Graduate Student Association in ‘chaos’

The Acting President of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) has admitted the organisation is in “chaos” after University officials intervened to force it to rerun its October elections, following high numbers of complaints. Documents leaked to Nouse show that the GSA was warned by outside consultants in September that its election procedures were faulty and liable to break down.

The Executive Committee announced on November 11 it would reopen voting for the sabbatical positions of President and Welfare Officer, as well as the non-sabbatical positions of Overseas Officer and Treasurer.

Both the GSA and the office of University Registrar and Secretary Sally Neocosmos received complaints after the election event, held in Wentworth Edge on October 31, unexpectedly reached capacity leaving some members unable to enter the venue to cast their vote.

A member of the GSA present at the event said: “there were probably 15 to 20 people left outside”. The numbers are thought to be large enough to have swayed the result in the tightly contested race for President, in which Rui Huang defeated Luke Martin by 132 to 118, a margin of 14 votes.
Neocosmos pressured the Executive to reopen voting in a meeting days the election results.

Necosmos said: “I received a number of complaints and after discussion with some of those involved in the elections it became clear that they were not without foundation.”

A member of the GSA Executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said: “I’m obviously very pleased that [Neocos­mos] urged the Executive to rerun the elections. It’s pretty clear to me that if she hadn’t stepped in there weren’t enough officers who truly understood the flaws in the process and we would have been left with the result of an unfair election”.

Weaknesses in the GSA’s election procedure were specifically noted in the Govern­ance Review commissioned last year and carried out by external consultants. The report was delivered in September, nearly two months before the elections. Nouse twice contacted the GSA for a copy of the report with no response. A copy was eventually leaked by an officer who said: “the public need to know how badly the GSA is doing”.

It states: “a review of the election procedures needs to take place to make the system more robust and transparent.” The report also advises looking into electronic voting and clarifying the role of the returning officer.

Acting President Davita Gunbay is currently the GSA’s only sabbatical officer out of three constitutional positions. Dan Carr, who was elected President last term, resigned in August before taking over his role, while Academic and Welfare Officer Nabilah Halal resigned in October after attending a £450 training day paid for by the GSA.

Gunbay, who also acted as Returning Officer in the election, admitted the organisation was “in chaos”. She claimed she received no training and little support from GSA staff in the run up to the elections and “was literally finding out about stuff I should be doing as an internal officer, stuff I should be doing as an acting President, stuff that I should be doing as a returning officer a minute, sometimes half a minute before I had to do them.”

Gunbay has refused to release the Governance Review to members until after the elections, claiming that it was important that the new Executive Commit­tee discuss it first. She said: “If we just present it to the members then it is impossible to control the reaction that we’ll get and that might be harmful rather than positive… If we were bombarded with negative comments then we would spend a lot of time dealing with that and not be able to follow the Governance Review through. After the elections the first thing will be to have an Exec meeting and discuss the governance report.”

The report claims the GSA’s “lack of connection with the membership is unacceptable” and that the “governance structure is weak, with ambiguity regarding responsibility and decision making processes.

The report also highlights poor relations between the GSA and YUSU, stating: “The attitude amongst the majority of officers and staff of the GSA towards [YUSU] is obstructive and not one of co-operation.”

51 comments

  1. Wonder which anonymous member of the exec’ spoke to nouse? Probably the same member who leaked the review documents eh? That narrows it down to two people really as they would have had to be on last year’s exec’ as well. Pretty spiteful really.
    Dan Horsfall.

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  2. I don’t think it’s spite, Dan. I think the organisation has had the report for over 2 months now, was told by Sally Neocosmos that it was fine to publish literally a week after we got it.

    The GSA exists for it’s members – and it’s an essential tenet of a democratic organisation that members need to know what’s going on. The review gives reccomendations as to how the GSA can improve – recceomendations that need to be debated amongst the entire memebership. How can that happen if the document remains secret?!

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  3. Why Does the GSA actually exist? If its in such a state then why not just make it part of YUSU. Other than academic appeals and representation what does it actually do that other college JCRC’s don’t?.

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  4. Scott- “Other than academic appeals and representation”

    These being the two most important reasons behind the existence of any student organisation I think you’ll find….

