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.
Jayna Gilchrist is a defeated woman.
She sits across from me as I interview her, staring off into the distance, only making eye contact sporadically and straining to stretch out her answers when I ask for positives about the year. It is unfortunate considering the passion and desire that lurk beneath her quavering voice.
Sadly, passion and desire are only part of what's needed to lead.
While her recent censure and the candid comments of Students' Union executive and commissioners alike have exposed her leadership shortcomings when it comes to the internal politics, she is the first to admit the problem is nothing new.
Gilchrist admits she was too much of a pushover for her first six months on the job. She admits she initially mishandled some very volatile and confrontational co-workers. She admits her focus on external issues cost her dearly when it came to internal cohesion. She admits things are not good right now.
However, she also points to gains made in both community and administrative relations, and rightly so. The work done by Gilchrist, her Vice-President External and many others in the su raising awareness and sympathy both on campus and beyond is commendable.
That said, two steps forward do not offset 20 steps back.
Whether it is her personality, her decision-making, her personal politics, her work ethic or any number of possible factors, the fact remains: Jayna Gilchrist was a terrible leader. That's not to say she had it easy, that's not to say someone else would have fared any better, but she lost control of her executive and her office early and never regained it. What's worse is she lost the respect of the campus, damaging the union's reputation and profile to a point which remains to be seen.
So, how bad has it become? A simple stroll through the su offices tells you all you need to know.
Her vp Academic's door bears a sign reading "Censure-free Zone" with Gilchrist's photo crossed out. Poke your head into her vp Operations and Finance's office and you will see a photocopied article on the wall bearing the headline "How to work with a boss you hate."
Long story short, Gilchrist occupied a position of power but did not show the strength of character required to maintain it. In most situations power abhors a vacuum, and student politics are no exception.
Gilchrist left a lot to be desired from day one, and since day one there have been more than enough people willing to point that out. Unfortunately for her-indeed, for all of campus-she was unable to correct her failings as the year went on, proliferating a term that both began and ended in disappointment.