Information from Dean of Students Frank Robinson contradicts public statements from the Students’ Union regarding the health and safety concerns behind the Lister changes.
In an Aug. 14 meeting of Students’ Council, Vice-President (Operations & Finance) Andy Cheema, Vice-President (Student Life) Saadiq Sumar and President Colten Yamagishi delivered a presentation on the Lister changes. Cheema stated in the presentation that the U of A gave the SU documents to substantiate their health and safety concerns in Lister, but that these documents did not justify what the SU believes is a breach of due process. In the same meeting, at the recommendation of the executive committee, an unbudgeted $50,000 expenditure was approved in camera.
“There has not been any specific evidence given to back up (the university’s) concerns, and to date I personally remain confused as to what the health and safety emergency is,” Cheema said.
“One interesting point to note is that there are only three floors occupied by residents in Lister over the summer, so I’m at a loss as to what the emergency has been.”
Most of the executives’ presentation was delivered in-camera, forcing non-council members out of the council chamber and binding remaining councillors to the SU’s non-disclosure agreement. This also means that the later unbudgeted expense approval has been decided without a public explanation of where the money will be going.
The proposal called for $50,000 to be approved, later split between $10,000 for student association staff training fees and $40,000 for ‘professional fees.’ Disclosure of additional proposal details, as well as council debate surrounding it, are being kept confidential.
Yamagishi, who moved the $50,000 spending be approved, declined to say when details will be made public.
“Do I think that that information will go out to the public in the future? Maybe, but I have no idea at this point of time,” he said.
Yamagishi also declined to reveal which groups are receiving the $10,000 in student association staff training fees.
During the public portion of the executive presentation, Cheema said the SU asked the university for evidence of the emergency which required immediate changes to Lister as well as how proposed changes would resolve such an emergency.
“We’ve been buried with a number of documents but we don’t believe that anything in these documents justifies or substantiates (the university’s) position,” he said.
Cheema did not publicly tell Council the documents received were formal incident reports filed by permanent U of A Residence Services staff and issues the administration had discovered via social media.
According to Dean of Students Frank Robinson, the U of A based its July 23 decision to change Lister Residence on a review of these reports. The review was conducted to investigate Residence Services’ claim that Lister Centre floor coordinators, who enforce discipline as joint employees of the LHSA and administration, are in a conflict of interest.
“An incident could be vomit in a lounge, an incident can be broken glass in a lounge, an incident could be urine in a hallway,” Robinson said.
“You only need so many reports of broken glass and so many reports of vomit and urine on walls before you realize you have a problem.”
Yamagishi said much of the incident reports’ content is outdated and irrelevant.
“A lot of it is really old information. A lot of the incidents they’re talking about are from 10 to 15 years ago. And a lot of this stuff, we’ve worked to address it. And there’s certain events they highlight that don’t even exist anymore.”
However, Robinson said most of the reports are from the past two years at the U of A.
“The incident reports that are formal from Residence Services are only in the last year. The social media stuff is back earlier,” he said.
“Some (reports) go back to 2005, but there were a significant number from 2010-2012. There were in excess of 60 alcohol or damage or other serious misconduct incident reports in the past academic year of 2011-2012.”
Robinson said that the incident report contents convinced him that change was needed by September, adding that the administration doesn’t characterize Lister’s situation as an “emergency,” but rather as “urgent.”
“Urgent is when we have to make a change now, and that meant we could change in the summer, not in 2013, but in 2012. That’s what I mean by urgent. We do not want another year like we have had with these incidents happening again. It’s urgent that we fix that.”
The word “emergency” is not present in any of the university’s online postings about the Lister changes.
“The staffing and rule changes are being implemented immediately to address health and safety concerns that became apparent as plans developed during the summer for the first-year transition,” the original announcement reads.
However, Yamagishi argued the severity of Lister’s situation has been overblown. “(The reports) show incident rates have gone down in the past four years,” Yamagishi said, adding that the over-consumption of alcohol in Lister isn’t an emergency. “There wasn’t anything extremely alarming that I thought I wouldn’t have expected to see.”
The Votes and Proceedings file of the council session referred to has been posted on the SU’s website.
With files from Ryan Bromsgrove.
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