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Five things U of C students should watch for over the next year

By Tina Shaygan, April 25 2018 —

The 2017–18 academic year proved eventful for the University of Calgary. From sexual violence on campuses to Bermuda Shorts Day, here are the top five issues students should keep an eye out for the upcoming year.

Sexual violence:

Discourse surrounding sexual violence became prominent issues over the last academic year. In January 2018, the Gauntlet reported that convicted sexual offender Connor Neurauter had his 90-day sentencing delayed to allow him to finish his semester at the U of C. Neurauter was sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to sexual interference on Jan. 4. When charges were first brought forward in 2016, Neurauter also faced a child pornography charge. The mother of the 13-year-old victim said the legal process took over two years in order to “accommodate Neurauter’s busy schedule,” as he missed court dates while playing for his junior hockey team. The incident led to outrage at the U of C campus, with an online petition demanding the expulsion of Neurauter from the university garnering over 70,000 signatures.

U of C provost Dru Marshall said Neurauter was not expelled or suspended but “advised” to not return to campus and that he would be escorted off campus should he return. Marshall added that the case of Neurauter was a “complicated and difficult” situation and not one that is addressed in the school’s sexual violence policy.

The sexual violence policy, which came into effect June 2017, is intended to streamline reporting processes and includes the position of sexual violence support advocate on campus. The U of C said the normal process would be to review policies within three to five years. However, given the significant emphasis on sexual violence policies, the school is planning to review this policy after two years in April 2019.

Members of the campus community — including students, professors and a teaching assistant for one of Neurauter’s classes — expressed confusion over the handling of the situation and the precedent it sets. Neurauter began serving his sentence intermittently on weekends on Feb. 9.

Beyond the U of C, sexual violence was a topic of discussion among Canadian universities in general. With #MeToo and other social movements, cases of sexual violence across post-secondary institutions received unprecedented coverage. At McGill University, students organized protests and walkouts in response to the school’s mishandling of complaints regarding “predatory” professors. According to CTV, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) leadership accused the leadership of their Arts Faculty of mishandling student complaints regarding sexual assault.

“The administration has made no attempt to address abuses of power in a meaningful or significant way, instead consistently citing lack of formal complaints or ongoing committee work as a reason for not immediately addressing concerns,” an open letter by the SSMU read.

According to the McGill Daily, students called on Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education to address the “failure” of the institution to address sexual violence on their campus.

At the University of Saskatchewan, outraged ensued after allegations against the sole presidential candidate in the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union (USSU) came to light. It was reported that the candidate, Coden Nikbakht, drugged and sexually assaulted an unspecified number of women. Outgoing USSU president David D’Eon said he would refuse to transition Nikbakht and that the USSU stands with survivors of sexual violence. Students at the U of C, including members of the Consent Awareness and Sexual Violence (CASE) club, called on the U of C Students’ Union to start implementing policies to address potential situations similar to the U of S.

“We don’t want abusers in office, but do I believe no one can ever reclaim their place in society after they’ve abused someone? No, of course not. But known abusers who haven’t done the work? Essentially, yes,” 2017–18 CASE president Shelby Montgomery told the Gauntlet. “I will be handing [this issue] to the next [CASE executive] team and this is something we should be advocating for. This is an important time to learn from the cases of other places before it’s our problem. It could be us — let’s not figure it out then.”

The Rock:

The Rock, a famous campus fixture where students can paint messages, was a point of controversy at the U of C over the past year. Early in the summer of 2017, the Rock came into the spotlight as a group of students removed the many layers of paint that had built up over the years. Students said they cleared up the paint on the rock for a “fresh start.” Students are free to paint the rocks without university censorship, with messages ranging from details about upcoming events to controversial political messages. The frequency of the latter increased following the 2016 United States presidential election, with messages like “lock her up” and “kill fascists” appearing on the rock outside of the MacKimmie Library Tower.

That fresh start, however, never fully took off. Paintings on the Rock promoting Calgary Pride were vandalized on the morning of the Pride Parade. Vandals painted a large ‘X’ over a rainbow accompanied by the word “pride.” They also wrote the name “Sam Hyde,” a controversial comedian sometimes associated with white supremacist movements, overtop the rainbow-coloured rock.

Later in the academic year, students were greeted with paintings of the Confederate flag on the Rock. In addition to the flag, the Rock was covered with messages saying that Confederate general Robert E. Lee “did nothing wrong” alongside the words “heritage not hate.” A number of students covered up the flag and paintings with phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” which was followed by another set of paintings including “John A. [Macdonald] is bae.”

“I think the Confederate flag is a pretty explicit discriminatory message,” psychology student Claire Hickie said in response to the paintings of the Confederate flag on the Rock.

The U of C released the following statement regarding paints on the Rock:

“The Rocks have become a long-standing symbol of free expression at the University of Calgary. While there is no official ownership of the Rocks, we encourage individuals who may be concerned with messages painted on the rocks to contact Campus Security who will review any hateful or offensive messages and determine next steps. That said, messages painted on the Rocks are often self-policed by students and can be painted over without due process if there is a difference in opinion, as was the case toda. The University of Calgary is committed to fostering an environment of free inquiry, open debate and diversity of opinions. The university supports students or others sharing their views about subjects — including those that are controversial — in a safe and respectful manner.”

