Print Edition: March 25, 2015
On a dark, stormy spring equinox night, the Student Union Society held the last board meeting of its current term. Over three-and-a-half hours, SUS executives presented annual reports, checked against the goals outlined when each took to their roles a year ago, before moving on to decision items that confirmed the ongoing difficulties the student governance faces.
“At least anecdotally, from students, from faculty, from staff at UFV, they’ve noticed a broader presence, and a more consistent presence from SUS throughout the campus,” said outgoing VP external Dylan Thiessen in his presentation. “So that was pretty good to hear.” SUS’s reputation was a running theme throughout its survey of the past year: goals were met, and the tone was optimistic, but, as Thiessen — whose role is concerned with how SUS reaches out to the UFV community — admitted, this is something that is “difficult to gauge.”
With university administration, Thomas Davies, who will be moving from VP internal to the president’s role, said he noticed a shift: the university now comes to SUS to consult or present matters it thinks are important, instead of SUS needing to be the one to first approach. But clear markers of student engagement with SUS were more difficult to come by. An app, which replaced paper agendas and was designed to bring events, class schedules, and student discussions together, was downloaded only 423 times since the beginning of the fall 2014 semester. A great deal of stock is being put in the opening of the Student Union Building in Abbotsford next fall as a way of improving SUS’s presence on campus.
Cricket club funding appeal divides board vote
SUS’s primary contact with many students is through events organized by student associations and groups, which SUS oversees and funds by request. A presentation by the cricket club at the board meeting was a unique example of the way SUS plays a part in facilitating student activities.
Earlier this month, the cricket club participated in the American College Cricket National tournament, which took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the first time. UFV was one of only three Canadian universities (the others being Ryerson and McGill) to compete. But Radwinder Sharma and Abdul Rahman’s presentation was not about the team’s performance; as the cricket club does not hold varsity status and is not funded by UFV’s Athletics division, it was responsible for the entire cost of the trip. A funding request to SUS before the tournament was approved for a fraction of the proposed amount, but, as it was over $1,000, it first needed to pass the approval of the executive team. They denied the proposal.
At the SUS meeting, Sharma and Rahman now appealed for funding to cover some of the trip, which they estimated at $9,000, and has left at least three of their teammates with financial strain.
VP external-elect Sukhi Brar said that this likely resulted because the cricket club members “didn’t know of all the processes in place.”
“If you’re having students invest that kind of money, maybe hold off going to an event until you know you’re getting funding,” she said.
Outgoing president Ryan Petersen was part of the final decision, and said it was made on the basis of the time of the proposal (a week before the team left) and the amount requested. As well, four of the 11 players on the team were not current UFV students.
“It does not set the healthiest of precedents in terms of groups coming forward with large requests,” he said. “We weren’t really satisfied with the organization itself.”
Former VP internal Greg Stickland put forward a motion to grant the club $4,500, before changing the amount to the previously recommended amount of $1,987. Davies explained that the amount was calculated to cover the tournament registration fees, uniforms, and kits.
“These are not really events I enjoy giving money to,” Stickland added. “One argument for why we have such a large clubs and associations [budget] line compared to other schools is that it generates campus culture. So I’m very supportive of having cricket clubs, I enjoy having them play on campus, but this is something that is so far beyond campus, it’s not even the same country, so it’s arguably not contributing much to campus culture.”
Sharma and Rahman said the team’s participation at a high-level tournament was good for UFV as a university, and that the club contributes to campus culture beyond its games on the Abbotsford Green.
While recommending fundraising and talking to Financial Aid as routes to take, the board narrowly approved the $1,987 funding amount, with five in favour, four opposed, and one abstention.
Report from Victoria sets advocacy standards for next year
Petersen and Thiessen recently took a trip to Victoria to talk to MLAs as part of the Association of British Columbia Students, an advocacy group that combines members from nine BC post-secondary institutions. Discussions involved topics many students are likely aware of from recent headlines, if not their own experience.
Petersen said the gap between what students and politicians know about something as standard as student loans is one thing advocates have to work with.
“After you graduate, you will have a six-month grace period until you have to start paying back your student loans to the government; however, as soon as you graduate, you will immediately start accruing interest,” he said. “Many of the MLAs we met with were just like, ‘Huh, I didn’t know that, that’s a bit strange.’ Even the Minister of Finance [Abbotsford MLA Michael de Jong] was a bit taken aback. Even Darryl Plecas, so [someone] who is very familiar with the post-secondary environment.” Petersen said this is a reason SUS’s lobbying is important: this is one point where they could possibly make a difference.
“We’re hoping if we continue pushing them on this particular point, we’ll actually see some change down the road,” Petersen said, implying this is work that now falls to the newly elected board members.
The charging of tuition for ABE courses was also discussed during the same period, with less promise.
“One of the major pushbacks that we got is that the [provincial government] is hoping for a higher level of accountability within the university, stating that there were a high level of dropouts within this program because [students] didn’t have to pay anything,” Petersen said. “Talking with UFV, that doesn’t quite match up with what they have.”
Thiessen added that there are other discrepancies with the ABE decision.
“A lot of stuff we heard from MLAs is that the ABE is still free for adults who didn’t graduate from high school so long as they take it in a high school,” he said. “The issue that we have with that though is that there is a stigma attached to going back to a school where the course would be administered by the district, and we’ve seen that if a person were to take it in a university setting, even if it’s the exact same type of course, they’re 15 to 20 per cent more likely to go on to post-secondary education.”
With this point and the proposed legislation that would allow ICBC to refuse licenses to people in debt due to student loans, Thiessen said they have yet to see progress, but that they have a plan to return to discussion while these items are still current.
Campus Connector fee raised to match rate of inflation
With the two most recent referenda posed to students, SUS has built in a connection to the CPI rate of inflation. One, the IT service in the SUB, has yet to open, but the campus connector, Petersen said, “[is] running a very tight margin.”
“It would be very wise and prudent to increase it with inflation, which is set at two per cent this year, just so that we don’t need to see any reductions in service to our membership in the future.”
The board voted unanimously in favour of this motion; at two per cent, or $0.53, the fee will rise from $26.70 to $27.23 per semester.
Two other service notes came up during the meeting as well. AfterMath is closed for the rest of the semester as of March 14, despite there being three weeks of classes remaining. Jennifer Trithardt-Tufts, the representative for professional studies students, asked whether this could have been better communicated. Petersen explained that this was necessary due to the transition to the SUB; the current location must be completely vacant before the move happens. “We do have notices around the restaurant stating the closing date and why it’s happening,” he said. There are no updates to the AfterMath website, Twitter account, or the SUS Facebook page about this closure as of press time.
SUS also posted forms online for “space allocation” dedicated to clubs and associations in the SUB. At an open discussion earlier in the semester, some student group members voiced questions about how these spaces, eight in total, will be fairly awarded. Currently the plan describes a committee set to receive and decide on the submissions. “There was nothing at the info night that warranted material change,” Davies said, citing a lack of consensus.
Jennifer Trithardt-Tufts is an employee of The Cascade.