Talking With the Presidents
Gill and Laforest Talk CSU, Board, Prez and More
As Your Concordia vacates their offices on the seventh floor of the Hall Building, A Better Concordia is figuring out how to represent the students in a university on the eve of sweeping administration change.
The Link sat down with Lex Gill and Schubert Laforest, the current and upcoming Concordia Student Union Presidents to get their takes on the state of affairs and plans for the future.
ON THIS YEAR’S CSU
Gill: We had one of the most difficult times at the union and I think that my executive have done a really good job of making it through that.
The bylaws and standing regulations are completely rewritten, we said no to the student center, and you can look to orientation. We proved that you can do orientation right, that it can be local and sustainable and reasonably priced.
We proved that you can do these sorts of things right. I think [VP Student Life] Laura Glover has done a lot to make student life into a more holistic portfolio and she’s invested a lot of time and energy building a new policy around that.
I think when people look back on our year, they will probably remember the strike and the tuition campaign the most, but that’s just one part of the work that we got done.
Laforest: [The current CSU was] able to mobilize despite being an English university. […] It showed Concordia’s unique nature. It’s an English university, but in many aspects we behave like a French university.
Having this whole tuition dialogue, which hasn’t really been had at Concordia before, brought to the surface this activism that was kind of dormant at Concordia. People on both sides of the issue came out in droves to voice their opinions and that was something that we want to foster and keep alive.
Students felt [the CSU was] spitting information at them, saying you need to strike because of this and this reason and that there wasn’t enough of the opposite opinion. Just giving a venue for the opposite opinion to take place is really important.
Not only does it add legitimacy that you have equal representation of both views, but it also makes students more comfortable to participate in the process.
ON THE BOARD OF GOVERNORS
Gill: A good Board chair is someone who is fair and objective, has a broad idea of what the best interest of the university is and someone who listens. A lot of that role is listening.
Quite frankly, I think the whole structure of the board is a mess. It’s corporate people with corporate interests and until that changes […] I don’t know how much of a difference you’re going to see in how the Board operates.
With the number of people leaving this year, there is a real opportunity to get people who have a more direct involvement with the community.
If you look at the way the university operates, it’s not actually that the Board or the senior administration are evil people out to get you. I think it’s really easy for them to painted that way because it is endlessly frustrating. It’s just that the university’s interests and the students’ interests are not always the same thing.
Laforest: It’s important to have a chair that respects students. […] Right now, [the Governors] don’t treat students as equals, they treat us as people who should act as if they are lucky to be here not as if this is our right and we should be taken seriously when we are bringing out concerns to the table.
One of the main fights is to get the alternate member an actual seat on the board. I know it’s going to be a long, arduous battle […] I’m not going to stop until we get it.
And if it’s something we can’t achieve by the end of our mandate, we want to actually have made active steps towards getting that second seat. [With only one student rep,] you’re kind of put in a position where you’re at the mercy of the Board and you really have to depend on them to get things done or get things talked about.
ON THE NEW PRESIDENT
Gill: Whoever the new president is will have a significant impact on the tone on university governance—at least, I hope they will.
There is a need for fresh faces; I think even the Board recognizes that when they talk about renewal.
Laforest: A functioning relationship with this university’s president is vital. [Concordia needs] a president that is going to be willing to address to the issues of mismanagement of the university, will acknowledge that financial mismanagement exists and will take active measures to ensure that it does not happen again.
I would like to see a Concordia president who acknowledges that Concordia is unique and that our students are not going to sit around and let the Board do its thing. They want to be in the know, they want to be on the front lines, they want to be involved in everything.
ON THE CFS
Gill: With the [Canadian Federation of Students] lawsuit, the wheels are in motion. It’s just about serious carry-though and making sure that those things don’t get neglected. Being in a long-term legal battle is not glamorous, but it’s work that needs to get done.
If the CFS were allowed back on this campus right now, it would destroy three, four years of really important work. Given the organization’s history with Concordia, it would just open the open the door to same politics that we’re glad to get rid of.
Laforest: I’d love to win the case, but I’m not sure how realistic that is. We’ll just have to make sure that active steps are taken. We need to be fully sure we don’t have to pay ridiculous fees.
ON THE CHARTWELLS CONTRACT
Gill: Students should be demanding to be involved in [the Chartwells negotiations]. I think the clearest place to look is residence life; those are the students directly affected by it. I don’t think it would be a hard sell to get students involved in that process in some way. It’s one of the biggest things that comes up around the CSU office, the lack of consultation with students among corporate contracts.
I almost feel like it shouldn’t be the CSU at the table; it should students from residence who are involved in that process, and the CSU should be acting as bridge to get them there.
Laforest: [Chartwells] is something we’re going to be negotiating and looking into sustainable alternatives to. [VP Sustainability] Andrew Roberts is very adamant that it is a sustainable model, not just in terms of the environment but also both in terms in the way it’s run and that it’s cost-effective.
ON JOHN MOLSON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS
Gill: When I think back on the year, my executives have spent a lot of time building really strong relationships specifically in fine arts and arts and sciences, but we had trouble in engineering and business.
It’s really hard to reach out to JMSB. It would have been nice to find new ways to reach out to those communities a lot of the time. One of the biggest challenges for us politically has been trying to keep everyone happy. Sometimes you end up making comprises to make everyone happy and in the end you make no one happy.
Laforest: [The divide between JMSB and the rest of the school is] something that has always been there. JMSB students feel estranged by this university. There are two things that need to be addressed—there is the actual representatives of their views and they fact that they don’t engage in these processes. […]
We want to promote inter-faculty collaborations, because when you work together on a project, that ties the Concordia community together.