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  5. Come on, what happened to “it was the decision of the exec not to release the report” (what you said at hustings); you were part of that exec’, democratically elected, as such you should stand by the decisions or stand down, that’s how it works isn’t it? It seems spiteful because whomever released this document did so because they didn’t agree with the previous exec’ (or didn’t get their own way) and the upshot is to leave the already beleagured incoming exec’ facing yet another problem.

    Let us also accept the fact that if the elcetion had gone the other way, even 1000 people being denied access to the ballott box would have not motivated the concerned parties to raise the above issues quite so voiciferously.

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  6. Dan,

    At hustings night *I* was talking about the decision not to give a copy to every member of the organisation at the AGM; then use the document as the basis for a number of motions, that if passed, would democratically mandate the organisation to implement specific policies.

    Making the document public is entirely different – all it does is get graduate students debating what’s best for the organisation, and in what direction it should move/change. This is about creating an active, positive agenda, which can only be good for the GSA (and therefore graduate students). If anything, it finally gives a mandate for the new executive to push the change agenda forward.

    As for the election complaints – I would half agree and half disagree with you. As far as I know, Sally Neocosmos was contacted directly by students who were unhappy about apparently being refused entry for voting. The GSA’s own constitution is actually pretty explicit that complaints can (and should) follow that process.

    Considering arguing for unfair elections meant my own election was then deemed ‘illegitimate’, I hardly think you can argue that me agreeing with the re-run constitutes me acting in my own interest?

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  7. Right… which YUSU already does for undergraduates…why not just have a YUSU postgraduate officer to ensure representation as part of YUSU.

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  8. YUSU does a great job at representing undergraduates, yes.

    But, for example, a PhD programme is so very different that it’s almost impossible for someone elected to a sabbatical position after a 3 year undergraduate degree to represent them.

    What you’ll want to reply next, I assume, is ‘why not have a postgrad elected onto YUSU’.

    The answer to that, is look at students’ unions accross the country that work this way, and see how many grad students are involved in them – you’ll find very, very little (this year’s YUSU exec is an anomoly). Having an independent association creates ownership, which gets graduate students involved.

    Also, there’s an argument around how money is spent that is worth making too – graduate students often require very different services than undergraduates. If you’re in charge of a massive union representing both undergraduates and postgraduates, who would you cater for predominantly? The answer is undergraduates, because they are in the majority. That alone makes the existence of a GSA vital.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that YUSU and the GSA shouldn’t work more closely together, which they absolutely should :-)

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  9. My comment has nothing to do with this article.. I was just wondering why both Raf Sanchez and Henry James Foy are described as ‘Editors of Nouse’? Is it possible to have a updated online ‘who’s who’ of Nouse please? thanks.

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  10. I’ve posted the “Who’s Nouse” section from the paper online, you’ll find it in footer under the “About Nouse” heading.

    Chris, Tech Director

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  11. Some fair points there Tom. I would also point out that I was not trying to single you out when I referred to ‘interested parties’; we all know how hard you work for the GSA, I am just not sure that leaked documents and anonymous statements are particularly helpful. I think complaints needed to be raised and properly addressed, as they were, and we should elect a full exec’ and get on with solving these issues from the inside out. Davita is doing a lot of really hard work at the moment and can’t really be blamed for any of this ‘mess’, we should get behind her and help ensure that the next elections are run perfectly.

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  12. Scott,

    I’ve been an undergraduate and postgraduate student at 4 different universities for 4 different courses (1 undergrad and 3 postgrads, no failures todate just to clarify).

    Anyway.. I’ve found that postgraduate students are usually left out of the loop and are not involved anywhere near as much as they are here at York. In my opinion the GSA is responsible for that difference.

    Note. I know this isn’t as long nor technical as previous comments. :P

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  13. Dan – I agree. I also think the current exec have done an excellent job in handling the reprecussions of the mess they actually inherited. Davita, in particular, has worked incredibly hard.

    I think we possibly disagree on the issue of “solving problems from the inside out” though (debate is a good thing!). A massive job for the GSA this year is writing a new constitution – the membership should be as involved in this process as possible.

