This is where the Editor-in-Chief delivers wisdom to the fresh-faced first-years about finding out this university thing ain’t all beer and sex. Mine comes down to taking an extra year to finish your degree and do some extra-curricular activities.
One activity we Editors-in-Chief suggest — in the interest of fairness — is the Students’ Union. And yes, there are some awesome opportunities in there, but for the love of God, take it seriously.
Because the Students’ Union we have right now is seriously mismanaging its response to the Lister changes, from the initial press releases to the more recent closed-door approval of $50,000.
They said they recieved “No consultation” on the changes — before eventually admitting to heated meetings around the staffing structure and the first year curriculum plan in January. Certainly, some changes were decided upon after those meetings, but the situation is more nuanced than the rhetoric implied.
Next, the Memorandum of Understanding (or Memorandum of Agreement) that the SU maintains was broken — probably because few actually read it. It reads “this is not a negotiation process,” “all final decisions are made by the University” and later “intermediate issues (e.g. unauthorized murals, behaviour which creates health and safety issues) will result in a response that will be communicated to all affected parties within 7 days of the decision.” Nothing under that clause requires the university to have contacted students before the decision, and that seven day deadline was met.
What the SU is apparently hung up on is the earlier, “in an emergency, the University will communicate with the LHSA and University of Alberta Residence Hall Association (UARHA) as soon as possible.”
One major thing to fault the university on is how it initially communicated the motivations for the changes. It sounded like some specific emergency occurred, but lacked details. On two separate occasions, Students’ Union executive members made public statements at Students’ Council implying their belief in this unnamed emergency. One of these was given three weeks ago at an Aug. 14 council session, the other a day after The Gateway reported that this was not a specific event but the result of the Dean of Students Office’s investigation into the general health and safety situation in Lister.
The problem in both cases? The SU was told in clear terms what “health and safety concerns” meant on July 23. Within a week, the SU was given documents detailing some of the concerns.
The Gateway obtained a version of the same documents the SU was given via a freedom of information act request — following little enthusiasm on behalf of the SU for revealing what they had. Yamagishi described it as “pages upon pages of empty information.”
This empty information includes but is not limited to a list of all judicial incidents that occurred and were recorded last year, links to YouTube videos of events such as the anal waxing of a Floor Coordinator on SUB Stage and other information dating generally from 2006 onwards. The document is not empty, nor is this information, as Yamagishi claims in an interview, largely stuff from 10-15 years ago. He gave a five-10 years-ago figure when asked in an Aug. 28 council session — which is more accurate in that it isn’t absolutely false, but still obscures the full range of dates.
While it’s true that reported incidents are down — not that an excess of 60 serious incidents last year is at all acceptable — these are reported incidents. Following the Sept. 2011 implementation of the restorative justice program, many student-staff have admitted to their supervisors that they didn’t report all incidents. And besides all of this, the fact that Lister accounts for 80 per cent of all disciplinary incidents within the university residence system with less than 40 per cent of the residents is damning.
Despite having the documents and explanation to know better, the SU alluded to a sketchy-sounding “emergency” in the same council meeting that later saw an unbudgeted $50, 000 in spending approved. They did this in camera — which means The Gateway was forced to leave chambers while they debated, and prevents any councillor from freely discussing the matter.
That $10,000 is going to LHSA training fees, with the other $40,000 paying for Lister-related legal fees. These facts were confirmed by four different members of council — the identities of whom we will protect because the same SU that pretends to value transparency would punish them for living up to that ideal. These funds may not necessarily be depleted, and I’m not here to argue the legitimacy of the spending — but I am here to say that unbudgeted spending on this scale for a cause that affects a minority of SU fee-paying students is a conversation that cannot happen behind closed doors.
And it is a conversation that should not have happened after SU executives gave councillors false information. The memorandum was not broken, and just a single disastrous “emergency” isn’t the problem, the concerns being not one incident, but all of the incidents. This is not an SU committed to transparency, consultation or even truth. This is an SU run by a president willing to put secrecy, denial, omission of important details and outright obfuscation ahead of fairly representing all students. And it’s only September.
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