By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief
At the first board meeting for the 2019–20 SFSS Board of Directors on May 16, SFSS president Giovanni HoSang presented his mandate and goals for this summer, including how he would juggle his responsibilities as president with a co-op in Seattle with Microsoft, from June to August.
HoSang outlined how he planned to act as president remotely, with goals such as responsive communication through email and text, especially on weekends. He spoke of fulfilling his engagement hours via Skype and Google Hangouts. The slides for this presentation were shared on HoSang’s presidential Facebook page “SFSS President – Giovanni HoSang” on May 17.
HoSang also listed ways his time with Microsoft could benefit the society. Knowledge and contacts he could gain within the tech industry could modernize the SFSS and upgrade the society’s structure, he stressed.
“It’s not a vacancy,” HoSang said at the conclusion of the presentation. “It is remote work.”
HoSang stated that he was hired by Microsoft in November 2018, at which point he shared the information on his personal social media. When he was elected president, HoSang tried to postpone his co-op but was told that this would not be possible.
Part of HoSang’s plan included delegating presidential responsibilities to some fellow SFSS directors with parallel portfolios, and establishing emergency points of contact within the board. This point was addressed during the ensuing discussion by Jasdeep Gill, vice-president external relations, who was the first to speak.
“My first initial thought about this… it wasn’t developed with the exec team or with anyone being looped in that you’re expecting us to take on these responsibilities,” Gill said. “I do have a problem with this being framed as your absence from board being a benefit to the board.”
HoSang also stated that he would waive his stipend for the period he was working remotely, if allowed by the vice-president finance. A guest in attendance asked if that stipend could be split between the executives who would be taking on his presidential duties. Executive Director Sylvia Ceacero clarified that due to the B.C. Societies Act, she would check in with a lawyer about this.
“Before we can say he can waive it and redistribute it, I need to check and do due diligence for the board,” Ceacero said.
Gill also voiced concerns that HoSang’s absence would harm the board of directors’ growth, as the board was still developing their annual board plan. Gill worried that this plan would not be complete by the time HoSang left for Seattle.
These concerns were echoed by vice-president finance Tawanda Nigel Chipati.
“I think this would have been better if we had finished our priorities, spoken together and your mandates would have been in alignment with what the board was trying to achieve together. And then that way it will be easier now to say, ‘Now you’re leaving, and the team your leaving behind, they’re carrying forward the vision that they’ve [created] all together.’ But that hasn’t been done…”
In a follow-up interview with The Peak, Gill expressed frustration over HoSang’s plans.
“When we saw these slides and I saw my role mentioned, it was automatically, in his eyes, assumed that I would take on these additional roles and responsibilities,” Gill said. “It was never a conversation.”
Jessica Nguyen, vice-president student life, shared Gill’s concern. In the board meeting, she questioned how the board would function efficiently without the president. Nguyen noted that she had shared her frustrations with HoSang in the past, and she felt that he was not taking those concerns seriously.
“The mitigation that I can do is what I have done,” HoSang responded.
Gill pushed back. “You are taking a position that you were elected to by students and you are vacating it for three months. And you say it’s not a vacancy, it’s remote work, but you’re going to be at your internship from normal business hours [ . . . ] If you expect us to take additional responsibilities or work on the weekends and after hours, I don’t see how you can justify that that’s not going to be detrimental to the board as a whole.”
Gill also drew on her experience as a board member in 2018–19, when the board functioned without a president following Jas Randhawa’s impeachment.
“What happens is that the exec team [ . . . ] would be burdened with the roles that the president was supposed to be doing in the first place. And I think it’s going to lead to a lot of conflict, whether it’s internally or externally.”
Nguyen echoed these concerns, who shared them with HoSang in the meeting. “You said that there will be a president to contact in times of need. But what if my times of need are when you are at your internship? Then I don’t have a president to contact.”
As a returning board member, Nguyen also questioned whether the president could mentor new board members while working remotely.
“I am trying to support [new board members] but it’s extremely draining,” Nguyen said, citing her own pre-existing responsibilities on the board.
Stating that he was unsure what else could be done, HoSang reiterated that he would be available electronically.
“I don’t understand why you even ran, and said you’d be there for students,” Nguyen summed up. “I don’t feel like you’re here for the students when you’re going on an internship with Microsoft. You knew that going in, when you ran.”
Various guests present at the board meeting spoke up on the matter, many of whom voiced support of HoSang’s plans. Ali Versi, who attended the board meeting as a guest, commended HoSang for being proactive, and brought up the fact that the 2018-2019 board had previously operated with no president at all.
“I have faith that you guys can work this out together,” he said.
“I do understand both sides of the story,” another guest, Simran Randshawa, spoke up. She later stated that, “I have worked with Giovanni for a lot of projects [ . . . ] You can always reach out to him.”
GSS director of external relations Matthew McDonald was also present, and told the board that “I have the fullest confidence in VP Shina to be my negotiating partner during [meetings with SFU in HoSang’s absence] [ . . . ] I want to express full confidence in this arrangement from my side. . .”
HoSang also stated that, “This has all been very transparent.” HoSang referred to announcements on his personal social media channels, and on the Facebook page created during his campaign, “SFSS President – Giovanni HoSang,” through which his co-op was communicated.
In a follow-up email interview, HoSang confirmed that the earliest mention of his co-op through his presidential Facebook page was on April 30, eight days after the election results had been announced.
HoSang wrote: “I notified multiple students in various conversations and before and during campaigning about the co-op and my intention to continue fighting for students every step of the way, I said I notified students of the co-op on the Facebook Page of my President Page (in this case on April 30), as well as my personal page from as early as October.”
“I know he claims that he made all these Facebook statuses, but it was told to board members at different times,” Nguyen said in a follow-up interview with The Peak. She learned of his co-op during a one-on-one held shortly after the election.
Gill found out through other board members. She had heard that HoSang had been offered an internship, but she had assumed that he would defer it once elected to the board.
In an interview with The Peak following the meeting, HoSang expressed that he did not think that his working remotely had to be communicated through official SFSS channels as “I will continue the [president’s] work.”
“Working remotely is not a vacancy,” he reiterated once more. “I will still continue to work with students [ . . . ] This is more for internal purposes, but there will be no impact on the society’s performance or the performance of the president.”