Despite long-standing conflict between Lister Residence and the University of Alberta, recent decisions have kindled the fire of change.
The disagreement goes back years, but according to Dean of Students Frank Robinson, the most recent changes by the university have their roots in a meeting last January between Lister residents and Residence Services staff.
Robinson chaired two meetings of the Extended Lister Management Team (ELMT) on Jan. 24 and 25 to discuss staffing changes. The heart of the issue between Residence Services and Lister was components of Residence Services’ proposed first-year curriculum, which changed the floor coordinator staffing model and number of returning residents per floor. Both sides of the debate had their own proposals, and neither could agree. The Students’ Union and the Residence Hall Association also attended the meetings.
Robinson, who’s responsible for U of A student services, told The Gateway that following the discussions between the Lister Hall Students’ Association (LHSA) and Residence Services in January, he reviewed a number of individual alcohol-related Lister Residence incident reports to better grasp why the two organizations could not reach an agreement. While reviewing these reports over this past summer, he realized that change was needed.
“There was obviously a lot of emotion,” Robinson said. “I was surprised at how far apart (the LHSA and Residence Services) were in terms of understanding what student success might look like. So really, the meeting could not go forward very well and expect to get much of an agreement when I think it’s safe to say that respect across the table was pretty minimal.”
Coming out of the January controversy, Students’ Union President Colten Yamagishi said that formal discussions between students and the administration were put on hold in February.
“At that time, they said ‘let’s close the discussion for this year and we’ll open it again at the beginning of next year so we have time to find the right solution.’ ”
But Robinson said he wanted to find the underlying reasons behind Residence Services’ desire for a new staffing model, particularly regarding the claim that floor coordinators, who enforce discipline, are in a conflict of interest.
“If we have these people in a conflict of interest, where they report to the LHSA and they report to Residence Services, and we have an issue with things not being reported — which we know happened — I wanted to find out what other reports (we) have that did happen,” he said.
“And to be pretty honest, what came out of that, when everybody saw it together, was significant enough that clearly we had to go to central administration with it.”
That led the Provost’s Office to immediately ban alcohol in Lister’s common areas, change the floor coordinator staffing model and limit returning residents.
The discussions that led Robinson to look into the issue further were a “toxic environment,” according to Yamagishi, who attended the January 24 ELMT meeting as Vice-President (Student Life) at the time.
“There were a lot of conversations that didn’t necessarily move any party forward,” Yamagishi said.
According to documents obtained by The Gateway under Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, students also objected to how the discussions were handled.
In a Jan. 16 email from former SU President Rory Tighe to Dima Utgoff, director of Residence Services, Tighe expressed concern that the process used to move the proposal forward contradicted a 2009 agreement between Residence Services and Lister.
“I don’t believe that the spirit of the discussions has been upheld,” wrote Tighe, who was LHSA president in the 2009-10 academic year.
“It is incredibly frustrating for me, having spent so much time working on them, to see this happen so soon after they occurred.”
Residence Services formally proposed the staffing models in early Dec. 2011, and planned to have one approved at a Jan. 18 meeting of its Residence Services Management Group. Neither the SU nor LHSA normally held membership on it.
Tighe, in his email, requested that the ELMT meet to discuss and decide it instead.
In meetings Residence Services had with the LHSA — Jan. 9 with its executives and Jan. 15 with the Joint Council — the proposed timelines were questioned. Discussions were so heated during the Joint Council meeting that a council member later emailed Residence Services to apologize for his remarks.
LHSA president Michael McPhillips wrote to Robinson and Utgof in a Jan. 31 email, suggesting that residents would lose influence, power and accountability from Residence Services to the LHSA in discipline issues. He was also concerned about the LHSA’s “disintegration.”
“I honestly feel that (Residence Services’) plan to create the models next year is an attempt to take advantage of the turnover within the LHSA so that they don’t receive the same resistance,” he wrote.
Despite the intensity of January’s discussions, both the SU and the administration disagree whether it amounted to “consultation.”
“For sure, it’s definitely a related topic, but this is a completely different suite of changes being brought forward now,” said Yamagishi.
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