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Changes to Quality Money process serve interests of administration over students

September 21, 2017 —

Earlier this week, we reported on changes to the process through which Quality Money project applications are processed. The article explained how University of Calgary provost Dru Marshall will now receive a binder containing every Quality Money application at the start of the selection process. Previously, Marshall received only a summary report of which projects had been approved after the fact.

Well, we got it wrong. It’s actually worse.

In addition to Marshall, the U of C vice-president facilities Bart Becker and vice-president finance and services Linda Dalgetty will also receive the applications. The three will then meet with Students’ Union president and Quality Money Committee chair Branden Cave in mid-January to discuss the projects.

For those who are unaware, Quality Money is a partnership between the SU and the U of C that distributes approximately $2 million every year to projects intended to improve the student experience. Every fall, the SU takes applications for Quality Money projects. In early December, binders containing all the projects are distributed to some SU staff and the SU’s Quality Money Committee — and now, also to members of the U of C administration. The Quality Money Committee deliberates over which projects to approve, periodically gathering feedback from Students’ Legislative Council. After this, the Quality Money Committee votes to approve the final list of projects. Then, the U of C Board of Governors votes to approve the release of Quality Money funds to the SU, largely as a rubber stamp.

In the past, Quality Money submissions were reviewed and evaluated by the Quality Money Committee before being presented to SLC for final approval. The newest amendment to the Quality Money Terms of Reference changes this, giving the Quality Money Committee the final say on which projects will receive funding.

The whole process is long and confusing, with other administrative processes complicating it further. The BoG votes to renew its commitment to the program every three years. The previous vote occurred in December 2016. As well, Quality Money undergoes a review whenever the U of C releases a new strategic plan, which is typically every five years. Members of administration receiving binders of project applications is part of Quality Money’s realignment with the new Eyes High strategic plan.

Quality Money is arguably the most impactful program that the SU offers for students. It’s a win-win — BoG provides the SU with a lump sum and gets to look like they care about students, while students are able to delegate funding towards bettering spaces and programs. Countless projects have been funded by Quality Money, including the Q Centre, the co-curricular record and even drinking fountains and microwaves in ICT.

However, expanding the U of C administration’s role in the Quality Money process threatens to take away the student autonomy that makes the program so unique.

Five years ago — when the U of C introduced its first Eyes High strategic plan — the SU president first started meeting with Marshall to provide administration with a summary of Quality Money. Now, the administration is becoming part of the program in a larger capacity than ever before.

Cave said that administration’s role in Quality Money will be providing feedback about the feasibility of projects and whether a project is already being undertaken by the U of C. This was essentially what Marshall did previously when she received a summary at the end of the deliberation process. That’s fine in theory, but it’s not hard to see how their role will become more than that — 2015–16 SU president Levi Nilson said that Marshall attempted to gain final say on the list of Quality Money projects during his term but that she was rebuffed.

The SU is an organization that is supposed to represent students and advocate on their behalf. When they willingly let administrators interfere in student programs, they lose all pretense of that student representation. It becomes clear that they’re more willing to make concessions to the U of C than they are to stand up for student interests.

The SU doesn’t owe administration anything. They have no obligation to play nice with an institution that they are diametrically opposed to. After losing operation of MacHall, the SU needs to cling to every bit of power they still have.

When the SU gets cozy with the U of C administration, it seems like they value that input over that of students and they lose credibility as an advocacy organization. It’s hard to imagine this SU going to Edmonton to protest at legislature about market modifiers or tuition hikes when they now have so much to lose by opposing administration.

During the Gauntlet’s interview with Cave about Quality Money, we asked whether he felt this change was necessary in order to secure the university’s future commitment to Quality Money. “I definitely think it does have benefit in that regard,” he responded.

That’s not good enough. If the SU is being pressured into altering its programs in ways that don’t represent students’ best interests, they should at least put up a public fight. Either they’re actually ignorant of why these changes are bad or they’re unwilling to speak out about them. And we’re not sure which is worse.

Jason Herring, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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