The Return of the Student
“We Take Care of Our Students”
Two months before students elect new representatives, the administration of Concordia Student Union President Heather Lucas was confronted with a drastically different brand of student politics on Thursday.
At the Information General Meeting last Thursday, 150 Concordia students and community members approved a series of motions that could have sent the CSU skidding off on a new path. Unfortunately for those present, the motions were non-binding.
However, it’s too soon for the union to breathe a sigh of relief.
Presented with a petition collected by Irmak Bahar and signed by 114 students, as well as a motion at the IGM, Lucas filed a presidential decree yesterday calling for a Special General Meeting on Feb. 14. A legally binding assembly, students can pass motions at a SGM that mandate action from the CSU.
If the IGM is any indication, the SGM, which will be held on the Reggie’s Terrace and has been entitled “A Wintry Hot Accessible Love-in for Education,” will push the CSU on a path of action which is largely foreign to the current executive.
While the talk of banning credit cards, fighting privatization and humbling the Board of Governors will be absent, the SGM will see Concordia undergraduates voting to hold a Day of Action to denounce the Quebec government’s proposed tuition hikes.
“I’m pretty excited for this,” said Lucas, who added that food and heating tents will be present to cater to the 800 students necessary to reach quorum.
“We take care of our students.”
- Justin Giovannetti
“Overhaul The Board”
At the Concordia Student Union’s Information General Meeting last Thursday, the assembled students and community members took a hard line against the Board of Governors.
As a result of the Board’s controversial dismissal of President Judith Woodsworth before Christmas, the students assembled at the IGM demanded the resignation of all 23 of the Board’s community-at-large members.
Reiterating much of what was discussed at the Jan. 12 CSU Council meeting—where councillors spent hours in debate before passing a watered-down motion calling for those Board members who exceeded their term limits to step down—the IGM also supported new hiring and appointment structures for the Board that were passed at the Senate.
Despite the much stronger stance taken at the IGM, two CSU executives, VP Loyola & Advocacy Hassan Abdullahi and VP Clubs & Finance Ramy Khoriarty, stressed that the CSU had already approved a
motion “with the exact same intent,” cutting off student debate by saying, “We’re already doing everything.”
Many were quick to call for a tougher stance from the CSU on the current Board, and called for a system of appointing community-at-large members that would allow for more representation of the actual Concordia and Montreal population.
One member of the crowd lamented the “underrepresentation of people like drag queens and librarians” on the Board.
But beyond a call for an overhaul, the fact that teaching staff and students were united was briefly celebrated, with the lone faculty member in attendance calling for students to put continued pressure on their representatives.
“I just wanted to remind you that Peter Kruyt is nowhere nearer to the door than he was last Thursday,” said David Douglas, a part-time teacher who sits on the Senate’s steering committee.
On Dec. 9, nearly 100 Concordia students traveled to Quebec City to express their opposition towards potential dramatic hikes in university tuition.
Louis-Phillipe Savoie, president of La Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, an organization that represents more than 125,000 students, announced to the attendees of Thursday’s Informational General Meeting that on March 12, they’ll be able to protest a little bit closer to home.
“All organizations from Quebec, student unions, community organizations, will be there to denounce that orientation of the government and tuition hikes, so it’s very important that students get mobilized and send out a clear message,” said Savoie of the public protest that will take place at Place du Canada in downtown Montreal.
“We’re trying to get every university to mobilize students to send out a clear message to their administration that they are not happy with what’s going on with tuition.”
Tuition began rising by $100 a year in Quebec after a more than decade long freeze was lifted in 2007. As of 2012, however, politicians have been discussing a much steeper increase—as much as $500 per year for three years until 2014.
Savoie pointed out that this would make university education inaccessible for students who are unable to get financial aid or cannot afford to go into debt.
“Right now, 77 per cent of the average undergrad’s financing comes from themselves or their parents. What does that mean? If tuition rises, it’s not true that it will be covered by government loans or grants. It will be covered by students working more, getting more debt on their credit cards, or their parents paying more,” said Savoie, adding that 44 cent of Quebec parents cannot afford to contribute to their children’s education, and that the average student who graduates with debt owes $14,000.
Concordia Student Union President Heather Lucas promised strong support for the March 12 event.