Beyond the U of C, controversial messages around campuses have been a heated topic as clashes occur between free speech and hate speech around North America. The University of Michigan, which houses a campus fixture similar to the Rock at the U of C, saw anti-Latina paintings in September. The anti-Latina paintings led to a community gathering to paint over them with inclusive messages, according to Michigan Daily.

The University of Tennessee saw paintings such as “white pride” on their campus rock, another fixture similar to the one at the U of C. The University of Tennessee responded that while they disagree with the message painted on the Rock, those who had painted them were protected by their First Amendment right. And in November, the University of Toronto was the subject of white nationalist posters on its campus, CityNews reported.

According to a study by the Anti-Defamation League, white supremacist groups targeted college campuses in 2016 at an unprecedented rate. While the instances were mainly observed in the United States and larger campuses such as the University of Toronto, it is likely that it will remain an issue at the U of C in the coming year.

Cannon’s resignation:

Earlier in January, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon announced her resignation, effective Dec. 31, 2018. Cannon’s resignation was met with mixed reactions, similar to perceptions from her tenure at the U of C. Cannon’s landmark at the U of C included launching the Eyes High Strategy — a plan intended to establish the U of C as a top research university in Canada. Over the years, Cannon’s term was marked with controversies, including coming under fire for ties to the energy company Enbridge, her salary and the U of C’s drop in international rankings.

In 2015, a CBC investigation revealed that Enbridge had significant influence in shaping the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability on campus as a result of a large donation from the energy company. According to the CBC, documents obtained revealed academics leaving the U of C in response to corporate influence and “a university bending over backward to accommodate the apparent public relations ambitions of a corporate patron.” In response to the CBC report, the U of C launched an internal investigation led by retired Justice Terrence MacMahon, which cleared Cannon and the U of C of any wrongdoing.

However, in October 2017, a report by Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) found the U of C’s relationship with Enbridge to have compromised academic integrity on campus. The U of C Board of Governors responded they “considered the matter closed” and cited the MacMahon report as “comprehensive” while claiming that “the CAUT investigation lacks legitimacy.”

In July 2017,  the U of C dropped from 196th to 217th place on the QS World University Rankings, making it the second-lowest position the U of C has ever fell on the QS rankings. The U of C blamed the drop on the addition of 43 new universities to the list, stating that other Canadian universities saw a drop in their rankings as well. However, some faculty members put the blame on Cannon’s leadership, including a legal battle with the SU and the controversies surrounding the U of C ties to Enbridge.

Other controversies of Cannon’s presidency include her salary, which is among the highest for university executives in Canada alongside the University of Alberta president. In April 2018, provincial Minister of Advanced Education Marlin Schmidt announced new regulations for post-secondary executive salaries. Earlier in the year, Schmidt called Alberta post-secondary executive salaries “out of step with the public service, the national average and the expectations of Albertans.”

Under the new rules, the presidents of the U of C and the U of A can both earn a minimum salary of $349,800 and a maximum salary of $447,000. Additionally, they will be able to receive up to about 20 per cent of their base salary in benefits. Cannon currently makes $480,000 in base salary as well as an additional $417,000 in benefits, while U of A president David Turpin has a $500,000 base salary and receives $324,000 in benefits. The changes to post-secondary executive salaries took place on April 15 for new and renewing contracts, meaning that Cannon’s replacement is impacted by the new regulations. Cannon’s replacement is chosen by a committee that includes members of the Board of Governors, faculty members and SU president Sagar Grewal.

At the U of A, students protested university budget cuts and increases to international students and residence fees while criticizing Turpin’s salary. According to the Gateway, a town hall with Turpin ended with protestors gathering outside of his office. Protests continued throughout March as students called on to the provincial government to reject U of A’s proposed budget. Schmidt expressed disappointment with the decisions made by U of A while also criticizing Turpin for his salary.

Beyond Alberta, post-secondary executives across Canada have seen a pushback to their salaries and compensation benefits. According to the Eyeopener, Ryerson University president Mohamed Lachemi made over $410,000 — almost double the amount that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne made.

With prominent national and provincial conversation concerning post-secondary executive salaries and several points of controversy of Cannon’s term, U of C students can reasonably expect for Cannon’s replacement search to remain an important issue on campus for the coming year.


Election policies:

SU position vacancies became a prominent issue at the U of C this year. SU election results were announced at The Den on March 8 after a new executive team and faculty representatives were selected by the student body. The election saw a voter turnout of 6,552 undergraduate U of C students, or 24.8 per cent. With the acclamation of Sagar Grewal as the new SU president, students elected the other four executive positions and faculty representatives. One of the two positions of engineering representative was announced vacant alongside the position of Werklund School of Education representative. However, the resignation of Puncham Judge as both the current and incoming vice-president external leaves the position vacant for a second time this year.

