Print Edition: February 18, 2015
Lack of student engagement seems to have been a theme this year at UFV, and many circular discussions among members of its community have been fuelled by the question of how to fix that.
In a previous editorial, I suggested it might be a failure to “leave the office” on the part of those students who are participating in campus organizations or people making decisions at an administrative level. However, I think there’s a bigger factor: a presumption made by those in authority, whose responsibility is to represent the UFV community, that their own interests always align with the desires and needs of the people they represent — specifically students.
A number of recent decisions by UFV administration reflect poor consultation of students or solicitation of our involvement at all. The UFV 40th campaign, for example, did not come across as a celebration of UFV’s progress as an institution or of its history. Rather, it was a marketing scheme to enhance the reputation of the university via empty slogans, expensive but poorly attended parties, and semi-staged photo opportunities.
While I agree the reputation of an institution is important, an institution’s reputation should be built on its actual good qualities, not on pricey marketing campaigns.
But that could be forgiven, had there been some tangible benefit for students, had students been asked how they wanted to be represented as a collective, or how best to celebrate the community to which they have chosen to belong.
With the newer 2025 planning initiative, UFV’s effort to involve students is a fumbling one at best. The haste with which a course has been adapted and suddenly offered mid-semester seems suspect; the way information was disseminated was highly unconventional, with a private email sent to a number of Student Union Society (SUS) and student association representatives before the opportunity was broadcast via normal communication channels; and coercing students to participate by offering free credits does not enable inclusivity.
The handling of the Writing Centre’s ending was equally botched.
For the record, it is an ending. There will no longer be a “Writing Centre.” The people who currently work there will no longer fill that capacity, nor the space, nor do the same work elsewhere. The services to be offered in that space will be inherently different from the ones currently offered there. I have already said my piece on administration’s decision to close the Writing Centre, but a new point has been raised that merits address.
Their plan is to have 30 to 40 upper-level student peer tutors in the Academic Success Centre. This is unrealistic to the point of laughable. You couldn’t get 30 to 40 students generally to stand in front of a free (for the audience) concert in the middle of a sunny weekday in the middle of UFV’s main campus during UFV 40th events. What makes the administration think that amount from a much narrower pool of students is going to line up to work as peer tutors?
It doesn’t matter if you offer pay or free course credit or CCR credit, for whatever that’s worth. The story I hear and experience everywhere at UFV, across the board, is that applicants for such opportunities are sparse at best. Had students been consulted on the feasibility of this plan, we might have told administration that.
Peer support has a place, and maybe it works well at other institutions, but the Writing Centre is one of the things that makes UFV remarkable. Why would we aim to be like other institutions when what we have works, and even makes us a better choice?
This week SUS passed a motion in support of administration’s decision to close the Writing Centre, with part of it expressing their disappointment on UFV’s failure to properly consult and communicate with students. UFV has published a repentant blog post admitting its faults in that department, presumably to secure SUS’s approval.
However, by passing that motion without consulting students, SUS did the same thing they chastised UFV for. While UFV administration needs to improve its practices in regards to communicating with students, it’s also a given that their loyalty will be with the institution first. But SUS’s mandate is to be for the students; the way they so quickly passed this motion betrays that.
Until people in positions of power who speak and act on behalf of others at UFV start to invoke the vox populi, student engagement is not a reality. Why should students build a community when it’s clear the people making decisions on their behalf don’t care what they think?