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Newburgh deceived Ivies

SSMU President speaks to The Daily

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Article updated Feb. 12

Michael Yaroshefsky, president of the Princeton University’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG), Johnny Bowman, former president of Harvard Undergraduate Council, and Jeff Gordon, president of the Yale College Council, have all challenged SSMU President Zach Newburgh’s claim that his involvement with networking site Jobbook was of a purely personal nature.

“I was not representing the SSMU in an official capacity. And that should have been clear. And was made clear,” Newburgh said in an interview with The Daily, referencing his meetings with other universities student executives.

Yaroshefsky disagreed, stating in an email to The Daily that he was under the impression that he would be speaking to Newburgh about student government.

“I thought throughout the meeting that [Newburgh] was representing McGill – I even had the impression that Jean de Brabant was representing McGill too, given that we were supposed to be talking about student government and how they kept talking about the SSMU,” wrote Yaroshefsky.

Yaroshefsky went on to express his discontent with Newburgh’s pretence for the meeting.

“I came to the meeting ready to chat about student life on campus, as he claimed we would. In reality, he had other intentions, as he brought with him Jean de Brabant and both of them pitched Jobbook to me for the entire meeting. I realized he had used a bait-and-switch tactic to get me to meet him. He was using his involvement in student government as a fulcrum to gain leverage for this private endeavour – it was dishonest and distasteful,” he wrote.

Johnny Bowman confirmed that Newburgh and de Brabant offered him personal shares, or shares for Harvard student government.

“SSMU is the only [student association] that was offered a financial opportunity with Jobbook,” claimed Newburgh. However when pressed further, Newburgh clarified his statement, saying, “The choice that was presented  [to other student society executives] was that one could allocate shares to wherever an individual wanted.”

In an email Newburgh sent to Yaroshefsky and other members of Princeton’s Undergraduate Student Government following their meeting, Newburgh referred to Jobbook as a student initiative created at McGill University. Josh Redel, a U3 Software Engineering student, accompanied Newburgh and de Brabant to Harvard.

“McGill was intended to be the leader,” said Redel.

Redel, who helped program the Jobbook site during the fall semester, was unaware that Newburgh had told Bowman they would be meeting to talk about student life.

“That wasn’t my understanding,” said Redel.

Newburgh also used his SSMU email account to arrange the meetings with other schools. He explained that he used his official email address because “the intention was to have a conversation about student life,” but admitted that “scheduling just didn’t end up permitting it” in some cases.

Yaroshefsky, Bowman and Gordon all rejected Newburgh’s offer to get involved with the Jobbook venture.

Confidentiality agreements

Former VP Finance and Operations Jose Diaz said that SSMU executives are approached “very, very often,” particularly the president and VP Finance and Operations. Diaz explained that in his experience, executives would investigate the legitimacy of an offer before agreeing to meet. If a meeting occurred, the executive would then report back to the Executive Committee and Legislative Council.

Newburgh explained his failure to consult the Executive Committee as a stipulation of his confidentiality agreement with de Brabant. Diaz pointed out that Board of Governors meetings are also confidential, but that the president can disclose that they attend these meetings.

Yaroshefsky, Bowman, and Gordon verified that they did not sign confidentiality agreements before hearing Newburgh and de Brabant’s pitch. Newburgh met with them in October, several months before his own confidentiality agreement expired.

Asked to explain this discrepancy, Newburgh admitted he didn’t remember whether other schools were required to sign confidentiality agreements, and called de Brabant for clarification during his interview with The Daily. Over the phone, de Brabant explained that the patent application for Jobbook had been submitted by the weekend of October 22, when the pair met with Harvard representatives.

Newburgh also stated that he didn’t remember the date that his personal confidentiality agreement ended, insisting “when I had the opportunity to present it to the Executive Committee, I did.”

The Executive Committee was informed on January 19, though VP Finance and Operations Nick Drew and General Manager Pauline Gervais were informed via email on January 13 and 17, respectively.

However, Drew stated that upon receiving Newburgh’s email disclosing his potential conflict of interest, he was confused about what action to take.

“I didn’t know much about how the Conflict of Interest Policy worked, so I didn’t really know how to think of it,” he said.

Redel revealed that in December, Jobbook employed three other McGill students to promote the site, but declined to give their names. Redel said the other students “brought up the concern about conflict of interest with SSMU.”

“They were not allowed to discuss the product before it was disclosed,” said Redel.

Redel said he did not personally sign a contract – regarding confidentiality or shares – even though he joined the company months before the other McGill students.

Executive pay

In his interview with TVMcGill, Newburgh claimed that “[executives’] entire lives aren’t paid for by the Society,” and that “the same goes for individuals who have one, two, three, four jobs that they need to have in order to sustain themselves.” He also said that “other executives are in the same boat,” but did not specify further.

Diaz questioned Newburgh’s claim about finances. He explained that the executives’ pay was increased from last year’s, and that the amount is enough to cover both international tuition – the highest student tuition fee – and living expenses. Newburgh pays Canadian tuition rates.

“The reason SSMU executives get stipends is so that they have the means to dedicate all their time to SSMU,” Diaz added.

Fallout with the University

Newburgh is the only student representative on McGill’s Board of Governors, and is currently in the process of negotiating SSMU’s lease and Memorandum of Agreement with McGill. He said that he is “pretty confident in saying that [his] relationship with the administration is going to be what it was beforehand, you know, a good one.”

Doug Sweet, director of Media Relations for McGill, said that Deputy Provost Morton Mendelson “would be the Administration voice on this,” and that Mendelson has no comment on the matter.

De Brabant refused to give an interview to The Daily, saying that he was “too upset” about the criticism Newburgh has received.

“Jean de Brabant is one of the most pushy people I’ve ever met,” said Redel. “He’s a well-aged, extremely well-experienced gentleman who knows what he’s doing.”

Redel was also disappointed with how Jobbook’s involvement with McGill has unfolded.

“It’s unfortunate because everyone, from my perspective, their hearts were really in the right place…it was always something that was meant to be good for students,” said Redel.

When asked how Newburgh personally pitched Jobbook to him, Redel replied that Newburgh asked: “Do you want to be part of something big?”

with files from Henry Gass