Judge, originally a Faculty of Arts representative, was appointed as the VP external by the Students’ Legislative Council when Shubir Shaikh resigned in the fall due to personal reasons. When applying for the position, Judge cited interest in running again in 2018. Judge taking over as VP external left the position of an arts representative vacant, which was filled once again via Nominations Committee through applications.

Judge ran for the position in March 2018, winning against her competitor Emma Hopper with 52 per cent of the vote. However, she resigned in April before officially taking office for a second year. The SU did not provide a reason for Judge’s resignation, but 2017–18 SU president Branden Cave said her resignation was for “personal reasons.”

According to Cave, the process for filling the vacant position is through the SU’s Nominations Committee — the SU committee that appoints candidates to various committees and boards and deals with vacancies on SLC — to appoint an incoming faculty representative to the position. Cave added that the general student population can run for the position in the byelection in October. The SU holds byelections in order to elect students to positions that were left vacant after the general election or because an elected official has stepped down. When Shaikh resigned in September 2017, the deadline for a position to be eligible for the byelection had passed, leaving the position only available for application to SLC members.

The SU VP external advocates on behalf of undergraduate students at the U of C to all three levels of government. The VP external is also the SU’s delegate, along with the SU president, on federal and provincial advocacy groups such as Canadian Alliance of Students’ Association and Council of Alberta University Students. During the 2018 SU general election, both Hopper and Judge emphasized the importance of position in the lieu of upcoming provincial and federal elections. In the past, VP external has been in charge of initiatives such as ‘get-out-the-vote’ campaigns and advocating to all levels of government for issues such as market modifiers and secondary suites.

Along with vacancies, a large number of acclamations this past year brought forward the discussions of a yes or no vote for SU positions with only one candidate putting their name in the ring. Grewal told the Gauntlet he would have been fine running a campaign and a yes or no vote is “something that’s worth thinking about.” Former SU president Levi Nilson, who was also acclaimed to the position, has previously echoed the same sentiment.

With two executive vacancies in recent memory and an increasing number of acclamations in SU general elections, adequately addressing such situations will likely remain an issue to look out for in the coming year.

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Bermuda Shorts Day:

For the first time ever, students at the U of C had to pay to enter the beer gardens this year at the annual Bermuda Shorts Day — an end of the year celebration hosted by the SU that has seen attendance of over 8,000 students in the past. In March, the SU announced they will sell wristbands for $5 in advance and $10 at the door for the previously free event, citing concerns of financial sustainability and a lack of co-orporation from the U of C.

Over the last number of years, the SU has seen the cost of BSD increase substantially. In 2017, the SU reported a net loss of nearly $70,000. Then VP operations and finance Branden Cave noted declining drink sales as the reason for SU’s loss. The SU also pays for security and lot rental for the event. Other expenses include providing free water bottles for students, along with renting ATMs and portable bathrooms for the event.

“We don’t want the deficit from BSD to run into other programming run by the SU and where the levelling is getting to now, it’s starting to get to that point,” 2017–18 SU vice-president operations and finance Ryan Wallace told the Gauntlet.

Wallace, along with 2017–18 SU vice-president student life Hilary Jahelka expressed their frustration with the U of C as they worked to implement the new charge for the event. Jahelka and Wallace cited the U of C’s unwillingness to help cover the costs and said they were concerned as they believed BSD provides a safe environment for students.

“It’s a well-known fact that students drink on the last day of classes. Our proposal has been to the university that we should share in those costs a little bit more or they should be covered more by the university, as they’re monitoring the larger campus,” Wallace said.

This year, U of C students noted a larger-than-usual attendance at “D-Block,” a term which generally refers to the residential area surrounding the U of C campus such as University Heights.

Third-year communications student and D-Block resident Kat Katsner noted the presence of CPS in the area. She added that students frequently requested to use residential homes’ bathrooms.

“It was very fun and a ton of people,” Katsner said. “[There was] lots of security — even one cop on a roof.”

Fourth-year health sciences student Lauren Hebert said her attendance at D-Block was not due to the newly implemented cost of BSD, but rather how fun the gathering was at D-Block.

“I haven’t formally attended D-Block in the past, but found it to be quite a big event this year,” Hebert said. “We were having fun so we just ended up staying and never made it to the gardens.”

Fourth-year science student Tyler Magwood echoed the same sentiment.

“I haven’t been to D-Block much before,” Magwood said. “It was a great way to spend my last BSD. [There were] a lot of people doing outrageous things, which is always fun to watch and take part in.”

2016–17 SU vice-president student life Patrick Ma previously told the Gauntlet he sees BSD evolving in one of two ways: a return to the previous free-entry model or an expanded event like the University of Lethbridge’s start-of-year Shine on Summer Festival, which in 2017 featured artists like Dallas Smith, Corb Lund and Mother Mother.

“If you’re going to charge for the event, at least make it big,” Ma told the Gauntlet.

According to the SU, they distributed 4,950 wristbands and saw 4,232 students attend this year’s BSD. In 2017, 8,880 wristbands were distributed and 5,871 students were in attendance.

Following the first year of a changing BSD, the evolution of the signature campus event will likely remain an important issue in the coming year.

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