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April 9, 2014
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Bite the Ballot: Sci5 suffers from misguided focus

Adrian Lahola-Chomiak
Gateway Staff
Mar 04, 2013

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.



Comments

Hey!

I just wanted to correct a few things you mention in your article. First off, the scholarships are not just for academic achievement. There is a research scholarship available to science students if the SCI 5 passes. So the ISSS is in fact investing in science student research.

As well, money would’t be ‘wasted’ on a leadership conference. The money would be given to students to use for leadership conferences of their own. As well, there are science sports teams signed up for intramural sports, so there definitely is some students that want to participate.

In regards to the ISSS hosted leadership conference, the conference would be a resource to students, not a resume builder for the executive. In reality, science students would be able to develop their skills and be able to add to THEIR resumes.

As well, I don’t believe that supporting departmental groups is an exception to the trend of SCI 5. In fact, it is one of the biggest allocations for SCI 5 (25%). When you compare that to the other sums of money allocated for other areas of the ISSS, COSSA is def benefitting.

I encourage all students to please visit sci5.ca, or to go speak to an ISSS representative. I did, and it really helped. They answered any questions or doubts I had about it. It also clears any misconceptions.



Posted by Anonymous on Mar 05, 2013

No doubt, there is uncertainty about how much of a difference ISSS will make with Sci5. But regardless of whether the organization tries to be “hand-holding” or “representative,” having a base layer of cash is helpful for student groups. Engineering and Business both assess a FAMF, and The Gateway takes over $3 a term in spite of revenue from advertising and other sources. Reaching a population of thousands requires some money to be available, and just as only some students appreciate the value of APIRG or the Student Journalism Fund, Sci5 is still valuable to the campus community even if some of the funds are not being spent in your personal best interest.



Posted by G on Mar 05, 2013

How can the ISSS support the formation of a Science Community through which they can effectively gather feedback and thereby advocate on behalf of Science Students? COSSA support is a great way to achieve this: supporting smaller science student groups that better understand and relate to their students. SCI 5 allocates 25% of their fee to COSSA granting, where instead of having COSSA groups apply for granting they automatically receive funding once registered with SGS. The leadership conference fills a need seen repeatedly to hold workshops to improving grant writing, proper transitions so COSSA groups don’t fade in and out of existence, as well as motivation for those students to become involved in conversations regarding academic advocacy. As an Executive member on a COSSA group I can attest to the need for guidance in grant writing, transition, and support with COSSA advocacy efforts. Furthermore, I believe that connecting small, unestablished COSSA groups with self-sufficient student groups will help promote the growth of new or renewed groups. While supporting COSSA groups is one way to build community, the ISSS should consider all of its students. 30-40% of students don’t have a representative body in Science because they are either undeclared or in a general biological sciences program. There are a large number of students without representation, anyone to “mentor and teach” them, or anyone to provide them with the sense of community that can enrich the undergraduate experience; as such the broader more general means of promoting a Science community are essential to provide “Service, Community, and Advocacy” to all 6000+ Science students.

Also, building community doesn’t happen over night, there won’t be a magical service or event that creates a feeling that being in Science is awesome. It will be a series of small steps toward the overarching vision of Science being the strongest and most unified Faculty on campus. That is going to include rewarding students for research initiatives and leadership in the Science community or helping people get involved in sports teams (I believe that the ISSS current has 6 sports teams) It also involves giving identifiable ways to know that other people are in Science. When you went to Orientation what were some of the things you noticed? I noticed that 1000 Engineering students wore a white banana displaying the name of their faculty, that every nursing student wore a white nurses hat, and that 1000 arts student had a sick pair of sunglasses. I think that Science swag is a great way to build an unspoken sense of community amongst science students as are the other initiatives that are entirely related to student life.



Posted by R on Mar 05, 2013

I think Adrian makes some very good points. As a 4th year science student, I see no difference in the “science community” from when ISSS didn’t exist and now. Yes, there is some free food and swag that I have had the pleasure of enjoying since they started up, but in regards to my degree and university career and experience, ISSS has had no influence.

Science sports teams? I already dislike the recreation fee imposed by SU, as I don’t use the university’s facilities; these sports teams sound like another instance of that for me. Scholarship funding is nice but what about the general science student that isn’t pulling a 3.8?  To me, most of the spending Sci5 is proposing will not actually reach the general population of science students. What about buying more microwaves? Or having more guest lecturers? These are areas ISSS should focus on, not big, visually pleasing grand gestures.

I don’t want to come off too harshly though. I think the idea of ISSS is great. I definitely think their use of Sci5 for COSSA groups, cheap printing, and student handbooks are wonderful ideas. But unfortunately, because the YES vote also gets me what I interpret to be unnecessary spending on sports teams, orientations and swag, I will likely be voting NO.



Posted by A on Mar 05, 2013

Why do I need to pay for orientation booklets? Printing for cheap?  I added 10$ in my first and and now 4th year and haven’t touched it yet. As for community, I refuse to be associated with science community, but rather be the part of U of A community ( which I don’t have to pay extra 10). Giving students scholarship? there are plenty out their to be awarded to students who deserve them and I don’t need to pay for the guys sitting next to me in class and his research.

As for ISSS, I agree with the commenter above? What the F is it? if I was really important for me at least I would have known after 4 years in university. For me, it is just a bunch of student getting together to build up their resumes and thats the simple as it could get.

To be honest, I have not voted in the past three years, and just because my blood is boilling out of anger and laughter, I will VOTE (**)



Posted by Sci5 my ass on Mar 05, 2013

To “A” the ISSS is allocating money to purchase 4 microwaves each year, has two different allocations to bring in guest lecturers. ALSO, the ISSS will not be awarding scholarships based upon a 3.8 GPA but for involvement in things like research and contributions to the Science community; that being said you probably shouldn’t award scholarships to students on academic probation. To get the full distribution you should go to www.sci5.ca or talk to someone on the ISSS, they’ve given really good information to me about their allocations and seem to have thought of a lot of the answers to the questions I see here.

To “Sci5 my ass” you currently pay about over $100 in fees to the SU and even more than that in non-instructional fees. Also, the ISSS hasn’t been around for the past 4 years of your degree but would have first begun to exist in your second year of University. Unlike other FAs on campus who have 50 year histories the ISSS doesn’t have legacy to build on - you haven’t seen the ISSS because the ISSS doesn’t have the funds or history to access every student in the Faculty; maybe we should give them a chance to do that.



Posted by Anon. on Mar 05, 2013

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