By Вen Li
The President of the Students’ Union is expected to lead both the SU executive and students at large. This includes lobbying on behalf of students, making important decisions with their input, and representing University of Calgary students to the outside world. The president must also guide elected student representatives toward both individual and organizational goals, solve problems that emerge within the organization, guide the legislative process and mediate internal conflicts within the organization. Also expected of the president is an ability to communicate effectively with students.
Students’ Union President Jayna Gilchrist is a nexus of contradictions, the most obvious of which is her willingness and ability to respond instantly to external criticism while completely ignoring the needs of her organization. Gilchrist has almost entirely neglected her role in leading students in a year when the organization must rebuild and establish foundations for hopefully greater things in the future.
While her goals of communicating with the media, students and community are admirable, the details have been so poorly defined that her success on any of them is difficult to measure.
Failure, however, is obvious.
As president, her poor and unsubstantial ex post facto reactions to serious concerns such as the Benson & Hedges issue, the ballroom renaming, the prayer space dispute and the recent by-election fallout clearly illustrate Gilchrist has only a passing familiarity with issues facing the SU this year. She claims awareness of 75 per cent of the details of her executives’ projects and an equal partnership in completing them, a claim which marginalizes the other executives efforts in actually doing things.
Her lack of personal and professional commitment in the organization is quite clear, demonstrated by her slim office hours and her week-long jaunt to the Liberal leadership convention. As well, during SLC’s last meeting this semester on Tue., Dec. 2 where all 21 elected officials attended, she was the only one to not stay the entire meeting, missing important discussion on levies which affect many students. While it ended at 2:45 a.m., and Gilchrist had important tuition budget meetings at 9 a.m. the next day, other councillors indicated they had important 8 a.m. academic commitments, yet stayed.
The year is mitigated only by a slightly higher profile the university, and indirectly the SU, have developed in the community. However, the negative profile Gilchrist has achieved for the SU in the media directly opposes the good efforts of other university organs such as the Senate and administration this year.
The manner in which Gilchrist substantially kept her campaign promise of more communication with the community is, however, of dubious value to students in general as she remains very quiet about the details of how she has represented students to the public. While personal relationships built with students’ name and money are valuable, the sustainability of those relationships once the SU leaves Gilchrist’s personal agenda is questionable.
Internally, some student officials have already fallen out of her attention, as their unanswered calls for clear leadership, support and direction of the SU show. As a legislator in SLC, Gilchrist lacks the confidence necessary to enact timely legislation, or even to conduct efficient meetings.
She admits to having communication problems with about half her executive, something which has obviously impeded SLC’s progress. Unfortunately, she does not recognize the extent of her communications and leadership issues, and will promise only to "work on" the few problems of which she is aware, without articulating plans to do so.
The patina of good leadership and a strong organization, grossly spackled with unjustifiably glowing reports and short-sighted solutions, obscures the organization’s true potential. Left to their own devices, for lack of any unicohesive direction from Gilchrist, the other executives have done surprisingly well and have not yet managed to destabilize the business or operational aspects of the organization.
Hopefully, Gilchrist will do something–anything–to stop the erosion of support from her colleagues and to salvage this unfortunately memorable year.