By Kristy Koehler, January 13 2020—
The 78th Students’ Legislative Council convened for the first time this year with the executive team’s trimester reports taking up the bulk of the discussion.
To start the meeting, Board of Governors (BOG) representative Mickail Hendi gave an update on the tuition and fee increases voted on at the Dec.11 BOG meeting.
University of Calgary Senate student-at-large representatives Jonah Secreti and Jackson Cooper provided an update on their activities. Cooper discussed a virtual event held with high-achieving students and university Senators, noting a “renewed enthusiasm and support for student activities” on the part of the Senators after the event.
Students’ Union president Frank Finley then attempted to make the meeting more interactive.
“It’s been really hard for us this year, without having a physical SLC to really have the same level of interaction as we would in a normal year,” Finley said.
SLC meetings have been held via Zoom since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He challenged the faculty reps to explain why trimester reports were provided.
“So that all the faculty reps can hold you all accountable to your platform goals and also to completing the roles of your positions because they are full-time, salaried positions that you got elected to do by our student body,” responded Faculty of Science representative Manpreet Sahota.
Finley applauded her answer and noted that trimester reports are a “great accountability mechanism for SLC and for the community at large” in addition to a contributor to institutional memory and a codified record of what’s been done.
This year in particular there have been many emerging issues that have come up unexpectedly and it’s these things that take the most time but, when a solution is found, are the most satisfying, said Finley. He called on each executive to describe the goal they are most proud of achieving, in addition to an emerging issue that’s being worked on or still requires attention.
Vice-president external Marley Gillies said she’s met with the majority of City Council members who sit on the transportation committee and noted she’s most proud of her advocacy regarding the UPass.
“The UPass will be moving virtually on your mobile devices via the MyFare app,” said Gillies.
Though she was unable to confirm a time frame, this marks a promise kept from Gillies’ campaign.
Collaborating with the university to further experiential learning programs is a goal she’s still working toward.
Assad Ali Bik, vice-president student life, discussed his partnership with the University of Lethbridge. Students who live in Calgary but are attending ULeth classes virtually in light of the pandemic, are now able to access the SU Food Bank.
He noted that he’s working toward an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiative that will challenge clubs to alter their constitutions to create “equitable environments within their club which celebrate diversity.”
Vice-president academic Semhar Abraha noted her submission of a Quality Money application to create an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship for BIPOC students, in collaboration with vice-provost EDI Dr. Malinda Smith. An emerging goal is reforming the criteria for the Teaching Excellence Awards to include, as listed in Abraha’s written trimester report “more emphasis on the creation of inclusive spaces and respect for the cost of knowledge that oftentimes comes at the harm of traditionally marginalized people.”
Mohammad Ali, vice-president operations and finance, listed coming to a mutually agreeable contract with campus radio station CJSW for their use of space in MacHall as his proudest achievement for the trimester.
Finley presented the final trimester report of the meeting, first reflecting back on the fall semester.
“Back in September I was almost naive,” said Finley. “I thought the world was going to continually look better, I thought covid was going to be under control, I thought that our governments were going to make sure that people were supported — including students — and I was thinking that the transition online was hard but the people were going to sink in and academics were going to find new and better ways to teach and assess and students were going to catch the rhythm of being able to exist in a radically different world. And then we got to October and November and things looked worse and worse and worse.”
Finley called the year “exceptionally difficult for students” from both an academic and mental health perspective.
He said he fought hard for a credit received option and compassionate grading.
“We did not get the flexibility we originally wanted,” he said. “But, we started from a place where the university said ‘Absolutely not’ and we got something real for students.”
The emerging issue he noted was Alberta 2030, the comprehensive, system-wide review of the province’s post-secondary system by the United Conservative Party government.
Finley said he’s been involved in several town halls and meetings and is continually trying to ensure that there is a “predictable and affordable tuition regime” and real support for students.
During the time allotted for questions, Sahota asked about the political pressure campaign promised by the executive team.
Finley responded that a very public campaign will be rolled out in the next few weeks. He noted the success of the Save Alberta Parks campaign and believes “a sizeable portion of the population understands just why post-secondary funding and support is so important.”
The campaign will be a physical sign campaign and will see the SU work alongside the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS). Designs are forthcoming and people will be able to either get a sign for free to show support, or donate to the campaign.
Gillies said she’s excited to see the campaign roll out.
“Students are more engaged than ever, they care now more than they ever have and we’re really seeing that because virtually, students are showing up, they’re commenting, they’re asking questions and they’re being involved,” said Gillies. “I think this campaign has the potential to gather everybody in the same place. I think that the government is less favoured and the polls are suggesting that we have an opportunity to ask for what we want and need.”
Another question was asked by Faculty of Arts representative Caitlin Hornbeck about food security and dietary choices on campus.
Ali noted that a little more than 50 per cent of food vendors are remaining closed in MacHall for the rest of the year. If there comes a permanent vacancy, the SU will be looking to fill spaces with diverse options that take into account student dietary restrictions.
Retaining current vendors and making sure they have resources is a priority, said Ali.
In terms of food security, Finley said he’s working toward a system where “people can pay parking fines in part, at certain times of the year, by making a donation to the campus food bank.”
Though nowhere close to a done deal, he says the idea received overwhelmingly positive feedback from university administration and he’s working on a similar proposal for fines related to Libraries and Cultural Resources. He says he’s optimistic about the policy being implemented and noted it could see significant amounts of money being diverted to the food bank.
Finley ended the meeting by lauding the current team of executives and faculty reps.
“I have been a part of three SLCs — many of us have been a part of multiple SLCs or student organizing or student politics and leadership on campus in some form and I have to say, this is an exceptional SLC,” he said. “The work that you have done as an SLC has truly been exemplary in my mind.”
Agendas, minutes and upcoming meetings for SLC can be found online.