The Gateway recently published two articles (see links below) regarding the Lister situation that the Students' Union felt necessitated a response.
Below is our response.
I read with interest this week’s editorial “Students’ Union far from transparent.” The article rather missed the point, and I would be happy to provide some clarification.
First, I want to address your concern that this “affects a minority of SU fee-paying students” and with that your concern about the $40,000 in professional fees. Lister Hall is the largest student residence at the U of A, and the Administration has refused to follow proper processes with our students there. There is a natural power imbalance between a university and its students, and agreements for consultation between the two are one of the ways to ensure that students have a say in their university experience. We are a $10 million organization representing over 30,000 students, and while the SU runs events, businesses and many other services, ensuring that the Administration cannot unilaterally force changes over students is one of the core reasons we have a Students’ Union protecting the student voice. Since we need to negotiate and deal with other groups within the U of A community, including the Administration, it is understandable that there needs to be an allowance for closed-door discussions among elected student representatives, much as the university Administration has scheduled closed and in-camera sessions to discuss strategy and matters that must be kept confidential.
The SU is digging in over Lister not just because it is our largest student residence, but also because if the Administration can decide that agreements and Board of Governors motions do not apply to them in this case, why should we expect them to hear student concerns in any other situation? The editorial discusses the Memorandum of Agreement that the SU is “hung up on” but declines to discuss the Board of Governors motion that directed decisions regarding Lister to be made by the Lister Hall Students Association and the Administration nor does it reflect the fact that all major changes to Residence Codes must first be passed through the GFC Campus Law Review Committee – a major step that was undoubtedly forgone. The U of A is a public institution, which means it is run by a public Board of Governors that keeps it accountable to the citizens of Alberta. If the Administration is no longer accountable to the Board of Governors regarding Lister, than the Administration can walk over students in all other facets of university life as well.
Now let me address the concerns that the Administration has raised. None of the Administration’s concerns were regarding incidents that happened during the summer. If these incidents were of concern over the school year, the proper thing for the Administration to do would be to discuss changes with the LHSA, not to announce the changes in July when most students are away from campus. Consultation involves working with stakeholders to create change, not announcing that you have already made a decision and informing the stakeholders an hour before the changes are implemented and released to the public.
The Administration raised concerns with events in Lister from years ago that the Students’ Union would never condone, but is confident that the LHSA has dealt with. The evidence the Administration provided to the SU included a mix of links to Youtube videos from years ago, exaggerated and inaccurate depictions of tower competitions that have changed multiple times in the last decade, and pages of screen captures from the University of Alberta memes Facebook page. It seems that a primary concern of the Administration was dealing with its institutional image on social media, which is concerning considering that the Administration then decided to publicly paint Lister as a residence “that fosters and celebrates alcohol abuse and vandalism.” This was offensive to thousands of U of A Alumni who have lived in Lister, as well as current students, who have seen and experienced an entirely different picture of residence life.
The U of A has proposed changes to address what they have called health and safety concerns. The administration’s actions make clear where their concerns actually lay. The have banned alcohol from public areas, where students formerly could monitor each other’s behavior and take care of students who have over consumed, and instead directed students to drink in their bedrooms, away from the common areas. Adults can drink in Alberta when they turn 18, so many U of A students are going to drink regardless of the rules. Instead of drinking in a safe setting with their peers, they may over consume behind closed doors in their rooms, or off campus where we have no ability to monitor drinking at all. While this might address concerns with our institutional image, it does little to put the health and safety of students first.
The $10,000 in student association training fees was to cover training for LHSA staff that is normally provided by the Administration through Residence Services. As Residence Services failed to actually employ enough RA’s for the start of the school year, leaving the health and safety of Lister residents in jeopardy, the Students’ Union felt that it was necessary to assist the LHSA in this extraordinary situation and ensure that their staff were properly trained for conflict resolution, crisis intervention, etc. which are no longer a part of their job description but that the FC’s are volunteering their time to do in the absence of hired/trained RA’s to ensure our students’ safety.
The SU has ensured that these funds have only been spent on training fees, including training materials and costs for trainers and speakers. Yes, the LHSA did attend a training retreat at Camp Hela but all of the related costs for these activities were covered solely by the LHSA.
Students’ Union President Colten Yamagishi & Vice President (Student Life) Saadiq Sumar
For more information, please contact:
External Communications & Media Advisor
University of Alberta Students’ Union