The University Students’ Council unanimously voted in favour of a motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process after the university’s lax consultation with students became an issue at the Jan. 15 town hall meeting.
University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union President Max FineDay made the motion at the Jan. 16 meeting where council deliberated over four points: that student groups are not being consulted, that the consultation timeline is inadequate for students, that there is no student representation on the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning and that students have expressed concern as to the implementation of the taskforce reports.
“I think this is another example where the university has done a really good job at making students feel powerless,” said FineDay in an interview following the USC meeting.
The issue of student consultation has continued for over a year with students fighting to have their voices heard, beginning last January when students stormed a University Council meeting in order to receive two representatives on each of the TransformUS taskforces.
Student consultation and engagement remained an issue at the Jan. 15 town hall. Although the meeting was held exclusively for students to voice their concerns, attendance was low — ranging from 20 to 30 students.
Indigenous Students’ Council president Terri Favel critiqued the town hall for being scheduled at an inconvenient time for students — over noon hour on a Wednesday, when many students have class.
U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac said the town hall was planned at the best possible time of the week when there are fewest classes scheduled.
Though the town hall seems to point toward a lack of student interest in TransformUS, FineDay said low student engagement is a result of poor planning on administration’s part.
“I think there’s an opinion there that apathy is raging on our campus and students will just roll over and go with the flow on TransformUS and obviously that’s not the case,” he said.
Questioning the university’s efforts in engaging with students, FineDay asked Busch-Vishniac why student unions and constituencies have not been directly consulted by university administration. Busch-Vishniac had opened the town hall with an address that outlined the consultation phase which includes 33 individual meetings with the university’s senior leaders.
“The point of TransformUS is financial,” Busch-Vishniac said. “Financial responsibility is the responsibility distributed to the deans, to the [associate vice-presidents] and therefore we are meeting with each and every one of them… so that we make sure that we are specifically tasking the people with financial authority to be thinking long and hard and clearly about how we will resolve what is truly a financial issue.”
Busch-Vishniac continued on to say that there have been students present as members of University Council and on the Board of Governors throughout TransformUS. She also said that there has been consultation with students, as seen at the town halls.
“We are consulting. We are asking for your comments,” Busch-Vishniac said. “We will continue to do that but the USSU does not have financial authority to make the changes. So we are meeting with the people who will be tasked with implementing changes and we believe that is appropriate.”
FineDay said that he was taken aback by Busch-Vishniac’s response that students have no financial responsibility within the university.
“Students have invested their dollars in this university by paying huge amounts of tuition,” he said. “It is shocking to me that administration, that the president of the university would say that we have no financial skin in this institution.”
The USC’s critique of the consultation phase timeline arises from the fact that the taskforce reports were released in the middle of final exams — Dec. 9, 2013 — and students were given three weeks following exams to read and interpret the reports before the town hall mid-January.
“For one, we’re hoping the consultation phase will be changed to include the voices of students,” FineDay said. “I’ve heard from a lot of students that [the timeline] wasn’t adequate, that that wasn’t enough time. They haven’t felt that it was conducive to the student schedule.”
However, Busch-Vishniac said that the consultation phase will not be extended and that there will not be any more town halls planned.
“The reality is that if we don’t move quickly, the cuts we would have to make could be deeper and we would rather avoid doing that,” Busch-Vishniac said. “This specific consultation phase, during which we are asking people to comment on TransformUS reports, will not be extended.”
However, she said that students will still be involved after the consultation phase is complete, through their roles on University Council, the Board of Governors and the Senate.
To ensure that student concerns will be taken into account during decision making, the USC would like to see student representation on the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning.
“Students are completely left out of this process,” FineDay said. “I think a lot of students are fed up and they’re looking for more than tokenism now. They’re looking for a real seat at the table and more than one student.”
Similarly, the lack of information given to students regarding the implementation process has posed a concern to some, lending to the fourth point of the motion of non-confidence in the TransformUS process.
FineDay said that students are unaware of the decision-making power that PCIP has and that it does not have to follow through the regular governance processes.
“I think that was a huge concern. We would hate for some negative decision to come out of PCIP that would take away services for students or negatively impact students in a big way,” FineDay said.
Uncertainty with the TransformUS process moving forward is a concern for both the USC and students. Alex Keen, representative for the Edward’s School of Business on USC, wrote via email to the Sheaf that many students he talked to in his college felt as though their opinions would have little impact on TransformUS.
“This highlights a problem that exists not just in Transform US but in the overall feeling that students have when dealing with the university,” Keen wrote. “If the university wants students to feel that their feedback is valued and heard, then it needs to demonstrate that it is willing to not just listen, but also act upon student opinion.”
In order to ensure that student voices are being heard, the USSU gathered feedback from councillors at the USC meeting and will be sending in their own report to university administration.
FineDay also urges students to send their opinions and concerns in by responding to the TransformUS blog, tweeting or writing letters to the university. He said he has asked those constituency presidents to talk to their members and gather feedback themselves even though the university has made no request for their responses.
“These reports are not set in stone,” FineDay said. “If all the recommendations went through with TransformUS we’d lose a lot of unique programs… We need students in all disciplines to come together.”
Photo: Andrew Mareschal