealistic expectations for their employees to make up for the lack of staff to fill all the positions required within a service. For instance, certain services do not have volunteer supervisors, leaving coordinators with added responsibilities. Currently, most services are only being operated by two individuals, many of whom are full-time students working part-time hours.
An employee of a service centre explained to the Fulcrum that much of this frustration has stemmed from a lack of communication on the part of the executive team, despite the efforts of employees to discuss their grievances.
Emails dating back to September 2017 show employees raising some of these concerns, and requesting meeting times with members of the executive, only to garner no response. The employee also shared that following meetings that were held to discuss some of these issues, no changes were made in the style of management.
Employees have also raised claims relating to fear for their job security when an issue is brought to the attention of the executive team.
“People have quit or been fired because they just don’t fit into how the exec wants to run things,” the employee said, mentioning a previous service coordinator who quit due to the toxic work environment, something which seemingly came as a surprise to the executives, but not to employees.
“Every time we’ve seen people voice their opinions, they’ve been disciplined.”
Other service coordinators who quit earlier in this academic year for the same reason confirmed these allegations, adding that emails pertaining to disciplinary action or write-ups were sent after business hours with short notice to staff, not allowing for enough time for a union representative to be present. They also claim that these write-ups would come without warning and without reason.
In a statement to the Fulcrum, the SFUO explained that “the SFUO management follows the collective agreement which governs their relationship with unionized staff. Employees receive verbal warnings before being given written warnings.” However email exchanges between employees and management indicate that in some cases the threat of disciplinary action is used to motivate workers to meet deadlines.
One employee also shared that they are “still nervous to come to work because at any point there could just be a disciplinary letter in (their) mailbox.”
The SFUO also responded to claims of unanswered emails saying, “four executives work alongside multiple full-time HR personnel and a Services Coordinator to manage the SFUO service centres. The Services Coordinator is exclusively dedicated to supporting the service staff in all aspects of their jobs. Emails from service staff are almost always responded to on the same day.”
However the employee maintains that members of the executive, specifically vice-president equity Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi has been “difficult to get ahold of, sometimes for weeks at a time.”
Budget concerns by services are also attributed to a lack of communication with employees. Kathryn Leblanc, vice-president communications and services on the SFUO told the Fulcrum that no part of the services budget was delayed in being distributed, although the employee mentioned that “some of the services feel like (they) are not being made aware of where the money’s going, and why (they)’re only being allocated some of (their) budget.”
According to employees, the apparent disorganization in the way the student union appears to be running has made it difficult for them to meet all the requirements of their position.
“The SFUO’s always had its issues but this is the first year that I’ve ever seen the issues be so deep into the structural way that they handle day to day business,” they said.
Members of certain clubs on campus have alleged issues from bullying by SFUO executives, to unfair administrative blocks when applying for club status.
One member from a political party club at the U of O cited instances of bullying on social media by Moumouni-Tchouassi, claiming they felt unsafe and “attacked by someone who was supposed to represent (their) voice.”
This allegedly came after a controversial motion was announced by the SFUO prior to the Nov. 5 Board of Administration (BOA) meeting, wherein the board took a stance on various ethical and political issues.
Moumouni-Tchouassi addressed these claims in a statement to the Fulcrum: “At no point have I targeted, or harassed any club or one of its members. What I did do is make some difficult decisions based (off of) what students groups asked of me. Resulting from these decisions both the organization and I received threats and hateful messages, and what I did on my personal social media is express frustration over especially the attacks that I had lived from specific students but once again at no point did I harass or target any individual or have any malicious intent however I remain accountable to the ways my word can affect others and for that if I hurt anyone I apologize.”
Other allegations against Moumouni-Tchouassi claim that she did not respond to club emails in a timely manner, was unapproachable, and disorganized.
Stéphanie Lalonde, president of the francophone improv league, claimed that this year their club was unable to register under the SFUO due to constitutional barriers, an issue they never had in the past.
According to Lalonde, the improv league decided against registering as a club last year when the SFUO cut clubs funding, but tried to re-register in the summer of 2017 for the 2017-18 academic year. Lalonde shared that the SFUO allegedly denied their request as they were required to have a bilingual constitution, despite the fact that the club has always been strictly francophone.
Per Lalonde, the lack of club status makes it difficult for them to hold meetings on campus as they are not allowed to rent out space in the University Centre Agora like they used to. Lalonde said that student-run businesses are an exception to this rule, so they have been operating out of Café Alt.
Lalonde mentioned that she “reached out to the vice-president equity before the semester started to point these things out,” but did not get a response.
A list compiled by the executives of a federated body on campus that chose to remain anonymous makes claims similar to those of services employees, stating issues with a lack of communication, training, and overall accessibility.
According to the list provided to the Fulcrum, only one 101 Week guide training was provided in French this past summer, and audits were submitted in mid-October, but levy cheques were not received until January. Vice-president finance Rizki Rachiq addressed this during the Jan.19 BOA meeting, explaining it as an issue with the comptroller general turnover. Further, the comptroller general was absent in January and failed to answer emails from federated body executives, doodles asking for preferred meeting times for money roundtables were sent out one day in advance of the roundtable, federated vice-presidents finance never received audit training, academic roundtables have been inconsistent—with some claims that roundtables haven’t been held since October 2017—no social roundtables were held since September, and SFUO executives have been unavailable during their scheduled office hours.
Leblanc responded to some of these allegations claiming that “there was definitely more than one French 101 week training held over the summer. I remember helping to run more than one of them,” and stating that SFUO executives hold their office hours regularly, and often work overtime due to their heavy workload. The Fulcrum is awaiting response from other executives pertaining to the rest of the claims from federated bodies.
Caylie McKinlay, a Faculty of Social Sciences representative on the BOA during the 2016-17 academic year, cites being targeted by a Twitter account called SFUO_ClapBack after tweeting from their private twitter account about their grievances with the SFUO.
They also discussed online bullying within the current election, something which has been occuring on Facebook pages like Spotted at uOttawa.
“Some of the behaviour (that we’re seeing this year with the United slate) was not tolerated at all last year,” they said, referring to comments made online, and explaining that many candidates were disqualified last year.
A former SFUO executive also attested to some of these allegations in a statement to the Fulcrum: “Working with the SFUO is very difficult, because when you aren’t running after execs to reply to your emails, you’re having to defend your worthiness to even be involved in the student union. The negative atmosphere at the SFUO stems back many years and can’t be directly tied to any specific executive, however all execs are complicit in upholding the toxic environment instead of helping dismantle it,” adding that “it is not uncommon for executives to resort to bullying and intimidation tactics when dealing with Board Members or their own employees who don’t necessarily agree with their approach.”
A previous version of this article stated that “hurtful comments were being made towards students on the United slate in the comments section of the SFUO live-stream of the general election debates last week by volunteers of the Solutions slate.” The statement has been removed as a source verified by the Fulcrum confirmed that it was not in fact a volunteer of the Solutions slate who participated in making such comments.