Today all University of Ottawa students should be disappointed in the Student Federation executive (SFUO) and Board of Administration (BOA) members. On Sunday, there was an opportunity for members of the BOA, on behalf of the students they represent, to stand up and do the right thing. What happened? BOA members failed to protect students and fight for us at the table, leaving myself and many others feeling frustrated and angered.
By now many students are aware of the police report submitted by former SFUO president Hadi Wess in which he outlines allegations of fraud and identity theft to the tune of approximately $20,000 against current SFUO president and former vice-president of finance Rizki Rachiq, current vice-president operations Axel Gaga, and executive coordinator Vanessa Dorimain. The university has taken these claims seriously and refused to release the student levy until a forensic audit is completed. During the BOA meeting, the discussion around this incident happened behind closed doors where students and the media were kept outside waiting on dirty floors for hours.
The fact these discussions happened in secret is not what frustrates me the most, it’s how the members of the BOA blindly supported them. Before the vote on the first motion, the lawyer who represents the SFUO, who was acting as the chair (which is problematic in its own way), left the meeting and the BOA had to elect a new chair. Instead of electing a natural third party person to guide the discussion, the BOA elected Ms. Dorimain to oversee the meeting about her and her colleagues’ criminal activity. That is like a student being able to mark their own final and decide their fate; it just does not happen and for a good reason. But how did members of the BOA vote? Of course to allow it, with a close vote of 14 for and 12 against, and one member who abstained from voting. Some will say that the chair is inherently impartial, but with allegations at this level, is that a risk we want to take? Especially as students were not allowed to follow the debate on these discussions?
To be completely honest, I believe that those who were mentioned in the police report should remove themselves from the SFUO temporarily while being investigated. It is the right thing to do to allow for transparency and clarity. We have seen police officers, child workers and even transit fare inspectors step away from their positions for minor infractions in comparison to these allegations. When the motions came forward to suspend Mr. Rachiq with pay, the BOA did what they did earlier and voted to protect their friends on the executive and ignore the interest of the students they represent. The same students who voted for the BOA members six months ago.
Doing the right thing is hard especially when it involves your friends. For the sake of students, I call upon the members of the Board of Administration to do the right thing and stand up for students at the next BOA meeting. We are tired of constantly being shown the door, told to wait outside and not be heard.
Correction: A previous version of this letter stated that the vote to approve Vanessa Dorimain to chair the BOA was unanimous by the board. It has since been updated with the correct voting numbers, of 14 for and 12 against.