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Notes from council: students to shoulder cost of sexual violence prevention coordinator

Catch updates on a new sexual violence prevention coordinator position, as well as information on the next steps in the academic restructuring process in this December 15 council update.

“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.

University will hire sexual violence prevention coordinator, but only by raising student fees 

Katie Kidd, vice-president (student life), gave a presentation announcing that after four years of Students’ Union advocacy, the university has agreed to hire a sexual violence prevention coordinator. The position will require students to pay an extra $3 each semester, increasing the Health and Wellness mandatory non-instructional fee (MNIF) that students already pay, to $64.32. 

The new position would reform and monitor the effectiveness of campus policies on sexual violence, implement educational strategies on prevention, and ensure action about sexual violence is prioritized at a high level within the university.

Kidd explained this position differs from the work taking place at the sexual assault centre which does not sit at a high enough level in the university’s administrative structure to action the effective change the university needs.

Kidd also spoke about the overload sexual assault centre employees are facing. 

“They do fantastic work, the problem is, they’re responsible for too much work,” she said. “That’s leading to things falling through the cracks through no fault of their own but just because the system and supports for this role are just not there.”

Kidd asked for council’s vote in order to take the motion to the Student/University Oversight Committee on MNIFs on January 27. The vote passed unanimously.

“This is our now or never,” she said. “If we don’t vote for this now, we won’t have the same opportunity through [administrative restructuring].”

Talia Dixon, an arts councillor, said that she was very pleased about the new position. 

“I’m so happy that this is happening,” she said. “I’m legitimately overwhelmed. I want to make it really clear, I am more than willing to pay this fee. I think that any student should be and if you aren’t, frankly shame on you. This is such a vital position to protecting people’s personal safety in such fundamental ways.”

Councillors critique student fee raise after university adds three executive deans

Dixon reiterated that while she will be happy to pay for the sexual violence prevention coordinator position, she is frustrated that the university is asking for students to shoulder the cost. 

“To me it was very disappointing to see the Board of Governors (BoG) put in place very expensive roles this week and at the same time tell students that they are not willing to pay for such a vital position,” she said. “It really shows where their hearts and minds are at when it comes to student needs.” 

Ana Oliveira, an arts councillor, echoed Dixon’s statements. 

“I’m so disappointed at the university for voting in favour of three new high paid executive positions while they aren’t funding this,” she said. “This is something students have been asking for, something we need, and it’s something they’re not willing to pay for.”

Amlan Bose, engineering councillor, asked if council’s vote could be delayed by a month while more action is taken to push the university to hire the coordinator without increasing student fees.

“The university clearly has enough money to hire these high paying [executive dean positions],” Bose said. “If the university doesn’t want to fund [the coordinator position] now … we will know whether the university truly cares about sexual violence or not.”

Ultimately, council agreed that the position was too important to delay. 

“I understand the frustration,” Kidd said. “The University of Alberta is a very large institution and they’ve had this recommendation for four years. It is difficult to hear there’s no money, but … if I don’t have council’s approval today … this will not happen in my term and I don’t know if this will ever happen again.”

BoG representatives questioned about their response to GFC’s rejected restructuring recommendation

Members of the Students’ Union who sit on the Board of Governors (BoG), Joel Agarwal, the president of the Students’ Council, and Dave Konrad, the Students’ Union BoG representative, were questioned about their response to the board’s decision to reject the recommendation from the general faculties council (GFC) — the highest academic governing body’s — about administrative restructuring.

BoG, the highest decision making body in the University of Alberta, ruled against GFC’s suggestion to implement a college model run by a council of deans and service managers, ultimately adding a new executive dean position. 

Oliveira posed a question to Konrad, who voted against BoG and with GFC. Oliveira said she wished he had been more vocal about bringing student concerns forward in addition to his vote of support. 

“I watched part of the BoG meeting on Friday,” Oliveira said. “I guess I was a little bit surprised that there wasn’t a lot of pushback during the discussion. Voting along with students is great, but I didn’t see a lot of push back … I didn’t feel like student concerns were actually brought up.”

Initially, Konrad said he would “love to talk more offline” with the councillor about his process, but elaborated on his actions later in the meeting. 

“I talked about trust,” he said. “How at that point the best decision for the board would have been to agree with GFC on the grounds of maintaining and fostering public trust in the board. I also spoke to the need for … responsive and compassionate leadership.”

President Agarwal spoke later in the meeting about the board’s decision. 

“Going forward … I think there needs to be a larger conversation about what collegiality looks like,” he said. “Whether it’s within GFC, the relationship between the BoG, GFC and the senate, I think all that really impacts the governance and that needs to be looked at here at the U of A.”

When asked what he will be doing to ensure BoG doesn’t reject the input of GFC and student representatives going forward, Agarwal said that the winter break will be a good time for him to “digest what happened” and figure out next steps. 

“This is all very fresh,” he said. “This happened a couple days ago, but what I can say is that I’m going to do my best to watch closely for what implications these amendments at the board are going to have for students and state that I’m not fully supportive of the changes that were made.”

Looking ahead: concerns about student advocacy during departmental restructuring

Adrian Wattamaniuk, a second-year electrical engineering student, said that he was “extremely disheartened” at the board’s decision to overrule GFC on something “so clearly within its mandate.” 

“I was wondering President Agarwal,” he asked. “Do you have any insight on what our next steps are from here and how can we ensure that student representation is heard by the Academic Restructuring Working Group team throughout this whole process?”

Agarwal said that he believes the next level of restructuring will be initiated on a faculty to faculty level basis. 

“I think that there’s going to be a lot of importance placed on faculty associations,” Agarwal said. “Students in every faculty need to be very engaged with this process. It cannot just be me or council or the executives pushing for any of these student voices, it has to come from more of a grassroots level.”

Councillor Dixon also posed a question to Agarwal about departmental restructuring.

“Some faculty associations are really strong,” she said. “Others have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and aren’t really active, so how are you going to make sure … that they have the help that they need.” 

“What I can commit to is ensuring that whatever concerns are raised at a faculty level I will advocate for at the various higher level seats that I sit on, whether it’s a change that’ll happen at GFC or the board,” Agarwal said.

Rachel Narvey

Rachel is the Gateway's 2020-21 Staff Reporter. This summer, she will complete her MA program in English and Film studies before returning to the U of A in the fall as an Education student. In her spare time she writes poetry and watches Jeopardy. You can often find her sitting alone, eating a burrito.

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