Student society rejects disability group’s hiring decision

Campus News

The UVic Students’ Society (UVSS) has effectively vetoed a Society for Students with a Disability (SSD) hiring decision with no official explanation. When asked in an email interview why the society is unable to fully disclose to its members on this matter, UVSS General Manager Dale Robertson and Chairperson Kelsey Mech said, “Assuming this [is] in regards to the hiring process of this individual, privacy constraints and legal liability limit the extent to which UVSS can provide information regarding specific individuals.”

A series of delays
SSD Office Co-ordinator Liana Robinson says the SSD interviewed one of its own council members, then-Councillor of Finance Michael Allen-Newman, on May 6, 2013, and offered him the job of research and events co-ordinator for the SSD. On the same day, the SSD also hired Pamela Savage as education and administration co-ordinator. Robinson says she submitted paperwork for both of the SSD hires, but was told by UVSS staff that the SSD was mistaken about when the previous research and events co-ordinator’s term finished and that the new hire for that position could not start until June 3. On May 7, the UVSS notified groups in the Student Union Building (SUB) of new procedures requiring that constituency organizations, including advocacy groups such as the SSD, submit hiring decisions to be ratified by the UVSS Board of Directors (BoD). Following feedback from SUB groups, this has since been amended to require that hires be approved by the general office—not the BoD. On May 16, Robinson submitted the SSD’s memorandum of agreement on the two new hires for ratification in accordance with the new procedures. On May 31, Mech acknowledged receipt of the Allen-Newman memorandum, apologized for the delay and said the SSD would be notified after a decision was made as to when Allen-Newman could start. The SSD then received a June 5 letter stating that since Savage’s position began before groups were informed of the new procedure, her hiring was approved, but that the research and events co-ordinator position should be reposted. The letter concluded, “We are not willing to hire Mike Allen-Newman in this role and will not consider him if he re-applies when it is reposted.”

Varying standards
Robinson has since been given several reasons why the UVSS will not allow the SSD to hire Allen-Newman, including that it’s not best practice to hire elected members (though Savage is the elected SSD representative on the BoD), that Allen-Newman’s previous work experience as a line-cook does not qualify him to organize events (though the SSD says that was not used as his qualifications and that he is well-qualified) and that there were hitches with previous SSD events (though the SSD says Allen-Newman was not responsible). The UVSS also took issue with the manner in which the job was posted, suggesting it be advertised to a wider hiring pool through avenues like the UVSS website, UVic job boards, Facebook and Craigslist, but Robinson says this is not required by the union’s current collective agreement.

Autonomy of groups
The SSD sees the events as an infringement on its autonomy as an advocacy group — autonomy that several current BoD members stated support for at the pre-election all-candidates forum.

“The UVSS values the autonomy of advocacy groups,” said Robertson and Mech in their email to the Martlet, “however at the end of the day the UVSS is the legal entity and is also the employer. Therefore when issues arise that could potentially affect us legally or financially, the UVSS is ultimately responsible. It’s a challenging situation to navigate as we believe in upholding advocacy group autonomy, wherever possible, and recognize the value of the work conducted by advocacy groups.”

Allen-Newman is a founding member of the current iteration of the SSD, having answered a call-out when the 2010‑11 BoD voted to no longer recognize Access UVic association of disabled students and to seek a replacement. The UVSS is still in legal proceedings with Access—discussions on which, like personnel hiring decisions, the BoD conducts in-camera and out of its membership’s view.

“This is exactly why we’re still fighting,” says Access UVic Executive Director Rose Mariana Robb, of the UVSS rejecting the SSD’s hiring decision.

The UVSS met Access in court again July 15–17, where Robb says the judge ordered the UVSS to engage in a settlement conference. Robb says the current SSD is a token group, pointing to the fact that the UVSS controls its hiring and funding. “Everyone at Access has nothing but support for all disabled students at UVic, including any and all individuals who have become involved with the SSD since the UVSS created that group,” she told the Martlet.

Unresolved allegations
Allen-Newman says he has donated much time and his own money to advocacy for students with disabilities over the past two years in his various roles as SSD board representative, SSD president, communications director and councillor of finance. However, his ability to do this work has been drastically reduced since legal counsel for the 2012‑13 BoD levelled allegations of harassing behaviour against him in January 2013 and banned him from attending UVSS board and committee meetings. At the time, Allen-Newman was informed the board anticipated further investigation and mediation with a neutral third party, which Allen-Newman’s counsel agreed to, but he says since this never came to pass, there was no due process allowing him or his witnesses to speak to the allegations.

Emily Rogers, chairperson of the 2012‑13 BoD, did not respond to requests for interview in February. At the time of the UVSS’s rejection of Allen-Newman as an SSD hire, the 2013‑14 BoD had taken over. The previous board’s allegations and restrictions have still not been resolved to the satisfaction of Allen-Newman or the SSD, and Allen-Newman has now resigned as SSD councillor of finance. Robinson says Allen-Newman was acting in his capacity as an SSD representative in his dealings with UVSS executives and should not have been personally singled out. She has concerns that Allen-Newman is being discriminated against due to his disability. The SSD says it has a better understanding of its past, current and future operations that suggests Allen-Newman is a qualified and appropriate hiring candidate.