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Loose Cannon: Meet the CSA's defiant ones

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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  • Feuding between two board members is threatening to interfere with operations at the CSA

    Feuding between two board members is threatening to interfere with operations at the CSA

Written by Greg Beneteau

In the iconic 1958 American film The Defiant Ones, two convicts (one black and one white) escape from a chain gang in the segregated South and go on the run.

Being shackled together, the two fugitives have to overcome some pretty big hang ups (the white convict, played by Tony Curtis, is a racist, much to the chagrin of a young Sidney Poitier).  Through shared hardship, they eventually come to respect each other, and even display the beginnings of friendship.

At the end of the film, a freed Curtis has the chance to hop onto a passing freight train and escape. Instead, he tries to lift Poitier onto the car with him. They both fall to the ground and are recaptured, the wiser for having worked together toward a common goal.

If the Central Student Association were to mount a remake starring Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner Demetria Jackson and her predecessor Gavin Armstrong, it would be called The Defiantly Stubborn Ones, and neither of them would have made it farther than 50 feet.

In the 21st century, their personal feud serves as an important commentary, not on race relations, but on the destructiveness of ego.

It's no secret that the two CSA Board members don't see eye-to-eye. During last year's referendum on membership in the Canadian Federation of Students, Demetria volunteered with the "YES" campaign that advocated in favour of staying part of the CFS.

On the other hand, Armstrong is the primary contact to the CSA regarding the legal battle to leave the CFS.  Both have struggled to remain on cordial terms throughout the year.

The animosity reached a head during the recent CSA elections. While supporting his partner Martin Straathof in the race for External Affairs, Armstrong mounted a borderline vicious attack campaign against Jackson, questioning her competence and calling her employment at the CSA a waste of money.

I'd be the first to defend criticism during an election campaign. However, it didn't completely escape my notice that that, unlike the other races in which Armstrong took an interest, he focused primarily on pointing out Jackson's weaknesses rather than trumpeting his candidate's strengths.

Instead of helping Straathof, I suspect that Armstrong's scorched earth campaign contributed to Jackson's overwhelming victory. It's also strained their relationship to the breaking point and threatened to interfere with normal operations at the CSA.

Jackson has stood down from two committees, the Student Executive Council and the Special Grants Committee,  in response to what she called a "toxic" work environment.

"That committee and the culture that exists within it has become toxic to me, especially after recent elections and I refuse to sit on a committee that does so much damage to my psychological well being," she wrote in her executive report to the board on Wednesday.

Demetria and Gavin are the only members on Special Grants. Since the committee can no longer make quorum, it cannot use its $100,000 budget to help U of G student groups fund various activities,  including conferences, travel, volunteerism and social events.

Before you think that this is a one-sided assault, I should point out that Jackson has ruled out using mediation or board intervention to address her conflict with Armstrong, preferring instead to disengage from a requirement of her portfolio.

"I'm not even at a place where I can stay in a room with Gavin without feeling physically and psychologically ill for more than 1 hour maximum," she wrote in an email. "Perhaps in the summer this is something we can revisit, but at this moment no, absolutely not."

As for seeking outside help, "I really don't have the time for it, and at times I feel as if I've spent way more time defending myself to him and others than doing the job that I was elected to do."

Dealing with critics can be hard work, but it's absolutely necessary.  Shirking one's responsibilities is not only a poor way to handle office conflict, it's also a terrible way to start your second term on the CSA executive.

So, my message to the feuding parties is this: you're going to be shackled together for the next 12 months. Deal with your problems now, or risk missing the train.

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  1. Posted by: demetria on Mar 30, 2011 @ 7:37pm

    First, thank you for writing this Greg; I appreciate you bringing this to the attention of the student body. I have always aired on the side of transparency and accountability and this is not an exception.

    Second, I have a few issues I'd like to bring up:
    1) My quote should likely read: "That committee and the culture that exists within it has become toxic to me, especially after recent elections and I refuse to sit on a committee that does so much DAMAGE TO MY psychological well being."

