By Kristy Koehler, April 2 2020—
A critical vote took place at the University of Calgary’s Board of Governors’ meeting on March 27 regarding international student tuition. The elected student representative on the Board, Ananya Ayachit, claimed she didn’t vote, but it took a while to get to that answer.
At the March 31 Students’ Legislative Council meeting, Ayachit was invited to the table to present her report regarding the BoG meeting. It took almost twenty-five minutes of grilling by various members of SLC to get a straight answer from Ayachit, who finally claimed she didn’t actually vote.
Ayachit started her report by recapping the motions that had passed at BoG, including the approval of capital and consolidated budgets and the approval of funds for quality money projects.
Students’ Union president Jessica Revington asked Ayachit to discuss her vote regarding the international student tuition maximums put forward at the BoG meeting.
“I wasn’t able during the meeting to hear what your vote on this item was and I was hoping to hear a little more of your perspective,” said Revington, expressing that she believed it was a very important topic to discuss.
“Um… just give me a second, I’m just going to read the briefing again,” said Ayachit. “I actually somehow missed this item. So, can I get back to you on this?”
“I don’t understand,” said Revington. “You were at the meeting and you voted on this item, presumably.”
Revington expressed that the some of the maximums put forward were quite high for international student tuition and that, as student governors, they are in a very difficult situation with regard to their fiduciary responsibilities to the Board. Revington again pressed Ayachit to state what her vote had been, saying that it was difficult to understand via Zoom — the video-conferencing platform the BoG meeting took place on due to the COVID-19 pandemic rending an in-person meeting impossible.
Ayachit stated that she asked the BoG coordinator to get her the meeting minutes as her “internet was really bad” and she “had to switch devices” at the time discussions surrounding the motion were taking place.
Faculty of Arts representative Rayane Issa asked Ayachit if she was going to be discussing the motion with international students.
“I’m sure this is going to come back to the Board again but meanwhile I’m going to reach out to some of the international student clubs that we have on campus,” said Ayachit. “I know they are very well connected to the new immigrant students that come to campus. I’ll be looking at the discussion that happened at the board because unfortunately I missed that part.”
Ayachit then asked Revington to clarify if the motion would indeed be going back to the Board later on.
Revington sounded frustrated and offered context for everyone in attendance.
“This would normally be part of the BoG rep’s report detailing what each information item was and why it’s important to students,” said Revington, who detailed that the agenda item was an attempt by the university to bring its international tuition maximums in line with regulations that were laid out by the Alberta Government.
“When the Government of Alberta released their tuition and fee regulations, what was part of that regulation was a mandate to all 26 post-secondary institutions in Alberta to publish for international students entering in Fall 2020 and beyond, their tuition rates for the next four years or presumably the length of their degree.”
Revington expressed her interest in Ayachit’s vote, citing the “very interesting position” that student governors are in with regard to this particular motion.
“This was a lengthy discussion item at the Board,” said Revington. “If this item had been voted down, the University of Calgary would have been in non-compliance with the Government of Alberta.”
Revington stated that the “proposal itself disregarded the need to meaningfully consult with students, especially international students who already pay increased amounts of tuition compared to domestic students.”
After Revington’s explanation, Issa pressed the BoG rep again to name the student groups she would be discussing the motion with.
“I was thinking like, the ethnic clubs, you know what I mean?” responded Ayachit. “They are usually connected to the international student community. I would want to reach out to them to get some feedback on who would be best positioned to provide feedback on this topic.”
Issa again pressed Ayachit to actually name the student groups, suggesting that she have a look on ClubHub to find a list.
“Honestly, I was going to look it up on ClubHub but I can name it off the top of my head — Russian Students Society, Romanian Students Society, Indian Students Association.”
Issa asked her if she’d be reaching out to International Student Services.
‘I’m going to have to look into that,” said Ayachit. “I’m not sure what kind of databases they have.”
