Elections 2020InstitutionalNewsStudents' Union

Fact Check: International students running for SU exec and Dean of Students student care coordinator hiring

Two fact checks were undertaken. One proved correct while another was not.

After seven forums, The Gateway wanted to set the record straight on a few responses candidates gave on the 2020 Students’ Union election trail.

Can international students run for SU executive and not require a work visa?

This fact check involves Albert Hu, candidate for Board of Governors, and Akanksha Bhatnagar, representative for the “yes” side of the Students’ Union Sustainability and Capital Fund and current president of the SU.

At the International Students’ Association Forum on March 3, Albert Hu said that to say international students face challenges “is an understatement.”

“As an international student, I would not be allowed to run for an executive position on the Students’ Union because my student visa does not permit full-time jobs,” he said. “And each of these positions is a full-time job. Yet, our international students are still paying the full Students’ Union fees. This is taxation without representation by definition.”

Hu said if elected, he would push and “highly recommend” the Students’ Union to make the positions voluntary or part-time.

Bhatnagar responded in her opening remarks for the Sustainability and Capital Fund to Hu’s claim.

“Before I get started I am going to digress slightly, cause it is important to combat misinformation when it comes,” Bhatnagar said. “International students are eligible to run for executive positions. Yiming [Chen] is an international student. They will be given full time student status as per a policy that was implemented this year through advocacy done by the Students’ Union.”

Bhatnagar was asked again another time during the forum if she could expand on her remarks. She said a statement from the Students’ Union would be published later on March 3.

The statement said the Students’ Union “has been working” to create a mechanism designating international students on executive as a full-time student.

In an interview, Bhatnagar clarified that for the 2020-21 there is an ad-hoc policy arrangement between Steve Dew, U of A provost. This would guarantee any international student if elected the ability to be an executive.

A more formal change, either to the university calendar or in a memorandum of understanding, is “still to come” Bhatnagar said.

“Ultimately, we do want this verbal agreement in writing,” Bhatnagar said. “We will get that. Rest assured international students are covered for 2020-21.”

Bhatnagar said in the future, this will be communicated to students within the executive elections package — a document all prospective students and candidates wishing to run in the election must read.

The provost’s office was unable to respond to request for comment from The Gateway in time for publication.

Based on the facts presented to The Gateway, there are indeed provisions to allow international students the ability to run for executive without jeopardizing their student visa for 2020-21 in an ad-hoc verbal agreement that will be formalized “in the future.”

Did the Dean of Students hire two new staff because of Students’ Union pressure during UASU Elections 2020?

This fact check involves Katie Kidd, candidate for vice-president (student life).

Kidd asserted at the Myer Horowitz Forum that through her pressure during the campaign season the Dean of Students André Costopoulos was making tangible change towards hiring a sexual violence prevention and response coordinator; not the change she wanted, but a first step towards it. Both her and Talia Dixon, the other candidate for vice-president (student life), have made hiring this position a major campaign point.

On February 26, Kidd said the dean of students “does not care” at the SUBStage Forum in response to a question posed to the race by current vice-president (student life) Jared Larsen.

“The real problem is — and I am going to be very blunt here — the Dean of Students does not care,” she said. “He does not think this is a real issue, he does not think survivors are impacted they are so I have a tangible plan to make him care.”

She then outlined how her plan would have a letter writing campaign to share the impacts of survivors and have their “stories at the forefront.” That way he would “understand.” At the International Students’ Association, she clarified that the letter writing campaign would focus on gathering responses of how the dean of students has failed students.

On March 2, she told the crowd at the Myer Horowitz Forum that because of her comments and pressure of the campaign as a whole, Kidd got the dean of students to make changes.

“Since calling the dean of students out for ignoring this issue and not caring about it, he’s actually moved to hire two student care positions the next morning after that forum where I said this to help sexual assault victims on campus as well as look at the systems in place. While it’s not the role that we want, it is a win and it is directly after I said this man does not care — which was considered a bold statement.”

Additionally, Kidd made the same claim at the International Students’ Association forum on March 3.

The Gateway reached out to the dean of students office. In a statement and an interview with communications liaison Lindsay Bliss — who responded on behalf of Costopoulos, who was out of the office — The Gateway obtained information which countered Kidd’s claims.

In their statement, the dean of students office said the position for student care coordinator — what Kidd alleged was created due to her pressure and the Students’ Union campaign — was developed in November of 2019. It then was sent to University of Alberta Human Resources Services which approved the job description February 19, 2020. The actual job posting went up February 20. Further, the positions haven’t actually been hired. The postings close on March 5 with hirings planned to occur “sometime after that,” Bliss said.

According to Bliss, the two student care coordinator (SCC) roles are responsible for assessing and addressing student-related situations that have the potential to adversely impact students’ success and experience. The positions will offer support to students in varying degrees of distress which impact their academic and personal pursuits on campus. 

Their responsibilities include a collaborative process of assessment, planning, and coordination of services and supports to meet a student’s wellbeing and academic needs. A primary component of their work will be supporting students impacted by sexual violence by taking disclosures and coordinating campus and community resources as outlined in the Sexual Violence Policy.

For Bliss, while the two new postings do not change the way in which the university support those who have experienced sexual violence, they do increase the U of A’s capacity to do so in the long-term.

When reached out to for comment on the matter, Kidd said she heard about the positions from current vice-president (student life) Jared Larsen about the two positions. She clarified that her comments at the Myer Horowitz Forum originated from both calling out the dean of students and the Students’ Union ongoing four-year conversation about hiring a sexual violence coordinator.

Kidd said the first time the Students’ Union heard about these positions was on February 27.

“This is the first time the Students’ Union has heard of it,” she said.

Larsen confirmed in an interview that he heard about these two jobs the first time on February 27. He said he bumped into Costopoulos in the hallway in SUB when he informed him about the positions.

“This was the first news we heard about the positions,” Larsen said.

The Office of the Dean of Students said the positions were mentioned at the Dean of Students’ Advisory Committee meeting on February 26. Larsen said he was not present at this meeting, nor did he send a proxy because he was at the Augustana Students’ Union election forum and the rest of the executives “were pretty tied up.”

Bliss added that the job postings to hire for these positions occurred well in-advance of the Students’ Union election forums.

Ultimately, the positions were public since February 20 and went through the U of A’s Human Resources Services approval process prior to this. Based off the facts presented to The Gateway, the two positions were not created in response to Kidd’s comments.

Adam Lachacz

With files from Christine McManus and Khadra Ahmed

Adam Lachacz

Adam Lachacz was the Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway for 2020-21. Previously, he was the 2019-20 News Editor, 2018-19 Staff Reporter, and a senior volunteer contributor from 2016-18. He is a fifth-year student studying history and political science. Adam is addicted to the news, an aspiring sneakerhead, and loves a good cup of black coffee.

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