    My point, then, is that this article (and Nouse’s committment to cover the GSA properly now) can only be a good thing in the long run. Debate promotes involvement.

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  14. Chris- thanks, I’ve spotted it now!

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  15. I am sure that when the Welfare Officer attended the workshop, she was planning to stay in position, and this point was made clear by her when asked, and it seems the editor/writer of this article failed to mention this point and only was interested to highlight that she wasted the GSA money!!!! This makes me wonder about the transperancy of this article!!!
    As for the current internal officer, it is sad to read that she did not get the proper training…as far as i know as an Ex-Exec and as an Ex-Sab that she did and that the previous Internal Officer spent days and hours with the current ”Acting President” of the GSA!!!
    The GSA has been doing great work, and the recently report has been a helpful guide for the GSA on how to move forward. To suggest that we merge, or become part of the YUSU is not feasible, because most of the services we provide are completely different and undergraduate YUSU officers will not be able to take such responsibilities (with all respect to my colleagues in YUSU)..
    Moreover as Dan mentioned himself before ambigious statements are not helpful at all ”That narrows it down to two people really as they would have had to be on last year’s exec’ as well.” (Dan Horsfall), so i would answer back and say if there is a complaint about any previous or current member of the GSA it would be good to come out clear.
    LAst but not least, i wish the coming elections go more than perfect and we establish a good Exec that can fight for student rights and prove that GSA is a strong, independant body and voices the post graduate students at the University
    A. Takshe

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  16. I think the current Internal Officer’s comment about “lack of training” refers to the fact that aside from this handover period, no formal training is offered by the organisation for any new officer (a point highlighted in the recent review).

    This is especially the case for things like elections, where it is staff which need to provide the critical training programme and then support.

    Also, I’d contend that a handover for one position (Internal Officer) does not really prepare an officer to then take on another (President).

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  17. 26 Nov ’08 at 2:04 am

    Davita Gunbay

    During the interview for this article, i did mention how helpful Jodie, the internal officer for the last sabbatical term, was. She not only has been there for me right from the start but still is.
    However, i was neither trained nor informed about many of the duties i have been carrying out outside of being an internal officer for two months now; things that Jodie didn’t have the training for or the experience to help me with. I could not however express the same gratitude for anyone else from the last exec with the exception of Tom, who during the elections couldn’t possibly have helped me due to his candidacy.
    Having said this in response to one of the comments I strongly believe that now is not the time for pointing fingers but for those of us who are still serving for the GSA to work hard to ensure the elections run in perfect manner so that we can continue working properly for the graduate students.

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  18. I am not sure whether Aseel, should be calling people on whether they are discharging their duties properly (the dig at the author of this article and the editor in general), without the hard work of Davita (and Tom), there would have been absolutely no welfare provision from August.

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  19. I think you are not knowing who you are talking about Mr. Horsfall!!!!!
    I left office on 14th of October 2008, the last day of my duty. Please check your records before making such statements!!!!
    I was and stayed the ONLY ONE who gave welfare advice to postgraduate students who approached the GSA until the day which i mentioned!!!
    So again kindly check your records and re-check with Tom and Davita….
    unless i have amnesia!!!!!!
    Moreover, i would be grateful if you would not tell me what i should or should not do!! I expressed my opinion and im allowed to and i did not offend anyone. I will excuse myself from this debate that seems to be a personal vandetta now.
    Thank you
    A.

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  20. 26 Nov ’08 at 5:42 pm

    Nabilah Halal

    It is quite interesting that Mr. Sanchez has refused to mention any of the responses I gave in an email correspondence between him & myself. As I have said in the email (of which I still retain a copy) to Mr. Sanchez, “At the time I attended my training, I had every intention of being
    the GSA Welfare.”

    “I find it quite intriguing that they (GSA)think my resigning would cause more damage than the resigning of the
    president, whom really should be the real backbone of the institution.”

    It can be argued that the president has resigned well in advance, but I, unfortunately was forced to leave due to sudden circumstances that were truly out of my hands.

    I would be very greatful if those involved could get the whole picture rather than misleading snippets.

