UMSU sanctions Science Students’ Association

In an emergency motion passed at its final meeting before breaking for the holidays, the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) voted to have an independent chair appointed to the Science Students’ Association (SSA) and audit actions taken during the current executive’s term.

Citing the more than month-long break between meetings, an unsafe work environment, and a culture of fear within the SSA, UMSU council chair Kyle Mirecki accepted the emergency motion to sanction the association at the Dec. 3, 2015 meeting.

Following nearly a half-hour of in-camera discussion, council voted 26-1 through private ballot to pass a three-pronged motion.

First, the union resolved to seek mediation with the SSA through the U of M human rights and conflict management office in order to appoint an independent chair to oversee future association meetings.

Second, the motion initiated a governance audit of the association to be led by UMSU’s governance coordinator, who will review all motions, actions, and amendments to ensure “said actions were legitimate and are in the best interests of science students.”

Third, the motion resolves to withhold all fund disbursements to the association if the president refuses to participate in the mediation.

Results of the audit will be reported back to the SSA.

The motion, moved by SSA member and UMSU representative Dara Hallock, notes multiple members of the association have brought forward complaints of SSA operations, specifically the actions of president Anthony Cao. Further, the motion notes complainants were forced to retract their names from a supporting document for fear of reprisal.

“After a lengthy discussion of all of the factors that are involved and statements of a number of individuals that were involved in, from my understanding, a very difficult situation within the Science Students’ Association, it was ultimately put to a secret ballot vote by the entire UMSU council and the motion to intervene was decided,” said Rebecca Kunzman, UMSU’s vice-president advocacy.

Councillors from UMSU and the SSA refused to provide public comment on the specific problems within the association.

While most internal disputes within student and faculty associations are resolved through consultation with the school’s office of human rights and conflict management, Kunzman said no informal resolution was sought with the help of UMSU.

“In the past, it’s been an extremely successful partnership and every student group and student association that has come forward and has worked with us in those cases has seen a successful resolution,” she said.

“We’ve been involved in a number of student group and student association dispute resolutions. However, none have come formally through the UMSU council in the past,” she added.

“This is the first one that’s gone through council, at least in my term and in recent UMSU history.”

Cao, who was named a University of Manitoba emerging leader in 2014, was elected president of the SSA in May 2015. He was unavailable for comment by press time.