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  • Robert Lovell

President Brar hires “very close friend” as part of selection committee for VPFO

Concerns raised about unfair hiring practices at CBU Students’ Union.

The current CBUSU Executives (Left to Right): Nagy Abdou, Emily MacLennan, Bhreagh Gillis, Parteek Brar (Gunny).

A student has come forward with concerns about unfair hiring practices at the Students’ Union concerning the position of Vice-President Finance and Operations (VPFO), due to take over in May. The concerns highlight an alleged conflict of interest between President Brar and the successful applicant. Mr. Brar was part of a three-person selection committee in his capacity as President-Elect.

The Administrative Policies and Procedures Manual outlines the hiring process for student employees (a category that includes VPFO).

The AP&P manual has a process for handling conflict on the hiring committee for student employees.

The Caper Times interviewed President Brar regarding the accusation. The following is an excerpt of that interview:

CT: “Who was on the hiring committee for VPFO?”

GB: “As per our By-Laws, the President-Elect, the Vice-President-Elect, and a full-time staff that is appointed by the President-Elect. That was myself as President-Elect, Samual Shaji, and in relevance to the job, it was Alex MacNeil that was appointed by the President-Elect because he is in finance and would have more knowledge about finance.”

[Samual Shaji is due to take over as Executive Vice-President. Alex MacNeil works as the Student Union’s Finance Officer.]

CT: “Sure, makes sense. I hear there was a candidate selected.”

GB: “Yeah.”

CT: “What is your relationship to the candidate that was selected?”

GB: “Umm… I don’t think I have to state that—what’s my personal relationship with anyone. Umm… I guess I don’t know, what side are you asking from? Like, I have a relationship with you, I know you from class, you’re a friend of mine.”

When further pressed on the issue, President Brar had this to say about his relationship to the chosen candidate:

GB: “…We’re very close friends.”

CT: “Close friends? Okay, you’re close friends. Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest, being close friends with one of the candidates and being on the hiring committee?”

GB: “Wouldn’t that be a conflict of interest for any of the 1200 students who voted for me? Or the 20 people on my campaign team? Or—”

CT: “They’re not all your close friends though.”

GB: “They are all close friends, that’s why they’re on my campaign team right?”

CT: “I suppose if it was someone on your campaign team, sure. But—”

GB: “Or I live on residence with 4 roommates in an apartment. All 4 of them would be a conflict. I hang out with people in my nursing class. That would be a conflict, right?”

CT: “Sure!”

GB: “I have people in my clinical group that I tend to associate with. That would be a conflict.”

CT: “Sure! So as per the policies, shouldn’t another person have been appointed to be on the hiring committee?”

GB: “These hiring committees, especially for VP Finance, VP Promotions, they are well defined by the By-Laws, and our By-Laws do trump the policies. So the policies generally state normal hiring committees. So if we are hiring convenience store, bar staff, stuff like that. So they do define if there is a conflict, you announce it to the hiring committee and you step out. In terms of these two executives it is well defined in the By-Laws what the composition of the hiring committee is. And there is no way to substitute anyone there—in the By-Laws, because these two are defined in the By-Laws.”

The section of The Bylaws President Brar was referring to.

CT: “Okay, so I read the Policies and Procedures Manual—”

GB: “Did you read the By-Laws too?”

CT: “Yes.”

GB: “I probably have a copy of the By-Laws here too.”

CT: “So in there [the Policies and Procedures Manual] it clearly states that if there is any conflict of interest, the President is to appoint someone else in that position, and that was not done in this case.”

GB: “I don’t think my relation with any of the candidates compromised my ability to interview or judge anyone.”

CT: “Alright.”

GB: “–And it’s a committee-based decision, right? The whole process. It’s a committee vote.”

CT: “Okay, I think that’s all I have.”

GB: “One more thing. Usually how it works is if there is a perceived conflict… Say if I know Robert from class right? And I announce that to the committee and the committee also assesses if that is any way making a bias in any shape or form.”

CT: “So did anyone on the committee bring towards you that this might have been a conflict of interest?”

GB: “No, no.”

CT: “Did anyone else bring forward concerns that this might have been a conflict of interest?”

GB: “There was a student who brought this after the hiring was done and we did make it clear to the student how the hiring procedure works. As I said the composition of the overall hiring committee for these two executive positions is very well stated in the By-Laws.”

The Bylaws make no reference on actions to take when a conflict of interest arises during hiring for VPFO and VPP executive positions — arguably the most powerful hired positions in the Union. Yet a process for handling conflicts of interest is clearly stated in the Policies and Procedures, and this is applied hiring for the least authoritative positions in the Union (Convenience Store Clerks and Bar Staff). In theory, an executive member could be part of a hiring committee interviewing their close relative without infringing on the By-Laws as they are currently written.

This is a greater concern since many spending decisions require only the two signatures of the President and VPFO. The position of VPFO has grown in power since the elimination of the General Manager and Operations Manager positions last term. The Executive Committee, consisting of the President, VPFO, EVP, VPP, and chair of the SRC have the power to terminate full-time staff positions without notice or cause.

Newly elected Executive Vice-President Samual Shaji responded to Caper Times via e-mail, saying “I don’t know whether he [President Brar] had any conflict of interests you should ask him that … I believe we hired the right candidate”. Alex MacNeil had no official comment on the matter, and referred the Caper Times to President Brar as spokesperson for the Union.

Interestingly, these concerns were brought to the Caper Times at a time when the President of St. FX’s Student Union is currently weathering accusations of favouritism. As reported by The Xaverian Weekly, President VanBuskirk was part of a five-person panel to select their new VPFO. After the successful candidate – in a vote of 3-1-1 – was already offered the position, President VanBuskirk used the StFX’s Student Union Act of Incorporation, which trumps the Union’s By-Laws, to personally select the candidate. After having denied knowing the candidate in council, a picture surfaced of the new VPFO holding a makeshift campaign poster for the President, and it came to light that the two participated in a class project together.

Returning to CBU, it does not appear that the matter of VPFO will appear before the Student Representative Council, or that any further action will be taken on the part of the Student Union Executive. Cape Breton has traditionally been slow to change, but amidst the multitude of changes that have come to the University this academic year, perhaps changes to the By-Laws are now somewhat overdue.

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