“We’re still working on the details and logistics of that, but there will be a protest,” she said, adding that though still in the early stages, the CSU will show the same level of commitment as it did for the Dec. 9 protest in Quebec City.
- Adam Kovac
The $7M Question
The final motion drafted at the Information General Meeting on Thursday concerned the allocation of the Student Centre fund, which has amassed nearly $7 million from student fee levies since 2003.
“We want people to start thinking about what they want to do with this money, and to talk about the fact that there is a SC building [at Loyola Campus] that is underused, and not a student centre [downtown] at this point in time” said Concordia Student Union VP Sustainability and Promotions Morgan Pudwell.
The IGM proposal suggested that the CSU transfer money from the Student Centre fee levy to the renovation and improvement of the Loyola SC building, putting it towards sustainable initiatives like the green roof project and the forthcoming Hive Café.
Initially, various community members at the IGM spurned the motion. Some called for the creation of student bursaries and financial aid, while others questioned whether or not Loyola was an appropriate space for the centre.
CSU VP Loyola and Advocacy Hassan Adullahi also explained that council had already spent up to $100,000 on improving the SC building this year, suggesting that “it might be counterproductive to use [the $7 million] for that purpose,” as the CSU only has a lease with the university on the SC space until 2019.
Additionally, the lawyer representing the CSU, Francois Longpre, stated via e-mail that “it has always been the understanding of everyone concerned that [the SUB] would be located on the SGW campus […] and the general understanding that the project involved new installations.”
It was his professional opinion “that council does not have the power to allocate all or part of the monies held in the building funds to purposes other than those outlined.”
Finally, the meeting’s chair Roddy Doucet suggested that a proposal be made to mandate the CSU to develop a plenary commission with councillors and other interested parties to explore the options for the $7 million fund.
CSU councillor Lex Gill promised to put the motion forward at the next council meeting, saying she would advocate for five students on the committee: one from each faculty and one independent student.
The contract for the $43 million student union building—which failed for the second time in the November referendum after 69 per cent of voters cast their ballots against it—is ongoing between the CSU and the administration. Signed in 2009, students have agreed to put $10 million towards the project by Sept. 1, 2012.
Swiping Away Credit Vendors
Concordia student Jamiey Kelly got a big cheer at Thursday’s Informational General Meeting for expressing his opinion on the credit card vendors who set up shop in the mezzanine of the Library building.
“I just want the Concordia Student Union to hate the credit card companies as much as I do,” he said to almost unanimous support and laughter.
While a loathing for student debt plays into Kelly’s disregard for the vendors, of greater concern is transparency from the university on financial matters.
“I think what I want is a greater schematic of fundraising that the university does,” Kelly told The Link. “I don’t know how much money they make off this, want to understand more about how the university raises money, and how much money they get out of [credit card vendors on campus].”
After a vote, it was decided that Kelly’s proposal would be forwarded to the CSU’s policy reform committee.
CSU VP Sustainability and Promotions Morgan Pudwell said that while vendors are already not permitted on space operated by the CSU, further actions are being taken to minimize credit card companies’ presence on campus.
“The CSU is opposed to the distribution and sale of credit cards on campus, but we’re looking at a way to further advocate that,” she said. “If we’re taking money from alumni, for example, we want to know that the money isn’t coming from a relationship with credit card [companies].”
However, the CSU has no control over what happens on university-controlled property.
“We can tell the university what we think, and that we don’t support it, and if all else fails we can go out and have a protest in front of the vendors,” continued Pudwell.
Banning credit card vendors would be a dramatic step in Concordia’s current battle against corporatization. In the current academic year, controversies have arisen over advertising space on campus, exclusive agreements with PepsiCo., the current Board of Governor’s corporate ties and retail space in
the proposed Faubourg student centre.
Kelly said that while his opposition is tied into that overarching theme, he has targeted the credit card vendors due to their day-to-day ubiquity.
The motion proved overwhelmingly popular, but not everyone in the crowd supported the idea of banning credit card vendors from campus. Stefan Vatchkov voiced opposition to the measure.
“My position is not necessarily that it’s a good or bad idea [to keep vendors on campus],” he told The Link, adding that when they’re on campus, the school at least stands to profit. “They’re everywhere, anyway. If they stay on campus, yes it’s an academic place, but what difference does it make if they’re outside the door or inside the door?”
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 21, published February 1, 2011.
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