“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.
During the August 23 Students’ Council meeting, council received presentations on the renewal of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity plan, embedded certificates, and the Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG).
Jaida Han, an arts councillor, resigned from their seat due to personal circumstances. Adrian Wattamaniuk, an engineering councillor, and Ibukun Ojo, a nursing councillor, were the recipients of the council scholarship awards.
Renewal of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity plan
Logan Mardhani-Bayne, provost and vice-president (academic administration) presented to council on the renewal of the University of Alberta’s Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI).
“[The] EDI Strategic Plan initiatives adopted in the 2018-19 year was always intended to be reviewed periodically,” Mardhani-Bayne said. “We’re at a stage where we recognize significant shifts in the environment [requiring another review]; frankly 2018-19 is a very different world.”
Mardhani-Bayne said that there have been consultations with the university community in the last academic year, and that consultations will continue this fall. Additionally, there is also a new vice-provost (EDI) at the U of A.
“[The vice-provost] will be a senior academic leader that will help to lead this work going forward.”
Mardhani-Bayne said the plan is meant to provide an overall framework for faculty departments and other bodies to then develop their own plans and initiatives. He added that the EDI plan will continue to be a living document.
“We like to consider how the environments change [and] what our community needs today for the next three to five years, recognizing [the plan] is going to remain a living document.”
Presentation on embedded certificates at the U of A
Janice Causgrove Dunn, U of A vice-provost (programs), presented to council on embedded certificates. Currently, the U of A has six embedded graduate certificates and 32 embedded undergraduate certificates.
According to Causgrove Dunn, only four per cent of the student body has completed embedded certificates in the last five years.
“They’re not widely taken up, even though faculties are quite enthusiastic about them,” Causgrove Dunn said. “[To remedy this], we’re trying to differentiate them from any of the other designators that you might get at the U of A.”
In January, Causgrove Dunn formed a working group to find a common understanding of the certificates on campus. Causgrove Dunn noticed that faculties had different reasons for proposing embedded certificates and that the structure of the certificates was “widely varied.”
The working group created a list of principles that will guide the development of undergraduate certificates. These principles are accessibility, strategic alignment, interdisciplinary focus, student demand, thoughtful program design, Indigenization of the curriculum, and sustainability.
Polina Reisbig, an engineering councillor, commented that the marketing for embedded certificates could be improved.
“Maybe there should be more efforts that feed [the certificates] more directly to students,” Reisbig said. “I think talking to faculty associations [is a good idea] — they would very easily be able to market that to their students.”
The Alberta Public Interest Research Group presents to council
Council received a presentation from The Alberta Public Interest Research Group (APIRG), a student-led, non-profit organization dedicated to research, education, advocacy, and action of public interest.
During the presentation, Sarah Alemu, APIRG’s outreach coordinator, and Tristan Turner, APIRG’s office coordinator, explained APIRG’s work and the services they offer to students.
After the presentation, Levi Flaman, a business councillor, asked if there had been any internal deliberation as to why there has been less support for the organization over the past few years.
“In 2017, APIRG passed the renewal plebiscite with 53 per cent in favour and 40 per cent against, even with a vocal no campaign running against [the campaign],” Flaman said. “Five years later, and with no opposition this time, APIRG failed the renewal plebiscite with only 37 per cent in favour.”
Alemu and Turner answered that there have been “a lot of challenges” within the campaign, such as running alongside many other fees and low student engagement.
“The election cycle was a really difficult one. It was at the height of student disengagement for two years of being away from campus.” Turner said. “In that environment, it was really, really difficult. The circumstances of the election … [showed] there was across-the-board low engagement and I think that explains why that campaign failed.”
Christian Fotang, Students’ Union (UASU) vice-president (external), asked if APIRG is nonpartisan.
“Is there a reason for not promoting [being nonpartisan] and do you think, maybe that perception [of not being nonpartisan] has also probably affected why your plebiscite failed?” Fotang asked.
As a component of APIRG’s bylaws, Turner said that APIRG is explicitly nonpartisan.
“Anti-racism organizing has been something that people see as being inherently a political threat to them and their values. I think that happens sometimes,” Turner said. “The work that we do is inherently nonpartisan, but it does have very clear social values … [and those are] the values that we put forward when we ran our [dedicated fee unit] 20 years ago, and that’s the values that we’ve carried forward this whole time.”
Chief returning officer presents election strategies
Matin Kookhan, UASU chief returning officer, presented the elections office strategies for the year, and the vision for the year being quality engagement.
“We believe we can achieve [quality engagement] through efficiency and accessibility,” Kookhan said. “Our goal as [the] elections office is to be as accessible as possible to campus, so students are aware of ongoing events.”
The presentation included a strategy shift in social media, in-person events, and efforts to collaborate with faculty associations to promote elections and involvement in student governance.
Included in Kookhan’s plans is organizing a dodgeball event at Lister Hall that aims to give candidates the opportunity to socialize with students and listen to their wants and needs.
Milan Regmi, an arts councillor, asked what approaches will be taken to address discrimination during elections.
“Unfortunately, there were very sad … racist and horrible, and transphobic comments directed towards several candidates who were running in executive elections [and] councillor elections,” Regmi said. “[What approach will be taken] in order to make students from marginalized backgrounds feel safe during [elections]?”
Kookhan answered that he was concerned about the issue as well and that the elections office is “against any kind of harassment [and] bullying.”
“We stand against it 100 per cent and if it happens, we will be the first to release statements and do whatever we can to assist the candidates and make sure that they are supported.”