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Presidential transition: An opportunity

January 7 2019 —

It’s a new era at the University of Calgary as a new face is sitting in the president’s seat after nearly a decade.

Ed McCauley officially took the university’s reins on Jan. 1, becoming the U of C’s ninth president and vice-chancellor. Previously, McCauley was the institution’s vice-president of research.

It’s easy to highlight the many missteps of previous president Elizabeth Cannon’s leadership at the U of C, which began in 2010 — for starters, the almost $5 million spent on executive office upgrades including the infamous glass staircase or her relationship with pipeline company Enbridge that was at best dubiously ethical and at worst a blatant conflict of interest.

But the appointment of a new president is a rare opportunity to look forward. On average, presidents at the U of C have served for just under seven years. That means that many students at the school will never get the opportunity to be a part of the administrative transition process, a period which has profound effects on a university’s culture and values.

Students coming back to the U of C after winter break have a nearly once-in-a-decade opportunity to voice their collective interests to a fresh administration. Even though McCauley had been an administrator at the U of C for years before achieving the presidential role, he’ll be new to this position and will be looking to put his stamp on the university. There is no better time to express your thoughts on what you think the future of your post-secondary institution should look like than right now.

This is especially true because the student body as a whole is currently better positioned to engage with administrative matters than upon first entering the U of C. During your first semester, you probably couldn’t have cared less who Elizabeth Cannon was, given the overwhelming experience of entering a new environment and learning how to survive in it. But now, almost all of the 30,000-plus students here have lived experiences on this campus and can be an active part of this transition of power.

The fanfare surrounding McCauley’s appointment means that students have a better introduction to him than they likely did to Cannon upon starting their degree. But you may be less familiar with the top decision-making body at the U of C: the Board of Governors (BOG). Twenty-one members sit on this board, comprised of administrators, alumni, faculty, staff, members of the public and students.

Only two undergraduate students sit on the BOG, ostensibly representing the collective interests of the over-25,000 undergraduates who study at the U of C. While both of these students — elected BOG student-at-large Frank Finley and Student’s Union president Sagar Grewal — are happy to hear students’ concerns, this represents an unacceptable bare minimum level of access to the university decision-making process, which chiefly affects students.

At the Gauntlet, we planned to mark the start of McCauley’s term and help introduce the campus to him by running a comprehensive question-and-answer session with him in our New Year’s issue. But we were stonewalled by the U of C’s media relations department, which is further emblematic of the institution’s failings of transparency.

Culturally, the greatest shift since Cannon began her term is the university’s intense focus on research and entrepreneurialism. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the U of C’s marketing has made it apparent that they want the post-secondary experience to teach students how to adapt to and profit from a system that actively harms us and our futures. Higher education should encourage students to experiment with new ideas, meet others with similar aspirations and work together to fight for a better future. Instead, we’re being encouraged to commodify ourselves and compete with our classmates in order to survive.

But there is strength in a unified voice and an engaged student body, and we can use that strength to let McCauley and the BOG know that we don’t want our education to be just a means to a stable end. We need to show that we are listening and that we want to voice our interests for the direction of this institution.

Open BOG meetings only take place once every few months. But that just means we have plenty of time to organize our collective interests and prepare to voice them with unity. On March 22 at 8 a.m., students should show up to the U of C boardroom — room 167 of the Administration building — and show members of the board that though they run our university, the student body is the beating heart of the institution and we will make ourselves heard.

We believe strongly in the value of post-secondaries to improve life for all, on campus, in Calgary and beyond. Let’s show administrators that we are listening, we care and we want more.

Gauntlet editorial board

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