    Nabilah Halal

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  21. 26 Nov ’08 at 7:39 pm

    New Grad Student

    Aseel, you say you “left office on 14th of October 2008, the last day of your duties”.

    Then why didn’t we (new graduate students) see you at ANY of the welcome week events?

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  22. Its interesting who the author of this article is friends with on facebook.

    Personally I think this is very poor timing for the report to be made public. Whoever it was perhaps should have thought a bit more about the repercussions during this time. Releasing it is one thing (which I may or may not agree with); releasing it when the GSA is at its weakest is a stab in the back. This is particularly harmful to Davita who is putting so much of her time and effort into trying to keep the GSA afloat through this hard time, whilst at the same time trying to do a degree. This certainly isn’t the definition of ‘support’.

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  23. Dear ‘New Graduate Student’,
    The reason you did not see me during welcome week was merely because i’m a last year phd student (actually in my last month), preparing to submit my thesis on time…
    It was unfortunate you did not see me, but i do have other priorities in my life..that did not affect my ability to represent the GSA and the students when they needed!!!
    I dont think not being in the Welcome Week affects what i have done for the GSA for TWO consecutive years!!!!and im sure u have passed to the GSA office any day during welcome week, you would have seen me in my office WORKING!!
    and im sure the other officers did a great job during welcome week..
    I hope my answer made things clear.

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  24. Okay, I don’t think that comment (new grad student) was particularly useful. Regardless, this is a new committee this year (hopefully soon to be a full one!) who have new ideas and a fresh way of approaching things. They also have the advantage of starting their representation with the report which will help guide them throughout the year. Regardless of what has gone on in the past, it is time to support the new committee and also offer up ideas or thoughts on the direction we (grad students) want the GSA to go in. It can’t do it without the support/feedback from its members. We need to get behind them as much as possible in order to benefit from everything the GSA can/has to offer.

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  25. 26 Nov ’08 at 11:49 pm

    Even more Anon

    Anon (7.44pm) – When would be a good time to release the report then? After the new exec takes office? Surely having it open to the public during the election campaign makes voters discuss the important issues, and in turn, candidates propose suitable policies that reflect them? Not to mention the good it’s done the organisation in terms of publicity.

    This is what a democratic organisation should be about – members knowing what’s going on, and officers offering policies for the organisation to follow.

    Also, “the GSA being at it’s weakest” comment is ridiculous. Whilst Davita is certainly taking on extra work over this period, there are also a number of officers elected in week 3 (?) who are helping out, are there not?

    Finally, Anon (10.52) – your post actually supports some earlier points, I think. You talk about the future, which is the whole point of the recent report. You say (in terms of the GSA trying to fix things)…

    “It can’t do it without support/feedback from it’s members”

    How can members give feedback if the organisation doesn’t let them know what exactly is going on?

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  26. 26 Nov ’08 at 11:52 pm

    Even more Anon

    Also, Anon (7.44pm),

    this is a trivial point, but are you really trying to bring facebook friendships into this debate? Seriously, get real. Stories on campus politics get passed around Nouse members to such a degree that often the person writing the story was not the person contacted in the first place.

    Facebook as a tool for political discourse? Don’t make me laugh.

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  27. Perhaps the reason the GSA is in such a state is the backbiting and petty argument demonstrated in response to this article. I’d suggest that present officers spend less time arguing with each other and previous exec members and more time sorting out the organisation.

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  28. 27 Nov ’08 at 2:09 am

    Even more Anon

    Anon (12.17am) – Completely true. Having seen the list of individuals standing for election recently, I’m sure the organisation can sort itself out…

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  29. 27 Nov ’08 at 11:56 pm

    A different Anon

    Anon 12.17

    “I’d suggest that present officers spend less time arguing with each other and previous exec members and more time sorting out the organisation.”

    If everyone is called Anon how do you know who is arguing?

    Anon.

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  30. There is a time and a place for everything, and now certainly was not the time for the report to be released. I believe the plan was to release it with an action plan so it shows the GSA is taking the report seriously. Instead, this article gives the impression that the report was ignored by the GSA, when this simply was/is not true. I stand by my view that this was bad planning by the person who released it.

