CSU to Propose a Charter of Students’ Rights

Charter will help clarify what rights students have within the university

Other universities in Montreal having well-established Charters of Students’ Rights in place. Why doesn’t Concordia? Photo Courtesy Brian Lapuz.

The Concordia Student Union passed a motion to implement a Charter of Students’ Rights for the university during the November by-election, thanks to overwhelming support from students. But what exactly does this entail? 

When issues arise within the institution, it can be difficult to know what rights students have. Have you dealt with discrimination on campus? You have the right to challenge this. Need to reschedule an exam due to religious or work obligations? You have the right. But this information is hardly easy to find. These are some of the issues the CSU hopes to clarify with this charter.

With other universities in Montreal having well-established Charters of Students’ Rights in place—McGill University approving its own in 1984—it brings to question how Concordia let this slip through the cracks.

While going through the drawers of their desk at the CSU, Hannah Jamet-Lange, the Academic & Advocacy Coordinator, found paperwork from the ‘90s that outlined the initial plan for a Charter of Students’ Rights. As Jamet-Lange had already been contemplating an initiative around student rights, these papers solidified that this was an on-going need for the school.

“The Charter of Students’ Rights is an idea that has existed for decades in the CSU,” said Jamet-Lange. “There’s always a lot of complications with people leaving [the CSU] since we’re only in our roles for one year, so if it doesn’t get completed in that one year and the next team doesn’t take it up, then these things disappear.”

Jamet-Lange is determined to not let that happen this time around. They believe that this charter is more important than ever while students try to deal with the challenges of COVID-19.

“The pandemic has really exacerbated how many issues there are and how much we need accommodations for students and support,” said Jamet-Lange. “[Working in student advocacy], it became very apparent to me that it’s complicated to navigate all these different policies, the bureaucracy and oftentimes [the] implicit rules that we might not be aware of as students.”

“The university too has duties towards its students, and one way to underscore that is to set out the rights that students have in their relationship with the university.” — Dr. Eric Reiter.

Eduardo Malorni, General Coordinator for the CSU, said that information on these rights is often scattered throughout multiple documents, making it difficult for students to easily identify and understand them.

“They’re very disorganized,” said Malorni. “There’s not one concrete document that has everything in one to tell you—you have to go through all the different policies of the school to see where they all fit in.” 

Jamet-Lange said this information is further muddled by the language used in writing the policies, making them inaccessible and confusing to students. Their plan is to simplify all of this for students through the charter.

Dr. Eric Reiter, a Concordia professor of history in Canadian law and rights, explained that a Charter of Students’ Rights would help reinforce the idea that the university’s relationship with students is more than simply a transactional one. 

“Students’ relationships with universities tend to be defined by duties rather than rights—to pay their fees, to obey the various codes of conduct, etc,” said Reiter in an email. “But the relationship between students and the university should not be seen as a one-way street, where duties are simply imposed on students. The university too has duties towards its students, and one way to underscore that is to set out the rights that students have in their relationship with the university.”

Reiter also believes that this initiative would benefit the university's reputation as a school “that takes equity and justice in student affairs seriously”.

While both Jamet-Lange and Malorni acknowledge that this will be a lengthy process, likely taking years to achieve, they will not be starting from scratch. Thanks to the framework created in the 1990s and other universities’ charters, they are able to build off of these existing templates. At the moment they are working on a proposal to bring to the administration. 

Once the proposal is brought forward, the next step will be to negotiate with the different levels of bureaucracy—including the university senate and the board of governors—to understand who will be responsible for implementing it.

Jamet-Lange is hopeful that the breadth of universities with charters in place will convince the administration to back this. But it can’t be tailored to please the university solely—it has to represent the needs of students first and foremost.

“Before anything is adopted, the student body should get a say on it and should be able to give input,” said Jamet-Lange. “We don’t want to adopt something that the university is okay with but that the student body overall doesn’t agree with. Obviously the goal of this is for students.”