All Is Not Well

Another Student Union VP Quits

Another student union VP has resigned, putting forth serious allegations against the union’s executive:
Falsified financial documents,
A system of political patronage,
Increasing secrecy, paranoia,
Internal surveillance.

On Feb. 14, Morgan Pudwell stood in front of 1,200 cheering students at the best-attended political event the Concordia Student Union has hosted in a decade.

Just two weeks later, Pudwell, the main architect of the rally, sat down with her fellow student union executives and was told she wasn’t doing her job.

“We had an executive meeting on Wednesday and that was the first time they were remotely honest with me,” said Pudwell, the former CSU VP Sustainability & Promotions.

“They went around the table and talked about how they didn’t trust me. Then they went around the circle saying that I wasn’t doing my job.”
She resigned on Friday.

Pudwell’s letter of resignation, sent to the CSU executive and Council at 12:16 a.m. on Friday, paints a bleak picture of the student union’s inner workings. The letter shows an atmosphere where dissent was discouraged, Pudwell’s personal life was the object of official inquiry and fellow executives increasingly policed her schedule.

“They took something great and they turned it into something bad,” said Pudwell about the executive’s reaction to the rally.

“Instead of talking about how we should do more things like this, it turned into ‘Morgan is spending too much time talking to these people. Morgan is talking to certain students too much. It seems like she is making alliances where there don’t need to be alliances or with people who criticize the CSU.’

“To me, people who criticize the CSU are the people we need. Even when the CSU is doing great things, we need those people around to keep the tension. Otherwise, things like this happen.”

During Pudwell’s organizing of the rally, she met with dozens of students to build a team of 40 volunteers to staff the event. While these meetings raised suspicion with her fellow executives, Pudwell alleges that CSU President Heather Lucas began looking at her personal life much earlier in the year.

“In December, we were told by Heather to create a shared calendar on [Blackberry]. If we weren’t in the office we had to put down what we were doing, where we were and who we were meeting with.”

While the system was originally used to help executives find each other during the day, Pudwell said it was gradually used more and more to track her whereabouts.

“It became something where if I had forgotten to put it in the calendar or it wasn’t specific enough I was getting phone calls asking me where I am, who am I meeting with and why. Earlier this week I received an e-mail saying that I was having too many meetings with students and that I needed to spend more time in the office,” said Pudwell on Saturday.

“Its not my job to sit in the office.”

Among the allegations made by Pudwell in her letter was an issue of financial deception by VP Finance & Clubs Ramy Khoriaty.

“[At one meeting] we were all told that we were in very serious financial circumstances,” said Pudwell. “We had a one page print out of where every budget item was over, if not double.

“A week later, [Khoriaty] told us that it was a fabricated budget and it was meant to scare us and have us think about our money.”

According to section 108 of the Quebec Companies Act, Khoriaty could be held responsible for untrue entries into the student union’s books. Each untrue entry could cost the VP Finance $100 if Pudwell’s allegations are investigated.

On Feb. 15, Khoriaty told The Link that he had provided Pudwell and the executive with fabricated budget numbers to help rein in spending at the student union.

“The only budget I was allowed to see was my own, and near the end of my time there I wasn’t allowed to see my own budget,” said Pudwell. In a press release sent on Friday afternoon, the CSU executive replied to Pudwell’s allegations.

“Of grave concern to us is the baseless accusation of financial mismanagement. We have taken great lengths to ensure financial accountability and transparency. In this regards, we have made every budget line available to the student press and student body.”

While The Link was provided with a copy of each executive’s budget, it was not provided with every budget line. An online budget, without updated figures, is also available.

The breakdown in communications between Pudwell and the rest of the executive may have started early—possibly as early as Aug. 23 when CSU President Prince Ralph Osei resigned.

“When Prince left he didn’t have enough time to write everything down or to train Heather,” said Pudwell. “Over time, communications just kept degrading and degrading.

“I’ve been thinking of resigning since the student centre campaign,” continued Pudwell, referring to a failed referendum question on Nov. 24. “I’ve been trying to find a way where I could express what I thought students wanted to talk about. That didn’t happen inside the executive.”

The student centre campaign, an attempt to get students to support a $2.50 per credit fee levy to purchase the Faubourg, was defeated in late November by nearly 70 per cent of students that voted.

“When we came into office we knew that the student centre had a failed a previous referendum and I thought it was clear that we were going to learn from that and take this agreement and make it better for students,” said Pudwell.

“That was my understanding going into the referendum, that we had done the best we could. Then I learned in the newspapers and heard from students about all these questionable things that were going on and that contract hadn’t been changed at all since 2009,” said Pudwell, mentioning a similar fee levy question that was defeated in March 2009.

“Students were lied to during the referendum,” said Pudwell. “I refused to vote yes and the executive saw that as a breach of trust and support, while I saw it as doing my job.”
The CSU’s official response to Pudwell’s resignation dealt with the student centre allegations.

“We have not and will not make any concessions regarding the student centre project without broad public consultations,” the executive wrote in the press release, announcing that a committee was investigating how to proceed with the project.

“It has become evident in the last referendum that there are several issues that need to be addressed before this project can move forward.”
With the lines of communication broken down between Pudwell and the executive, the VP Sustainability & Promotions felt it was best to hand in her resignation and be a voice for students on the outside.

Three hours after Pudwell’s resignation letter was sent, her CSU-provided smartphone was cancelled and she was locked out of her e-mail—all at 2:56 a.m.

While thanking Pudwell for her work, the press release from the executive hoped that her resignation “draws no ties to the upcoming elections.”

The Concordia Student Union executive and the administration of President Heather Lucas has refused to comment on this story, despite several interview requests. They have promised to speak at the CSU Council meeting on March 9 at 6:00 p.m. in H-760.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 25, published March 8, 2011.