When Chris Jaic, editor-in-chief of McMaster’s undergraduate student newspaper the Silhouette, went to see two members of the McMaster Student Union last Friday, the meeting was not what he’d expected.
John McGowan and Ryan Moran-MSU’s business manager and VP administration, respectively-took him to a empty room in McMaster’s expansive student centre, they made the meeting’s real purpose clear: MSU’s board of directors had decided to fire Jaic without cause, effective immediately, from his job at the Silhouette.
Jaic’s firing has sparked concerns over the autonomy of the student press at McMaster University, as well as over the process MSU followed in firing him. The Silhouette has been McMaster’s official campus newspaper since it was established in 1930. Though its publisher is the MSU, the paper’s autonomy in terms of editorial content is enshrined in the student union’s operating policies, which also also outline the dismissal process for editors of the Silhouette.
The policy on dismissals states that “any paid staff member may be dismissed from the Silhouette by a two-thirds majority vote of the Silhouette board of publication. This decision shall be subject to ratification by the MSU executive board.” The board of publications is comprised of three of the newspaper’s editors, three members of student government, the MSU’s business manager, and the manager of the student union-run ad and copy centre.
Contrary to Jaic’s hiring letter, which outlines the board of publication’s ability to terminate for reasons including
improper conduct, insubordination, disobedience, and neglect of duty, McGowan seemed to believe that the board of
publication is responsible for dealing with editorial issues alone.
McGowan said Jaic’s firing was not an editorial issue.
“It was strictly a personnel issue,” he said. “It’s our policy not to discuss human resources matters publicly.
“I’m confident the board [of directors] took the right process to come to
the decision that was made.”
Jaic, however, claimed that his firing came on the heels of an investigation into alleged improprieties at one of MSU’s operations, and other coverage critical of the student union. Jaic pointed out that his employment contract, which he signed in March, contained the stipulation that “the board of directors may also terminate your employment, otherwise than for just cause, provided that notice or payment in lieu thereof be provided to you and shall be inclusive to any payments required,” by Ontario’s Employment Standards Act of 1990.
A member of the campus community, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that while there was a change made to the MSU operating policy in early 2006 to move the Silhouette editor from a weekly salaried position to a full-time position, there were no complementary changes made to the newspaper’s operating policies that would suggest any change in the hiring or disciplinary procedures.
“Being the editor of the newspaper, which part of its very function is a check-and-balance on the student government, you’d have to be in a very sure-footed position to take a step like this,” commented the campus community member.
The 17 Silhouette employees who made up its editorial board are outraged that no cause has been provided to them for the removal of their executive editor and stand behind a motion to reinstate him.