By Kevin Ritchie
Infighting his fractured RyeSAC on the eve of this year’s executive elections.
Seven members of RyeSAC’s board of directors sent confidential letters last month to president Erin George and v.p. Finance and development Vladimir Vasilko, outlining concerns about their behaviour.
“No one has ever written letters to members of the executive committee such as that,” said campus groups co-ordinator Leatrice Spevack, who has worked at RyeSAC for 18 years.
Since the letter to George was released to campus newspapers last week, personal conflicts between board members have been exposed. Peter Tretter, RyeSAC’s academic council representative, released the letter without consulting other board members and has been threatened with expulsion from the board.
The squabbling that has since errupted has revealed a pattern of conflict within the student council, reaching back to issues such as the decision to reject a scholarship offered by Gerald Hannon.
The letters were written after a Jan. 15 meeting while George was away at a CFS conference, where she was elected as the next CFS-Ontario chair for a one-year term beginning in June.
All board members were invited to attend the meeting about George’s performance as president, but only seven showed up. George spoke to the board two days after receiving the letter and called each member to set up meetings.
Tretter felt that wasn’t enough and leaked the letter to campus media Feb. 2. “The point of the exercise was to help with the betterment of [RyeSAC] and the betterment of Erin,” Tretter said. “There hasn’t been any improvement.”
Tretter said the problems lie not with what George does, but how she does it, such as sometimes taking board members’ questions as personal attacks.
“Yelling, screaming, rolling your eyes,” the letter says. “All of these things make people think you are totally disregarding their opinions, and that the board is only there to serve you; many members feel alienated and uncomfortable.”
George denies the accusations. “I don’t believe I’ve ever yelled or screamed at an individual,” she said.
“She’s lying,” said RyeSAC board of governors representative Rob Haines, who wrote the letter on behalf of the board members. “She’s yelled at me.”
He cited a confrontation he had with George over RyeSAC’s endorsement of a scholarship offered by ex-professor Gerald Hannon. George said it was a “passionate discussion,” not an argument.
But board members say the approval of Hannon’s award was an example of another recurring problem—George not giving enough information while trying to advance her goals.
Executive committee member Kim Nagus said George explained the award would be controversial, partly because Hannon had written an article about “intergenerational sex.” But Nagus said George failed to explain this meant sex between young children and adults.
When Hanes learned what the term meant, he threatened to take motion to the board ot have the award thrown out. He also threatened to resign. The executive committee voted against endorsing the scholarship.
George admits she never discussed Hannon’s article in detail, but she said board members are responsible for requesting additional information about issues brought before them.
While he acknowledged she’s passionate, v.p. education Cory Wright defends George’s style. “What I see her doing is lobbying, and that’s a lot different [from yelling].”
Student group director Daniel Hornik was a vocal member of the group that criticized George. “I’ve seen her treat people with utter disrespect.”
But George said Hornik has rejected recent invitations to meet with her, and that he raised his voice when she tried to talk to him.
The group of board members also sent a letter to v.p. finance and development Vladimir Vasilko questioning his performance. It focused on his attendance at a retreat over the holidays in December, his lack of visibility on campus and his allowing friends to hang out in the RyeSAC office, even when he isn’t there.
Vasilko said it may appear he’s not around because during orientation, his major project of the year, his role is behind the scenes. He said he was absent one afternoon of the retreat because he and Hornik were discussing ideas for RyeSAC’s future.
Tretter and Haines said Vasilko’s response to the letter was satisfactory.
Although the letters show tension at RyeSAC, some say Tretter made the situation worse by leaking the one about George to the press.
Haines said Tretter was just causing trouble and his support for Access 2000 was undetermined because he released the letter last Tuesday, the day before the strike.
Tretter said although he supports George’s beliefs, it’s her personal style he has a problem with. “I don’t think [releasing the letter] hurts her—it tells the public what members of the board have perceived of the president.”
Course union director Lucas Malesku said releasing the letter has forced RyeSAC to deal with these conflicts in public.
“There has been a quiet rift in RyeSAC,” Malesku said. “A lot of people have been talking behind each other’s backs. Peter made that discussion more open.”
Tretter said he won’t try to impeach George. Haines said Tretter is afraid too, because her supporters will kick him off the board if he does.
“If I bring a motion to remove Peter [from the Board], it will pass,” Haines said.
Despite the letter, George remains confident about her performance at RyeSAC.
“I know I am a very strong and passionate individual,” she said. “I know I have a very different leadership style but I think [students] knew who they were electing.”