It’s election season, which means candidates are campaigning, posters are being ridiculed and ISSS is asking for more money.
Last year, the referendum for the Faculty Association Membership Fee (FAMF) thankfully failed to pass, but that didn’t kill ISSS’ hopes for a bigger budget. This year, ISSS has tabled a new referendum for Sci5, a $5 fee that is supposed to allow ISSS to offer a variety of new and useful services. In reality, the fee suffers from many of the same problems as FAMF and deserves to be voted down just like its predecessor.
Sci5 has a strong marketing push behind it, with a catchy name, fancy website and posters plastered all over campus. But if you actually dissect the proposal, it isn’t as pretty. The breakdown presented on the website is a mixed bag with some decent proposals. But generally speaking, Sci5 is bloated by wasteful or needless projects. Saying students can just opt out is a weak excuse on the organization’s part because the process to do so is convoluted enough to dissuade most people who look into it. If Sci5 had a theme, it would be “building the science student community,” but the strategy seems to be to just spend money on initiatives tangentially related to aspects of student life instead of creating new opportunities for the formation of communities.
Take, for example, the 20 per cent allocation to services for science students. Students like to drink and eat out, so why not use ISSS funds to get them yet another discount card to stuff in their wallet behind a dozen others? Maybe a better use for the money is paying athletic registration fees for students out of the ISSS budget. Both socializing and athletics are part of the student experience, but the initiatives outlined in Sci5 won’t do anything to improve the experience or spontaneously generate ISSS’s illusive “science student community.” Student discounts are already ubiquitous and it’s unlikely subsidizing athletics registration costs will cause science student sports teams to appear out of nowhere.
The best parts of the proposal offer concrete initiatives that could directly affect the student experience. Cheap printing and a science student handbook are solid additions to the current suite of ISSS services. A simple guide to the faculty’s various opportunities and deadlines could allow for easier navigation for science students without them getting overwhelmed. Additionally, extra funding to growing programs and departmental associations could allow students to mentor and teach each other without ISSS intervention. Small focused communities understand the needs and desires of their members more so than large detached ones such as ISSS.
These projects, however, aren’t the general trend in Sci5, but the exceptions to the rule. Sci5’s main effect would be to increase the ISSS budget — despite already running a budget surplus — and expand the organization without having a tangible affect on science students. Using Sci5 to create an ISSS-hosted leadership conference would look impressive on executives’ resumes, but it wouldn’t enrich undergraduate education. As someone who has attended leadership conferences in the past, I can tell you that they’re mostly cheesy group activities and pseudo-motivational speakers that students forget about after a week of discount card fuelled drinking.
ISSS will no doubt argue that their focus on science student orientation and scholarships will have a huge effect on new students, but I think that spending significant sums to supplement the already more-than-adequate orientation is a waste. Proposing to spend money on another bag of disposable free stuff continues the Sci5 trend of throwing money at students and hoping some of it makes ISSS look involved. A faculty-specific orientation isn’t a demonstrably bad idea, but it is a wasteful one. Adjusting to the university process is a long process, and no amount of group activities and building tours will change the fact that the main hurdle to get over is that you now have to apply yourself to be successful.
Giving students yet another scholarship to apply for when there are already dozens of which most science students qualify for is an inefficient use of the funds. Using the money to provide grant opportunities for summer research students would help fill the gap left by national research funding cutbacks, avoiding overlap with the diverse scholarships already available.
The role of ISSS should be to advocate both to the university and the government to address the issues of science students. The organization should spend its money on growing the smaller departmental and program communities, and providing services that improve the student experience, such as their study groups and advocacy efforts. Sci5 indicates that ISSS hasn’t dropped its hopelessly misguided “student community” focus by asking if they can waste the money of science students on sports teams and leadership conferences. Voting no is a way to send ISSS the message that science students don’t need a hand-holding organization, but a representative one working to fix the problems they face.