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Effective defunding of Engineering Students’ Society a detriment to student experience

September 28 2018 —

A common slight against the University of Calgary is its lack of school spirit or campus community, a trait usually attributed to the school’s commuter-campus reputation. Many students’ time on campus ends with their classes, with only a few events each year reaching members of the student body at large.

Schulich School of Engineering students, as is typically the case, are the clear exception.

Though it occasionally veers on cult-ish, there’s no denying the strength of community engineering students have forged. Their scarf-wearing, car-smashing, prank-reminiscing, chant-chanting antics inject some much-needed character into the U of C.

But a core part of that community is now at risk.

In an email to undergraduate engineering students on Sept. 19, U of C vice-provost student experience Susan Barker announced that the university will no longer collect student fees on behalf of the Engineering Students’ Society (ESS). In other words, a student-run undergraduate organization that provides academic resources, organizes social and professional events and represents the undergraduate engineering population was stripped of its funding in one fell swoop.

Before the announcement, engineering students paid $10 per semester in order to help fund the ESS, a fee that was collected by the U of C as part of tuition fees before being given to the ESS. This started in 2006 after a student campaign to implement the fee culminated in a successful referendum.

But now, as Barker writes in her email to engineering undergraduates, the U of C has “determined it is not appropriate for the university to be collecting fees on behalf of an individual student society, including the ESS,” following a review of mandatory fee collection.

That’s not a decision the university should get to make.

Students fought to implement a student society fee in order to provide resources to the entire faculty of engineering. For the U of C to remove that fee without process or warning is a clear injustice.

Organizations like the ESS, which provide benefit to all students under their umbrella, are able to operate effectively in large part because of the economy of scale created by mandatory fees. It’s a similar concept to the UPass, which allows U of C students to use public transportation at a far cheaper rate than they otherwise would be able to solely because of guaranteed buy-in from students.

But even if you don’t think you should be required to pay a fee to a student society or union as part of your tuition fees, it’s tough to argue that fair process the U of C followed in suddenly ending the collection of ESS fees.

Students created the ESS fee collection process through a student vote. Striking the fee should require the same. Anything less demonstrates a blatant disregard for students’ autonomy or student life at the U of C in general.

While the U of C says that the decision to rescind the ESS fee was part of routine practice review, it’s worth delving into a petition that circulated among engineering students this summer. Chinmoy Ayachit — a former Students’ Union engineering representative — created and shared a petition request a plebiscite to determine students’ stance on the fees. It received signatures from a marginal percentage of engineering students. The fact that the U of C revoked ESS funding independently without meaningfully consulting students shows their talk about improving the school’s ‘student experience’ is all lip service.

Many engineering students will still join the ESS of their own volition and the Schulich School of Engineering is set to help the society cover expenses they’ve already committed to this year. But the ESS will not be capable of serving students this year as it has done so well in the past. Engineering students deserve a say in this decision. The U of C depriving them of that is a travesty.

— Jason HerringGauntlet editorial board

Correction: This article was originally published online and in print under the headline, “Engineering Students’ Society defunding a detriment to student experience.” It has since been changed to reflect that while the U of C previously collected fees on behalf of the ESS, they did not fund the ESS. The article also said that the U of C eliminated the ESS fee. In reality, the U of C eliminated the fee’s inclusion as a mandatory charge for undergraduate engineering students. 

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