    2) I think that this article is a little misleading in that it makes the reader assume that I am stepping down from my duties leaving students unrepresented. I would never do this. I have communicated with all appropriate parties (facilitators of meetings, my current co-workers and executive team) and I told them the situation. I have also ensured that my attendance on Special Grants has been replaced with another executive member. With regards to the Student Executive Council, there are two meetings left, one of which I will attend because it is a transitioning meeting. Also, the Academic & University Affairs Commissioner sits on that committee so it is not left without any student representation.

    3) I would like to make it abundantly clear that I am not holding grudges against anyone who campaigned on the No side during the CFS referendum. I have long moved past this, but I cannot say the same for some. Let my relationship with the current executive committee of the CSA stand as an example of this. There are times where I wanted to not deal with the HR&O Commissioner at all (anyone can attest to this). We had some real battles and problems. I am happy to say that at the end of the day, I wouldn't change anything about this year. I respect Nick Stepanov for his tenacity and for speaking his mind and standing up for what he believes in. I may not always agree with him, and I might fight with him, but I will always respect him.

    The same cannot be said for Gavin Armstrong.

    Finally, just a closing comment. There are some people in life that I will never get along with but have to work with. Up until the elections, I could do that with Armstrong. It is unfortunate that this had to happen. I honestly do not believe that my ability to represent students will be affected if I choose to not speak with the aforementioned individual. If anything, I will be better able to represent students as I will not get caught up in the petty drama that this job sometimes bring.

    This, I hope, will be my first and last comment on this matter. If anyone has any questions, comments, or concerns about how this affects them as a student, please feel free to contact me via [email protected] or [email protected] (after May 1).

    Sincerely,
    your Communications & Corporate Affairs Commissioner.

  2. Posted by: demetria on Mar 30, 2011 @ 7:41pm

    Or you can set up a meeting with me :) I'd love to meet with any concerned student at any time.

  3. Posted by: GavinA on Mar 31, 2011 @ 9:59am

    This article is a touch on the ridiculous side. Ignoring its reference to a conflict surrounding race the article, and comments from Demetria, make it seem like this is some sort of feud. I was elected to sit on the CSA board and represent students. Students have been very angry at the actions of Demetria this year and I have been conveying that anger at the board. This article fails to mention the multiple letters sent to the board about her actions, the motion for positive discipline, and the poor performance evaluation given to her by the board (of which I am only one member). At the last board meeting students actually attended to ask questions of Demetria, yet she decided she wasn’t willing to take questions from the guests. This is the type of behavior I am against. You cant say you are willing to meet with students and put a little :) but in the end ignore your constituents. I find that wrong.

    If you had actually looked into the multiple abuses of power and ignorance to what the students want you might understand where this came from.

    I did form an opinion during the election because I was shocked that she felt deserving of an additional $30,000 of student money. I was also shocked the Cannon supported her candidacy considering the detailed knowledge they have about her inability to carry out her portfolio. Other students were equally surprised, yet there is no article about them. Having an opinion does not prove I have a vendetta.

    Demetria has now stated that at least 2 committees she sits on, that are a part of her job requirements to sit on, and is paid to sit on, are toxic. I only sit on the one, and so clearly her personal issues expand onto others. If she has a problem with me fine, but do not shrug off your job requirements because you dislike someone and blame “a toxic environment”. What she is doing is a cope out and disrespects the students she “represents”.

    I understand this job is hard. The Cannon reported last year about the multiple death threats received by Commissioners (including myself). There are those who can handle it and those who cant. I just don’t understand why someone can say they cant handle the job, yet they want to do it for another year.

    Obviously the cannon has chosen a side, asking for quotes and supporting the individual. I am sure it is hard to write negatively against your supervisor. I just hope those who care enough actually listen to what is happening with “their CSA”. In a few weeks I will no longer be an undergraduate student and will no longer have a role on the CSA. It is sad to know that the poor performance of this individual might continue on. I was hoping this would be an opportunity to escape the, shall I say Toxic environment, of the CSA. This article reminds me of that famous Godfather quote… “Just when you think your out…they pull you back in”.

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