Amid so-called “weird interpersonal conflicts” between the student government president and other leaders, prominent student government trailblazer Blake Gibson announced his resignation Wednesday night from his post as chief of staff.
Gibson, a pre-medical junior, said he recently accepted an offer to assist with rat surgeries and, although he has enjoyed his time with the Associated Students of CSU, the offer was too good to pass up.
“This is hard,” Gibson said to the stunned ASCSU crowd. “This is hard, because I’ve been here a while and given a whole lot.”Gibson established himself as a champion for student advocacy earlier this year when, as president of the Associated Students of Colorado — a coalition of student governments from across the state — he authored a progressive textbook transparency bill to lower textbook prices for students.
An unprecedented accomplishment for a CSU student, Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill into law in April.
Gibson said he felt pressure from Taylor Smoot, ASCSU president, and Quinn Girrens, ASCSU vice-president, to leave his position last week.
Conflict arose over differences in management styles, Gibson said.
“I definitely saw a difference of philosophy,” he said.
Gibson said he felt it was the duty of the chief of staff to manage smaller, inter-ASCSU issues in order to free-up the president to work on state and national issues, as well as matters involving the CSU System Board of Governors.
He said Smoot, however, “likes to be involved” and conflict arose because Gibson felt he did not have the “length or breadth that a traditional chief of staff has.”
“I was confused about what they wanted and how I was not fulfilling it,” Gibson said. “I felt I was being asked to leave.”
State Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, who sponsored the textbook bill and worked with Gibson said his “experience with Blake was positive.”
“I found him to be a very responsible person of integrity, very knowledgeable and a team player,” Kefalas said. “He’s a great advocate spokesperson for CSU students.”
Dan Palmer, an ASCSU senator, who also worked with Gibson on the textbook bill, had nothing but praise for the student leader.
“I think he’s been one of the best people we’ve had in student government,” Palmer said.
Palmer said Gibson excels at putting ideas into action and seeing them through to completion.
Smoot also agreed, saying, “He’s done a great job. Personally I’ve grown because of (Gibson) and this organization has grown immensely because of (him).”
Palmer expressed his own concern about Gibson’s departure, which he said is the consequence of the conflicts that have existed throughout student government since the beginning of Smoot’s presidency.
“I was shocked that they wanted him to leave,” he said.
Smoot, however, said he was not forcing Gibson out and said that the two have had a number of “huge discussions about where we’re going” and have aligned their visions and goals to best serve the CSU students.
“Me forcing someone out would be me saying ‘You’re fired.’ I’m not that kind of president,” Smoot said, although firing cabinet members is within the authority of the president.
Gibson confirmed that the two leaders had indeed met and worked out their differences of philosophy and chalked the disagreement up to a “misunderstanding”. He also said things “are on much better terms.”
“So much of this always boils down to a difference of opinion or a misunderstanding,” Gibson said.
Nevertheless, Gibson said since he had felt he was being asked to leave, by the time he and Smoot came to an accord, he had already found the job assisting with rat research surgeries and decided to take it anyway in order to further his future goal of going to medical school.
“It’s just not something I can pass up,” Gibson said.
The decision was necessary, he said, but hard to make.
“Anytime you invest so much time, energy and emotion into something, it’s very difficult to leave,” Gibson said.
“I usually get interested in something and get stuck there,” he added, jokingly.
Gibson said he feels good about what he has accomplished with student government and is excited about the prospect of broadening his understanding of the medical field, but said he has high hopes for ASCSU’s future.
“If I could tap my heals together three times (and get what I want) it would be that ASCSU gets a seat at every table at this university,” Gibson said. “I want us to have a say in not just what goes on, but how it goes on.”
Palmer said Gibson will be sorely missed in student government while he is busy “cutting up rats.”
“He was good at coming up with ideas and getting us motivated,” Palmer said. “I think there will be a huge gap.”
Smoot agreed that Gibson “was a huge asset” and will be missed.
“This is tough. You can’t just replace Blake Gibson,” Smoot said.
Smoot also said, as difficult as it will be, he is working hard to find a successor.
“You put the right people with the right tools in the right situation at the right time,” he said. “We’re not going to miss a beat.”
Gibson assured the senate that the “transition will be as soon as possible” and said he will be working along side of Smoot to find a replacement after his resignation takes effect on Dec. 31.
Senior Reporter Jim Sojourner can be reached at email@example.com.