    Also, the person who leaked it is quoted as saying “the public need to know how badly the GSA is doing”. A GSA officer releasing the report to the press just supports this view. The person was acting alone and on their own behalf because they didn’t like the decision made by the exec. I completely agree with Dan Horsfall’s 2nd (2:16pm) comment.

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  31. 28 Nov ’08 at 3:25 pm

    Daniel Horsfall

    Aseel, I have an email in my sent box that is dated the 29th of September (here, let me cut and paste the first line from Tom’s response a month later: On Mon, Sep 29, 2008 at 1:40 PM, Dan Horsfall wrote: – The full email can be forwarded if you would like) that was not answered until November, by your own admission that was not you who answered it – it was however you who should have answered it. How about you get your facts right?

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  32. 29 Nov ’08 at 12:51 am

    Champion of Democracy

    Anon 1.54pm –

    Your comment that ‘now is not the right time’ for the report to be released, and that ‘it should be accompanied by the action plan’ really serves to demonstrate your lack of understanding of what a DEMOCRATIC organisation is about, I’m afraid.

    The sovereign body of the GSA is not the elected officers, nor is it the staff the organisation employs. The most important body of decision makers of the GSA are the members of the organisation – that means all of the approximately 2200 large graduate student population at the University.

    It is up to them to decide how THEIR organisation should move forward. To do this, they need as much information as possible.

    I would therefore point out that it’s actually the DUTY of the organisation to give the membership the information contained in the recent report (having not seen it, I can only assume it says some rather big things), so they can make informed decisions about candidates/policies.

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  33. Ok fess up, how many of the anons, champions of democracy etc are just former exec’ members? :-)

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  34. ‘Champion of Democracy’ – perhaps it is you who doesn’t understand ‘democracy’. Its was the democratic process in which the GSA members elected the committee to act in their best interests. It was also the GSA members who voted (democratically) to except the constitution. It was the GSA committee who decided the report should not be released without an action plan or a response to the report attached to it. Whether this was the right or wrong decision by the exec, it remains that the person who released it acted against the constitution, which (as I mentioned above), was passed by the GSA members themselves. It is this issue I have a problem with – not that the GSA members have seen it as they would have done anyway when an action plan was drawn up (as was agreed.)

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  35. 1 Dec ’08 at 12:24 pm

    Yet Another Anon.

    “Its was the democratic process in which the GSA members elected the committee to act in their best interests. It was also the GSA members who voted (democratically) to except the constitution.” (Sic)

    Anon (11.20am). You’re just plain wrong. Take a look through the constitution; “The Executive shall be responsible for the day-to-day running of the GSA” there’s nothing in there about deciding the future governance of the association or anything like that, or anything even close to the broad mandate you seem to think they (you?!) have.

    All this tosh about them being ‘democratically elected’ makes no difference, because its not what they were ‘democratically elected’ to do!

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  36. 1 Dec ’08 at 1:10 pm

    Aseel Takshe

    Mr. Horsfall,
    I have no idea what ur trying to prove!!! whatever it is, i honestly care the less because im not waiting for u to evaluate my work or validate when did i leave office or how efficient i handled my duties..I will leave this judgment to the students i won their cases and to the committees i sat on and participated..
    So kindly can u find some other person to pick on because ive lost interest honestly and it is evident that ur picking on people just for the sake of picking..
    It would be more efficient if u concentrate ur efforts in improving the GSA where u r an officer in!!!!!and im so excited to see by the end of this year ur achievements as an officer!!
    A.

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  37. 1 Dec ’08 at 2:20 pm

    Dan Horsfall

    The point I am trying to make Aseel, is that you should not be trying to tell people how to do their job when you were did not do your job properly. You were elected to serve the welfare needs of the graduate population of York for the entire term of your office. You did not do this. You quite simply ignored emails from mid-August, though I bet you didn’t ignore your salary cheques. I am not the only person whose emails you ignored either.

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  38. 1 Dec ’08 at 2:44 pm

    This debate is getting very funny

    Anon (11.20am) – What use it is for the membership to see the report AFTER they’ve voted for candidates/policies?

    Informed voting is better than misinformed voting, which is what democracy is about.

