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Tensions rise between SU and administration over call for independent review of May 9 protest incident

By Vama Saini, June 26 2024—

The University of Calgary’s Students’ Union (SU) is urging for an independent review into the university administration’s actions during the student protests on May 9, 2024. This demand comes amidst escalating tensions between the SU and University President Dr. Ed McCauley, who declined a request to convene an additional General Faculties Council (GFC) Executive Committee meeting to discuss this motion.

On May 31, 2024, SU President Ermia Rezaei-Afsah formally requested President McCauley to call an additional GFC Executive Committee meeting to include a motion on the agenda for the June 13 GFC meeting. The proposed motion called for the GFC to recommend that the Board of Governors initiate an independent review into the use of force against student protesters on May 9.

In a series of emails, McCauley declined the request, citing timing and procedural issues. He asserted that the proposed meeting was not feasible given the GFC’s schedule and bylaws. 

“The proposal has practical and timing issues and fails to meet the requirements in the Bylaws,” McCauley wrote.

In his correspondence, Rezaei-Afsah argued that McCauley’s decision to block the request was a conflict of interest, given the potential for the review to scrutinize his own actions during the incident. He emphasized the importance of transparency and accountability, stating that any involvement of the administration in the violent dispersal of protesters warranted an independent investigation. 

“Our request is based on the precedent set by the Board of Governors when Dr. Cannon’s actions surrounding the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability were independently reviewed by the retired Justice McMahon,” Rezaei-Afsah noted in the email.

According to McCauley, the motion could be brought forward at the next scheduled GFC Executive Committee meeting, rather than through an additional, urgent session. He argued that this approach would allow for adequate preparation and consideration, consistent with standard governance practices.

McCauley also highlighted that the University would be conducting a third-party review related to the May 9 incident, alongside an investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) into the actions of the police. He suggested that the GFC’s proposal to recommend a similar review to the Board of Governors was redundant.

In an interview with the Gauntlet with the SU President, Rezaei-Afsah elaborated on his concerns. 

Rezaei-Afsah expressed skepticism about the third-party review initiated by the administration, noting that such reviews, often conducted by external firms through a request-for-proposal process, lack the independence needed to thoroughly examine the university’s internal decision-making. 

“Hiring a firm to do a review is not the same as an independent investigation. The firm will come back with some useful things but that does not critically analyze the decision-making that went into that day,” he explained.

Rezaei-Afsah stressed the need for a review that focuses on the university administration’s actions and decision-making processes rather than just the police conduct, which ASIRT is expected to cover.  

“ASIRT only looks at police. From my understanding they look at individual officers and their actions. They’re not going to look at administration,” said Rezaei-Asfah. “Our focus has been on administration’s response, not CPS, because we believe that the community and province is looking into that. There doesn’t seem to be so much of a push to look at what administration did. And if they did everything right, then that’s what the independent investigation will show.” 

He emphasized that the SU’s goal is to ensure accountability within the university’s leadership, especially in light of the significant impact the administration’s decisions had on the campus community.

“We have no clarity around their actions that day. They have a narrative, and we don’t trust them. We have no reason to trust them. The only way to get to the truth and see if there was any wrongdoing on the part of the administration or not is to have an independent investigation,” he stated.

Rezaei-Afsah states that the call for an investigation is not driven by a presumption of guilt but rather a collective need for transparency and reassurance. 

“The university, faculty members, senate members, and board members need to realize that we’re not necessarily assuming any wrongdoing,” said Rezaei-Afsah. “We want to have an investigation so that facts can be set straight so the campus community can reasonably come and say ‘I feel confident in this investigation’ and start the healing process. And so far, that hasn’t happened — it feels like the university is just trying to sweep this under the rug.”

Despite Dr. McCauley’s refusal, Rezaei-Afsah and other student representatives are moving forward with plans to call a special meeting of the GFC as per section 7.1(b) of the GFC bylaws. They aim to gather support from at least one-quarter of GFC members to discuss the motion for an independent review.

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