Loose Cannon: CSA's Sleeping Beauty needs to wake up

Thursday, December 9, 2010

  • If Martins' tactless approach to communication is her idea of
productive work, she's living in Sleeping Beauty's dream world.

    If Martins' tactless approach to communication is her idea of productive work, she's living in Sleeping Beauty's dream world.

Written by Greg Beneteau

We all have days when we feel like telling off our bosses. In an era of instant communication tools, it can be frighteningly easy to send off a poorly worded email, or let slip something during a teleconferencing session that we would like to take back.

But when your insult is sent not as a casual slip-of-the-tongue, but as official correspondence to every single supervisor in the organization that employs you, well, that takes a bit more explaining.

Case in point is a letter sent by the Denise Martins, External Affairs Commissioner for the Central Student Association, to the CSA's Board of Directors at its November 10th meeting.

The Board passed a motion requesting that Martins and Local Affairs Commissioner Anastasia Zavarella submit their regular reports, which were late, to the Board's Executive Evaluation Committee.

The EEC is tasked with helping commissioners set and meet goals related to their work. The reports, which include an estimate by commissioners of how many hours they've worked, help the committee and students understand how these elected officials are spending their time.

Both Martins and Zavarella submitted the late reports in time for the next meeting. Denise, however, wasn't willing to let the matter rest without taking a shot at her bosses.

She apologized, in a way, by saying the EEC reports weren't at the top of her list of things to do.

“I often did not see it as a priority in the extensive list of tasks I have been accumulating over time... which is probably the reason it was put on the back burner for so long,” Martins explained.

Just to add some spice to her apology, Martins decided to take aim at the EEC's requirement to keep track of her hours, which she claimed was too arduous.

“I will work to meet the new guidelines. However, please understand that keeping track of hours worked is impossible. I would be willing, however, to submit a report of hours slept if it will help the EEC,” she wrote.

(“The implication, Martins later told me, is that she spends more time working on her portfolio than sleeping, as thus “it would be easier to keep track of hours slept than hours worked” - a claim that will be impossible to verify unless she starts actually keeping track of her hours.)

“I can't wait to update you once again of my ongoing via my report!” Martins concluded in her letter.

Most people could expect to be fired for using such a tone with their employers. The Board, being what it is, has taken a more cautious approach and asked the EEC to investigate “positive discipline options” and report back.

This isn't the first time Martins has decided to pick a fight for no apparent reason. For the past three weeks, she has fueled a war of words with the University administration and students over the recruitment of campus support for the Better Planet Project.

In an article to The Ontarion, Martins compared the Project, which aims to raise $200 million for various academic programs and scholarships, to “green-washed charity campaigns” and criticized student leaders for suggesting that students could chip in.

Universities launch capital fundraising campaigns all the time, under various guises. Much of the money raised in the Better Planet Project so far (more than $88 million) is coming from alumni, corporations, the public sector and private donors.

The debate over whether the CSA should contribute is certainly one of some importance. If Martins doesn't want to throw her support behind the Better Planet Project, that's her prerogative.

But her utterly bizarre decision to call out students for how they choose to spend their own time – in a letter to the editor, she suggested those students should “spend a little less time in committee meetings... and a little more time communicating what is going on to students,” - bordered on petty. If this is tactless approach to communication is Martin's idea of productive work, she's living in Sleeping Beauty's dream world.

The Holiday break will provide Martins with ample time to catch up on her rest. Here's hoping that the she wakes up in time for the New Year.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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  1. Posted by: Rob on Dec 10, 2010 @ 10:04am

    Great article Greg!

    I appreciate that someone is willing to call it as they see it. It's disappointing to see that Denise has such little respect for her supervisors. I'm still not quite sure who she might be trying to impress, but I hope she wakes up from her dream world. But more than that I hope she realizes that if she keeps this up, she may not have a job or anything to go on her resume.

    I've heard from a little bird that a couple previous CSA executive's have be censured, and that could be coming if she keeps this up.

  2. Posted by: Rob on Dec 10, 2010 @ 10:06am

    *have been censured

  3. Posted by: on Dec 10, 2010 @ 4:30pm

    Fortunately for me, I have had the opportunity to work with every commissioner at the CSA. All of whom do great work. Unfortunately, some of their work doesn’t necessarily translate to highly visible results, or something tangible for presentation to students. I was disappointed when the External Affairs Commissioner failed to submit her EEC report on many occasions, and her cheeky line about logging hours slept was insulting. At least she shows up to work every day and continues to work despite being ridiculed by her peers, board members, students and administration.

    The EEC is a committee formed to monitor the work of our commissioners, but we already have a board of directors that is responsible for that. To be honest, it’s not the commissioners that need to be held accountable, but the Board of Directors. Directors are ratified and de-ratified every board meeting, meaning there’s no consistency. A good quarter of them do not fulfil their duties as directors which includes, classroom speaking, liaising with students, sitting on CSA committees, and participating in hiring committees.

    Take the time to go through your CSA Board of Directors minutes, very few of them actually have reports or anything to report on. As a director, every two weeks you should have something to report on! Some of them have gone through the whole semester and done nothing but vote on motions. Contact your Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner and find out for yourself the participation levels of your directors.