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  39. ‘Yet another anon’ – are you saying I am wrong for the second part of that last statement? Because that is the main part I am concerned about. You and I seem to be arguing about different things.

    Additionally, the decision to not release it at that time was part of the day-to-day running – not a future governance one. The report would have been presented with an action plan which its members could then vote on. This would have allowed the members to make the decisions about the future of the association, but with information on the possible approaches to rectify the problems highlighted in the report.

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  40. 1 Dec ’08 at 2:52 pm

    Why all these anons?

    This is stupid!!!!!!!!!! Why are u all arguing over something that is done?

    “I’d suggest that present officers spend less time arguing with each other and previous exec members and more time sorting out the organisation.”

    Damn right. Move on and sort out the GSA!

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  41. 1 Dec ’08 at 3:31 pm

    Dan Horsfall

    By all means, judge me at the end of the year on my record as part of the team of sports officers. It’s going well so far, we came third in Ultimate Frisbee, put a good showing in the cross-country, and have fielded a team for everything pretty much, building on the good work of Billy last year. It’s all about better management here in the department of sports thank you.

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  42. I’m pretty sure a lot of these ‘Anons’ are probably ex officers… which means current officers are doing the right thing by getting on with things…

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  43. I did not want to comment on any statement/response but seeing where this is going is really disturbing.

    I do believe that Davita and her team are doing a good job trying to keep things together knowing that the GSA is missing 2 sabbatical officers(not putting the blame on anyone for that…every person has his/her own reasons and I respect that so should everyone)
    I mentioned more than once and i am mentioning it again..i would be more than happy to help in anyway if/when asked!!!

    I do believe as it has been stated before by others that it’s time to just look at the future of the organisation rather then spending time arguing with each other…
    Last year exec did a great job (sabbatical or non sabbatical) whether people are willing to admit it or not the GSA is improving every year in it’s welfare provision, social events, university represenatation and many more…. and I hope that this year’s team will as expected from them take the GSA forward!

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  44. Why all these anons? – agreed!
    This debate is getting very funny – yes it is!
    The other ‘anon’ – You can be the only one now! Meh. I’m out.

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  45. Anon 2.45pm:

    “The report would have been presented with an action plan which its members could then vote on. This would have allowed the members to make the decisions about the future of the association, but with information on the possible approaches to rectify the problems highlighted in the report.”

    One of the Association’s responsibilities is to get as many graduate students involved in the organisation as possible.

    Solutions to the “problems highlighted in the report” should be formulated with as much student input as possible. I therefore also subscribe to the view that creating a debate during elections, when by far the most people are paying attention, is good for the organisation.

    That said, time to move the debate on to something productive.

    What suggestions do people have to improve the levels of connection between the GSA and it’s members?

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  46. How funny that suddenly nobody who’s been posting as anonymous now has anything to say!

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  47. Well done to the new Prez, new/old Treasurer, and the new Welfare Officer for wheeling, dealing and frankly going to any lengths to all get elected together. Enjoy your little white boys club.

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  48. better than it being a little Asian club! Whoops, what I meant to say was: racism does no-one any good, and how did that last comment get past the mods!!!!

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  49. Please try and keep conversation civil, the only thing you’re showing up is yourself.

    There’s nothing in the previous comment that is against the media charter (as interpreted by someone external to Nouse too), which is why it was allowed.

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  50. Anonagainor –

    (how have Nouse let the last two comments go through?!).

    Seriously, what the hell are you talking about?

    Firstly, the election results haven’t even been announced yet!

    Having spent the last week marking essays and having nothing to do with the election campaign (even my own), I’d question your motivation for your, quite frankly, libelous and completely unsubstantiated post.

    If you’re referring to the elections being re-run – have a look at the stories in the campus press, or indeed talk to any member currently sitting on the exec. You’ll find there was pretty much unanimous agreement to re-run them because they weren’t fair!

    On that note, considering I won the first time by over 200 votes, how the hell would it have been in my own interests to have them re-run?

    Get real.

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  51. I also want to say, that quite frankly, the two racist posts – and the accusations behind them – are disgusting.

    I am offended by the thought that this contest has been about anything other than people trying to get elected because they think they can do the best job.

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