Culture getting in the way of what you consider progress? Destroy it. Because that’s what will happen following Residence Services’ employee-grab — combined with the September 2013 conversion of the three towers of “Classic Lister” to residences accepting only first-years and transfer students.
A document obtained by The Gateway through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act titled “Lister Centre Student Staffing” was sent between employees of Residence Services March 1 this year. While The Gateway did not receive records of how this document was considered internally, an examination of this snapshot of the staffing change process is nonetheless elucidating.
Residence Services has sought to alter the staffing model since at least 2008 — when events led to the Memorandum of Understanding. Traditionally when seeking change in Lister, Residence Services has “relied on a Hegelian-based change model,” the document asserts. “A force or idea (thesis) encounters resistance (antithesis) and this creates conflict. From that conflict comes a synthesis. What that synthesis looks like depends on force, with the final outcome showing bias towards the idea that originally had the strongest agency.”
It goes onto identify the development of the Memorandum of Understanding as a perfect example of this. A consultation is not a negotiation it notes, with the university retaining full power over final decisions. Opposition fades when the more powerful side offers a better deal than the original demand, regardless of the value of the status quo. You know, like how the CoSSS fee was originally supposed to be $550 per year, but then was dropped to a comparatively more ‘acceptable’ $270. Instead of zero. But this model of change results in continued conflict. So pursuing, to borrow a term from the staffing document, the “ideal state” takes time and effort. That’s why the proposal contained a new suggestion — bottom-up change.
The only problem here is that it would be an insult to the intelligence of every student who bothered to pick the University of Alberta to attend to even contemplate this. It would be nothing more than a suggestion to cynically manipulate students and subvert the most legitimate and democratic mechanism of social change.Attempting to force change from the bottom, as the document freely notes, is not exactly compatible with defined goals. Making the values of students, however subtle your methods, change to line up with your goals to avoid conflict arising from top-down approaches goes against the spirit of bottom-up change. Instead of directly engaging the adults who live in Lister and taking their concerns seriously, this approach would attempt to just change the Lister culture to something more agreeable to Residence Services. Top down from the bottom-up.
What happened to this proposed method is unclear. Certainly, the University’s announcement last Monday is much more characteristic of the Hegelian model with all its assertions that these decisions are final — expect to see one or two concessions in the coming weeks. But that any Residence Services staff members came up with this idea in the first place demonstrates an outright refusal to take seriously the current values of Lister’s culture. But of course, it’s that culture that’s the problem. This isn’t about creating a “first-year residence,” as while some hazy emergency over the summer months may have prompted an immediate change to the alcohol policy, it doesn’t require the other changes. And this isn’t about implementing a first-year curriculum to foster academic success — the continued acceptance of transfer students betrays that idea. This is about breaking Lister culture and snuffing out its power.
Without returners to welcome newcomers and pass on traditions — and no, an RA employed and chosen by the university is not the same kind of authority as a paid, elected FC — what makes Lister unique will be lost in a few years of turnover. And this destabilization of the consistent culture will help Residence Services implement change more easily in the future. The won’t have to worry about whether to go full Hegel or manipulate from the bottom up, because rather than a strong community with the power of 50 years of existence and tradition, it will face a generic residence occupied by scattered, weak communities that last a year at the most — with few ties between them or the past. Like everywhere else on campus. Lister will be pacified, easy to control, but students will be denied what the overwhelming majority of former Listerites would describe as the best and most important part of their university experience.
It also denies us all the one segment of the student body that can actually stand up for itself. As an off-campus student every year I’ve attended this university, I’ve often been displeased with how “the Lister vote” likely decides the SU elections. But when it comes down to it, their culture is one of engagement. Good for them. It’s frankly all too rare among the larger population. The SU can’t mobilize the rest of us like Lister can its residents.The university knew it would face some strong resistance, so while it’s no surprise it struck during the summer when resistance is on vacation, it really is disheartening. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to feel let down time and time again during my time at this institution, but this is one of the most brazen displays of bullshit I’ve had the displeasure of wading through.
President Samarasekera, given her recycled speeches of past years, will likely tell the first-years the value of student engagement when welcoming them. But it sure is a shame that this year, with the breaking of the most engaged student culture underway, it will ring less sincere than ever.
With files from Scott Fenwick.
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