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Clarification: The AQ’s story meetings are open to the public, but private and confidential in terms of story ideas. This is done in an attempt to keep our stories from being “scooped,” as we only publish once a week. Also, Henri Thibeau inquired about AQ story meetings, not The Brunswickan’s story meetings.
On Sept. 27, the St. Thomas University Students’ Union announced it had fired its chief returning officer in the middle of elections.
Two weeks later, STUSU president John Hoben announced the resignation of vice president student life, Nicole Pozer. He cited “personal reasons,” although it’s clear now she was asked by the other executives to resign.
On Wednesday, Hoben posted an open letter to council on the union’s website. It was signed by all four executives. This criticism of The Aquinian’s coverage of STUSU events, which called for an apology from The AQ and a change in the name of the student media fee, were filled with what could be perceived as personal attacks on the paper’s STUSU reporter, Meredith Gillis.
“I don’t care that they want to criticize my journalism, that’s fine. They’re perfectly within their rights to do that. But to criticize my journalism in such a way that it becomes a very vicious, personal attack on my character is not OK,” Gillis said.
Sean Thompson is a STU alumnus who worked as CRO for the union and wrote about politics for The Aquinian. He says it’s normal for there to be conflicts between The Aquinian and the STUSU but something seems off.
“Rarely do elected officials earn respect by demanding the resignation of other elected officials behind closed doors,” Thompson said.
Hoben said after the meeting on Thursday he will not speak to The Aquinian until an apology is issued. Despite this, he has used Twitter to communicate with editor-in-chief, Liam McGuire.
Thompson says it’s not unusual for an elected official to refuse to talk to a specific media outlet, citing former Saint John mayor Ivan Court’s refusal to speak to the Telegraph-Journal.
“It’s the equivalent of taking your ball and going home because you don’t like how the other kids are playing,” Thompson said.
At the STUSU meeting on Thursday, Alex Carleton, representative for Holy Cross House, read a statement reflecting on the open letter Hoben wrote. He criticized The Aquinian for “the quality and editing” of articles, and the union executives’ decision to publish the letter before the SRC could discuss it.
“Bringing issues to the public like this, before a proper discussion could be held at the SRC and The AQ and its representatives, is improper behaviour. By making the issue such a public one before it was properly discussed at the SRC, the open letter has created a volatile situation,” Carleton said.
It should be noted that Carleton is also a columnist for The AQ. Meryn Steeves, communications coordinator for the STUSU, also spoke about the motion.
“I just think that this reflects a greater issue that’s been going on this year about some communication issues between the students’ union and the press, and I think that to move forward from this we should examine how those issues can be resolved,” Steeves said.
Hoben put forward a motion to add the signature of the entire SRC to the letter and ask for an apology from The AQ. It passed with four members abstaining: Carleton, Mackay-Boyce, Justin Brown, off-campus representative, and Emily Sheen, off-campus representative.
Mackay-Boyce said his reasons for abstaining were personal. He says he still supports the motion and the issues put forward about The AQ, but not the tone of the letter. Hoben wrote the letter, but all the executives had the chance to comment and make suggestions, he said.
“I think the SRC and The AQ need to be able to work together in common for the students and I think that being divisive isn’t going to help that,” Mackay-Boyce said.
During the STUSU meeting, Elizabeth Strange, who ran against Alex Driscoll for vice president education, questioned why the union didn’t reach out to her when she was cyber-bullied last year in the comment section of multiple AQ articles.
“I find it interesting that one article that is a serious piece of news on campus is published and it may or may not have gone too far into private issues and there’s a whole letter… but when I’m being cyber-bullied last year on multiple articles written about me by possible representatives of the students’ union, nothing,” Strange said.
Driscoll called the motion to question, essentially preventing her from speaking. He later sent her a Facebook message saying he meant no hard feelings by it and wanted the meeting to end.
Driscoll was accused of sitting too close to the polling booth last year, while selling t-shirts for a pub crawl. He won by 99 votes.
Strange made an appeal and it was thrown out by the St. Thomas University Students’ Union appellate board.
Originally Hoben proposed to change the name of the SRC Media Fee to Aquinian Fees. Sean Thompson posted on Twitter that the SRC Media Fee gives $13 to the CHSR radio station. Hoben then put forward the motion to change the name to Media Fees. Nicole Pozer attended the meeting and commented on the motion.
“Although it may not be a very accurate name [...] for getting into details of a service fee you kind of have to think about the impacts on working relations and personally to yourself think about what impact this might have on the relationship between the SRC and The Aquinian.”
Carleton agreed and questioned if both parties should be “burning bridges” this early in the year.
“I feel as though a line has been drawn in the sand and if we don’t pick one side or the other, nothing’s going to get resolved,” Justin Brown said.
Luke Robertson, at-large representative, called the motion to question. Two members voted against the motion, and five abstained, so the motion passed.
Ryan Smith, the SRC chair who has been a prominent critic of The AQ on Twitter, ended the STUSU meeting with:
“So for all of you with recorders I see, congratulations, you got to the end. Take a nice little break, you know, go to your mini-fridge, get a snack and then keep working on this little schoolwork topic some more.”
Pozer says she resigned not because of a prank war, harassment or academics, but because the other executives didn’t value her work.
She was given a proposed letter of resignation on Oct. 11 at the SEC meeting. She says she’s still friends with the executives and happy to explain openly, in person, to students who have questions about her resignation.
She was angry at first about the letter but now worries about whether students will continue receiving access to services. Pozer says she doesn’t need a public apology from The Aquinian, but a private one would be appreciated. She would have preferred to keep the reasons behind her resignation private.
Pozer also says she didn’t consider the pranks harassment as she played some as well. She says she was not harassed or bullied while working with other executives. When she told the other executives that posting a bag of condoms on her Facebook page went too far, they stopped.
In the STU harassment and discrimination policy, harassment is defined as:
“Engaging in a course of comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. This includes any unwelcome comments, conduct or gestures that provoke, irritate, threaten, annoy, insult or demean, or result in some other form of discomfort, or words or actions that demean or cause humiliation, offense or embarrassment to another person and/or which adversely affects the employment or academic status of the individual.”
Former CRO Katelyn Rushton says she’s still unsure why she was fired. She plans to launch an appeal. Strange says Rushton wasn’t given any warnings. Rushton declines to speak to the media until she finishes the appeal process.
In Part 3 of the Students’ Union human resources policy it says:
“In the event that an employee of the Union is not fulfilling their duties, the following actions shall be undertaken: (a) The employee’s supervisor, and the Vice President Administration, shall give to the employee at least two (2) written warnings, in a standard form prescribed by the Human Resources Committee.”
Since the article about Pozer’s resignation, STUSU members have been relentless on Twitter. Hoben forwarded a copy of his open letter to The Brunswickan looking for coverage. The STUSU executive have inquired about attending story meetings of The Aquinian. The AQ has been called a “tabloid,” its staff labelled “pseudo journalists doing pseudo journalism.”
Justin Brown said he respects both organizations and thinks open communication is important between the two.
“What I’m trying to foster is a healthy community for the OC community. It makes it hard for me to get anything done, if everyone is so focused on these things and not on the students. Guys like me start to get frustrated. I have goals and I have ideas and I have things I want to get through, but I don’t feel like I can really communicate that effectively if the STUSU execs and all the union is focused on this drama.”
With files from Meredith Gillis and Liam McGuire.
An earlier version of this story may have led readers to believe that John Hoben inquired about attending story meetings of the Brunswickan. It is the story meetings of the AQ that the STUSU inquired about attending.