    Now don’t get me wrong, there are at least a dozen directors that work extremely hard at the CSA. Some participate and actively contribute to the CSA, your student union. I respect those individuals who do their job. You know who you are :) The rest simply think being a director means voting on motions every other Wednesday at 6 pm.

    It is too bad no one writes articles on the laziness and ineffectiveness of board members. When an employee fails to do their duties, the supervisor has to step in. Your board hasn’t! Your board has failed you. We can barely manage our own duties and responsibilities as a whole board, let alone supervise the commissioners. We are too quick to find a CSA scapegoat, and this year it is the External Affairs Commissioner. Before you target her, look at yourself and your role at the CSA. Are you fulfilling your responsibilities?
    Staff report to their Executive Supervisors aka the Commissioners. The commissioners report to the Board, and the Board reports to YOU, the STUDENTS! If the board is ineffective, then everything below it falls out of place. Rather than focusing on the External Affairs commissioner, focus on your Board of Directors. Hold them accountable; make sure they do their jobs!

    See you at the next Board or General Membership Meeting.

    Joshua Ofori-Darko, CSA Board of Director

  4. Posted by: Rob on Dec 11, 2010 @ 7:26pm

    I appreciate your opinion Joshua, but you failed to mention one very important, if not the most point, executives get paid real money. That money is from the students.

    I am someone who has sat on the BOD previously and refused to run for an executive position even after much encouragement from others. My reason? Well one is the lack of engagement from executive members and the general student populace. During my tenure as a BOD, I never once saw or heard of an executive member addressing the student body. Period. Zlitch. Nada.

    In addition, the culture of entitlement (which is so often observed with Executive members this year, and years past), power trips (some might say), and the wanting to buffer their resumes with "legacy projects", it is difficult to have continuity year after year. One key modification that will change that is by appointing a single executive authority over the other executive positions. I would and have suggested before that we need a single President (I've always felt the Academic Commissioner is the most reasonable choice) and 4 other Vice Presidents. The Board of Directors can not responsibly handle the duty of overseeing 5 individuals who lack much transparency (I do not mean this years executives, I mean the way the positions are laid out in the by-laws). Many Board members are unable to handle their own responsibilities, so how can we expect them to be able to oversee anyone else? In addition, the responsibility to the Board is often overlooked because school work comes first or an actual paying job. We have to remember, this is volunteer.

    Anyways, before we point fingers at volunteer members (BOD) for not fulfilling their responsibilities, we have to first look at executive members who are working against the student body or plain and simple, just not doing the job they are PAID to do. The executive most visibly not fulfilling their responsibilities would be Denise Martins. If people want details on the various aspects of the job not being conducted in good faith for the benefit of students, I would suggest they search through the various letters, articles, and media the University of Guelph offers (namely the Ontarion, to start). I am not anti-Denise, or out to get this individual.

    We need a single executive with authority over the other 4 and a Board of Directors that is able to work effectively for the benefit of the students they all represent.

    P.s. Do the Board meetings still get catered to the tune of $15-20 per Board member, every two weeks? My calculations would be say 40 members x $15 each = about $600. I would be interested in hearing what the cost has been the last few meetings :)

  5. Posted by: on Dec 13, 2010 @ 1:41am

    You bring up some interesting points Rob. CSA does need more student involvement, maybe monthly town halls or something? That is something the Communications commissioner can look into. Unfortunately it’s hard to get the average student involved, especially when there are no controversial issues to discuss.

    Executives are paid to do a job, some do a good job, and others simply don't. There has been a lot of chatter this year about a presidential system. Too be honest I’m not sure how that will rectify the situation. I do not see a difference between a board supervising 5 commissioners, and the board supervising one commissioner who supervises the rest. I feel the extra step in the structure will be more problematic. Maybe I’m missing a key element to this proposed system :S

    Personally, I am in favour of the flat structure, specifically CSAs. I find presidential systems a breeding ground for power trips, and having a single individual representing a whole committee/population can be problematic at times. I aware that not every system can perfectly flat, but the CSAs Board/Executive/Staff model provides the opportunity for individuals to have an equal voice while maintaining accountability.

    This year, you can expect policy to be drafted on positive discipline for executive commissioners, so the Board will soon have tools to hold commissioners accountable. The External Affairs Commissioner job performance this year has been questionable at best. But to be honest, the board has done very little to provide motivation and to encourage her. Every board meeting this year has felt like a personal attack, and I found some meetings very unprofessional. Sometimes in an effort to successfully supervise members of the executive, the board does micromanage, but look at what happens when the board doesn’t play a role in the executive’s activities.

    Keeping the board accountable is a whole new can of worms. Yes members are volunteers, and do dedicate countless hours to the CSA. Trust me I appreciate the work some directors do. However, some members do not participate. Completing the minimum requirements allows the CSA to function more effectively. I think some individuals underestimate the responsibilities. School work comes first, always. But if you cannot commit x hours to something you signed up for, please resign and let someone interested do it in your stead. Maybe board members should receive an honorarium, something $200-$300 at the end of the semester, pending completion of their responsibilities. Just as an incentive, but we’ll need a smaller board because that can get pricey.

    Directors are still fed. I wouldn’t say the meals are $600 each (or $15 a person), but they have been pretty dam good. It is the only thing you can look forward to every other Wednesday, a decent meal. Maybe we should motion for dessert to be served 2 or so hours into the meeting.

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