Newburgh censured

Councillors reluctant to speak for fear of legal reprisals

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Correction appended – Sunday, Feb 6

SSMU Council voted early Friday morning to censure President Zach Newburgh for pursuing a contract with, a job-networking website for university students, without informing the Students’ Society.

The debate and censure took place in two separate confidential sessions, which together lasted for almost six hours. The original motion called for Newburgh’s resignation, and was amended in the second confidential session to call for public censure.

Speakers of Council Cathal Rooney-Cespedes and Raymond Xing sent an email to campus publications at 5:50 a.m. Friday, writing, “‘Resolved, That the SSMU President be faced with a public censure.’ Motions to censure require two-thirds majority of Council members… The SSMU Legislative Council hereby censures the President of SSMU.”

According to Robert’s Rules, the result of a censure is that “the member is put on notice that if he or she repeats the offence, he or she can be suspended or removed from membership or office.”

Newburgh told Council that he had been involved in a partnership with “ Inc.” since September. His involvement was not disclosed to the Executive Committee until January, four months after entering into the agreement.

On September 20 the founder and CEO of Jobbook, Jean de Brabant, met with Newburgh. According to a January 19 memo from Newburgh to the Executive Committee obtained by The Daily, de Brabant is a McGill alum and former guest lecturer in the Faculty of Law. Newburgh wrote in the memo that he refused to meet with de Brabant upon first contact, but that de Brabant “begg[ed] for only a few minutes of [his] time.”

Without consulting fellow executives, upon meeting with de Brabant, Newburgh described in his memo how he signed a confidentiality agreement – since the website was yet to be patented – and began working with Jobbook with the intention of promoting the project to the SSMU executive and other universities.

In their partnership, Newburgh and de Brabant travelled on three separate occasions to schools in the United States and Britain to meet with presidents of other student unions. De Brabant paid for all travel and accommodations. In his October 27 report to Council, Newburgh stated that he “visited six (6) of the top eight (8) universities in the Northeast to discuss the creation of a network for student leaders of top North American educational institutions.”

Schools the two approached included Oxford, Harvard, Yale, MIT, Caltech, and Stanford.

Adam Khan, president of the Associated Students of the California Institute of Technology (ASCIT), confirmed that he met with Newburgh. “Zach did come to California around mid-November with the founder of the company, Jean de Brabant. They both pitched myself as well as our treasurer the idea of partnering with them in this venture, and we accepted,” wrote Khan in an email to The Daily.

The minutes from the November 11 Council meeting detail that, “President Newburgh will be absent from Friday, November 19 to Friday, November 26 for American Thanksgiving.” However, in the memo, he noted that his trip to London lasted from November 18 to 22, dates that he requested for personal holiday.

Newburgh stated in his memo to the Executive Committee that he did not spend SSMU time or money on his partnership, though he admitted Thursday night to Council that he had missed one workday.

In an interview with The Daily, de Brabant said, “I know for a fact he [Newburgh] spoke to the Vice President Finance and Operations [Nick Drew], who didn’t discourage him in any way.” When asked to provide a date, de Brabant responded that Drew was informed a month and a half ago.

Multiple councillors and executives were unaware of the fact that Drew was informed of the venture weeks before documents were brought forth to the Executive Committee.

According to an email obtained by The Daily sent to Drew on January 13, and forwarded to SSMU General Manager Pauline Gervais on January 17, Newburgh stated that he had “a financial interest in the company.” In confidential session, Newburgh claimed to have given up any personal stake February 3, hours before Council met. He then obtained a letter from de Brabant stating that he was working pro bono.

Newburgh disclosed his past financial stake in Jobbook only after being questioned by numerous councillors on the subject.

The McGill name is used on the website for Jobbook, which states that, “With the objective of recruiting the best and the brightest Members, Jobbook has entered into partnership agreements with the Presidents of the Student Unions of Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, Imperial College London, University College London, Johns Hopkins and McGill, as well as many others.” The site was officially launched February 2.

Several councillors refused to publicly comment, or requested to remain anonymous for fear of legal reprisals. One councillor told The Daily, “There’s a reason for which certain individuals were quoted anonymously, being the unfounded but seriously implied legal action that speaks to the character of any individual that would bring about this situation in the first place.”

Pauline Gervais, general manager of SSMU, spoke in the confidential session, an uncommon action for a SSMU permanent employee. She spoke against Newburgh’s removal.

Multiple sources have also confirmed that VP Internal Tom Fabian threatened to resign if Newburgh was removed from his position.

Councillor Eli Freedman spoke about how this will affect Council from this point on. “Council is probably not going to be able to accomplish anything for the rest of the year,” he said. “I don’t think there will be any more trust.”

Referring to a story in the Tribune published Friday morning, VP University Affairs Joshua Abaki said, “I don’t think the comment that there is no harm done to the Society is correct. There was definitely harm done to the Society. In my view, there were policies that he clearly went against, and he’s lost the moral authority to guide the Society.”

Neither Newburgh nor Drew responded to multiple requests for interview, including a request sent to Newburgh before he granted an interview to the Tribune.

— with files from Henry Gass

Due to an editorial error, the printed version of this article (News, Feb 7, pg. 4) describes that Newburgh admitted to Council that he had missed one work day last night. In fact, Newburgh made the admission to Council Thursday night. The Daily regrets the error.