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Hope for negotiated MacHall agreement “fading fast”

By Fabian Mayer, October 20 2015 —

Discussions between the Students’ Union and the University of Calgary over the operation and ownership of MacHall remain at an impasse. SU president Levi Nilson recently sent a letter to university president Elizabeth Cannon and Board of Governors chair Bonnie DuPont asking them to re-evaluate their position on MacHall.

Nilson suggested the board should become more involved to make a negotiated solution possible.

“I’m calling on Dr. Cannon and Ms. DuPont to take a closer look at what’s going on because we’re really disappointed with where we’re at right now,” Nilson said in an interview.

The university believes its ownership of MacHall is clearly stated in the latest operating agreement signed between the two parties. In an Oct. 8 letter to the SU, provost Dru Marshall said the university was unwilling to negotiate with the SU over the ownership of MacHall.

The SU stakes its claim to MacHall on the original building agreement, which provides the SU with 55 per cent ownership. Nilson believes the question of ownership needs to be dealt with during negotiations.

“They don’t even want to talk about it even though they’re claiming that they have 50 years of documentation. But they refuse to show it to us,” Nilson said. “We think students deserve better than that, considering the stakes.”

Marshall is leading negotiations for the university. Nilson called Marshall’s refusal to discuss ownership “hugely irresponsible,” prompting him to bypass Marshall and appeal directly to Cannon and DuPont.

“We would think that their superiors would — considering the weight of evidence in our favour and the complete lack of transparency on their end — realize that something is wrong here and would hopefully show some leadership and step in,” Nilson said.

DuPont responded with a letter on Oct. 19 where she reiterated the university’s commitment to return to the negotiating table. She also took a firm stance on the issue of ownership. 

“The university is not prepared to enter into negotiations with the SU relating to the legal ownership of MacHall,” the letter said.

DuPont also said the relationship between the SU and the university was “characterized by a willingness to set aside differences.”

University administration denied interview requests regarding the dispute.

Nilson said MacHall was too important to set aside their differences.

“They’re asking us to give up ownership of the building and that’s not something we’re willing to do for goodness of the relationship,” Nilson said.

His latest letter did not bring the response he was looking from administration.

“We thought that by escalating it to the board chair and President Cannon they’d be willing to step up and have this conversation, but it’s clear they’re not,” Nilson said.

The SU filed a statement of claim with provincial courts in April but have yet to serve the lawsuit to the university. Nilson said his confidence in a negotiated solution is “fading fast.”

Nilson said they will be deciding whether it’s worth it to respond with another letter in the coming days. A lawsuit remains an option for the SU.

“It’s becoming much more likely, extremely likely,” Nilson said.

If the SU decides to pursue legal action, Nilson said it will be before the current MacHall operating agreement expires on Dec. 9. He is confident the SU would win a legal battle. 

“It wouldn’t have been something that we filed if we weren’t really confident in the evidence that we have,” Nilson said.

Negotiations on a new MacHall operating agreement entered their third year this semester but stalled after the first meeting.

The SU first made its dispute with the university public in September. The two sides have exchanged letters since then, but have not returned to the negotiating table.

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