Two motions to extend the conversation were necessary to get through the SLC members who had questions for Ayachit.
Faculty of Kinesiology representative Mathieu Chin wanted a better picture of what actually happened at the vote. Ayachit said she wanted to reach out for the minutes and discussed her tech troubles again. She stated that after looking into it she’d be reaching out to the BoG coordinator to “let her know what I think about this issue and then we can revisit the vote.”
“Are you saying you didn’t vote at all?” pressed Chin.
“So, what they do on Zoom is not everyone even says ‘Aye’ — that’s what I noticed,” said Ayachit. “It was assumed that everyone was saying ‘Aye.’”
At this point, vice-president student life Alisha Gordon expressed her concerns.
“Can you just clarify — are you saying that at a Board meeting, when a motion happens, votes aren’t accurately being calculated? Because I feel like there’s a much bigger issue of the legitimacy of this motion if the secretary isn’t counting votes,” she said.
“It’s not like that,” said Ayachit. “It’s the first meeting we had on Zoom. I was un-muting myself and saying ‘Aye’ every time right, and then eventually we got to five and six motions and less and less people started saying ‘Aye’.”
Ayachit clarified that the meeting chair was asking if there were any dissenting votes and people would speak up if so. At that point it seemed as though Ayachit was admitting that she voted yes.
Gordon pressed her on her next steps.
“If you don’t feel like you accurately were able to vote during the Board meeting and did not have your voice heard as a student, I actually feel like that’s a huge, huge issue and I still do question the legitimacy of that motion,” said Gordon.
Ayachit then said she had reached out to the coordinator who is in the process of preparing the meeting minutes and that her next steps are to read the discussion surrounding the motion.
“I’m actually really interested in understanding this further,” said Ayachit, who stated her intention to let the Board know “officially and on the record” what her vote really was.
Issa asked Ayachit how she intends to vote, to which Ayachit responded that she “would have to look into it deeper.”
“I want to read the discussion because I’m sure some insights came out of the discussion as well,” said Ayachit. “I don’t know yet.”
Issa expressed how “problematic” she found the whole situation, pressing Ayachit to at least disclose what she would be basing her vote on. Ayachit said she couldn’t comment just yet and that she didn’t have enough information.
Revington stepped in to provide some additional context and mitigate the length of questions that were waiting in queue from SLC members. She stated that the motion was added in the ‘other business’ portion of the agenda, but that both she and Ayachit had a full week to review the document and undertake any consultations needed to inform their votes.
“With Board Documents being released a week before the actual meeting, Governor Ayachit, the fact that you have to go back and re-read these documents on a vote that’s already happened I think is completely inappropriate for a Governor,” said Revington.
Ayachit apologised and said she’s working on fixing the situation.
Faculty of Arts representative Justin Gotta asked the final question to Ayachit, again demanding an answer to how she voted and whether or not she remembered voting.
“I was on mute but my audio wasn’t working and I was working on switching devices,” said Ayachit. “I missed that part. I can’t comment on that.”
“So, you didn’t vote?” asked Gotta.
“I missed the vote, yes,” Ayachit finally admitted.
This is not the first time Ayachit has been grilled by SLC members. During the previous week’s SLC meeting, on March 24, Issa asked Ayachit about the student consultation she was undertaking to inform her votes at the upcoming BoG meeting. Issa asked Ayachit to name the groups she had engaged in consultations with. According to meeting minutes, “Ayachit responded that she did not want to name them.” SLC members have been critical of Ayachit’s lack of consultation with students.
The BoG motion to set maximum amounts for international tuition did pass but individual tuition increases will still have to be brought before the Board as normal. The motion passed at BoG did not approve a specific increase, but set a specific allowable maximum. The 78th, 79th and 80th SLC will still have time to advocate against increases to international tuition.
The Gauntlet has reached out to the university to ascertain what those maximums are and to determine whether or not Ayachit’s vote was recorded.