‘I’M TRYING TO KEEP MY HEAD ABOVE WATER’

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By Adrian Morrow

Associate News Editor

The shouting between the two student executives was so loud it could be heard through the door.

Nora Loreto, President of the Ryerson Students’ Union, sat across the table from Abe Snobar, RSU’s VP Student Life and Events, at an Aug. 22 meeting, where they argued over the firing of Rebecca Rose. Loreto left the meeting visibly upset.

Rose, Loreto’s friend and longtime political ally, was fired from a staff position for calling Snobar an “asshole.” She said he was shouting over her during a heated political debate when she swore at him. Shortly after, he fired her from her job as co-ordinator of the Working Students’ Centre, an RSU-run lobbying and activist organization.

Rose’s firing was the most public display of the bitter infighting threatening to bog down the RSU for the rest of the year.

After volunteering with the RSU for years and spending two terms as an executive, this was supposed to be the crowning year of Loreto’s career as a student politician. Instead, it’s been filled with tension and accusations of corruption.

Snobar said the disputes began over his belief the Canadian Federation of Students, the national student advocacy organization, has too much influence over Loreto and the RSU.

His detractors say this is a power struggle, and that he’s trying to usurp Loreto’s authority.

The disagreements began just weeks after Loreto, Snobar, VP Finance and Services Chris Drew, and VP Education Heather Kere were elected to the RSU last spring.

Kere and Snobar felt the RSU shouldn’t spend as much time on campaigns to reduce tuition fees as they had in the past. Loreto disagreed.

“I’ve been told that this isn’t a priority for students, I’ve been told it’s silly to focus on this. It’s ridiculous,” said Loreto. “I don’t know what students these people have been talking to.”

She also disagreed with the RSU’s decision to slash funding for public education campaigns against date rape, racism and violence against women.

Over the summer, the bickering got so bad Loreto was threatened with impeachment.

“This is the climate that I’ve been living in, where I don’t get any respect from [Snobar and Kere],” she said. “I’m getting told that I don’t represent anyone, that I’m dishonest, that I’m stealing from the students’ union. I get yelled at, insulted, but mostly ignored.”

Snobar said he wants to resolve the disagreements with Loreto, and he’s not threatening to impeach her.

“I haven’t heard about [the impeachment threats] before, but if that’s what she’s hearing, maybe it’s a scorecard of her performance this year,” he said. “I go to her office more than she comes to me, but it’s hard to get her to talk to me.”

The infighting took its most dramatic turn when Snobar decided to fire Rose on July 23. Rose, who was RSU president in 2005-2006, had been the co-ordinator for the Working Students’ Centre for roughly a month when Snobar fired her. Rose believes the firing was political, but Snobar said that’s not the case.

“If she had done that in any other organization, the same thing would’ve happened,” he said.

“Abe [Snobar] had it out for me from the beginning,” said Rose. “No one should be mistaken, this is a witch-hunt.” In the spring, he helped block her from taking a seat on the RSU’s board of directors.

She said other RSU staff members who disagree with him might get fired as well.

“It’s his way or the highway and he’s not respecting a diversity of voices. It’s really created a culture of fear with the RSU part-time staff,” she said. “It seems he’s trying to play president.”

One RSU employee, Christopher Wright, emailed other employees the day after Rose’s firing to tell them that he was concerned Snobar hadn’t consulted with Rose’s immediate supervisors or issued a warning before turfing her.

“As an employee…Rose’s termination has made me fearful for the security of my job and as a student it has caused me to question the credibility of the (RSU) executive,” he wrote.

Neil Thomlinson, a Ryerson politics professor, said disputes like this are nothing new.

“The RSU, for as long as I’ve been at Ryerson, has had to deal with these ideological differences. It mirrors the differences in the student body,” he said.

Resolving the dispute would most likely require the people involved to pull back from their positions, Thomlinson said, otherwise, the only chance is to wait for elections and a new executive.

Until then, RSU executives will have to work on as many projects as they can on their own, he said.

As Snobar confidently led thousands of students down Yonge Street in the annual parade and picnic, it seemed like his first project was a success: the event took in 20 per cent more revenue than last year and students were pleased.

“The frosh the year before was more boring than this year,” said Uliana Edelman, a second-year mechanical engineering student. “This year there seemed to be a lot more enthusiasm.”

Loreto isn’t faring so well.

“I was really looking forward to this year to continue the work of the last two years. But I’m being told it’s the wrong direction,” she said. “I’m trying to keep my head above water, that’s all.” – With files from Amit Shilton

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