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ASA under fire by student groups

author: matt wincherauk | editor-in-chief

credit ella mikkola

 

Constitution not being upheld, claims groups

Over the course of the 2016-17 academic year, the relationship between the Arts Student’s Association [ASA] and the representatives of the respective arts students group have involved the University of Regina Students Union in an attempt to create a new representative council, the Arts Students’ Council of Representatives [ASCA] to replace the ASA.

The Carillon was able to talk to Jesse Lohner, president of the U of R’s Students’ Historical Society [SHS] about the issues with the ASA constitution, and the upcoming meeting with URSU on Thursday, April 6. Like many other students’ associations, Lohner has been frustrated with the way the ASA and its president Jean Luc Desjardins have carried themselves this year.

“I think the issue is that we were all told one thing at the beginning of the year. They had painted a picture at the beginning of the year of what we were supposed to be doing as arts leaders, drawing more people into the arts and our respective faculties, and to do that maybe we should be working together. We were told that the ASA was the umbrella that supposed to bring us all together into a cohesive unit. That has since changed completely,” stated Lohner.

“We all still want that version to come into fruition, but have found over the year the ASA is not the organization that will bring that about. They still see themselves as their own group rather than an umbrella group representing all of us. They obviously do not buy into that idea of a unified arts group anymore.”

The frustrations from Lohner and other arts students leaders come from the ASA’s constitution, and how it is being upheld. Lohner noted that they have had “problems with the constitution they have brought out, and largely the problems stem not just from the fact that they’ve isolated themselves, but it also means that they are not truly being representatives of arts students either.”

The ASA’s constitution claims, “The Association exists to represent all students, and mediate and delegate Department Groups within the University of Regina Faculty of Arts; to promote their welfare, activities and interests and provide activities, services and distribution of resources to enhance the educational and social conditions of its members,” something that has been disputed by Lohner.

“They’ve basically set themselves up to be a constitutional monarchy.”

Lohner would go on to note that the ASA has not provided accurate representations of what has happened at their board meetings, claiming that they have essentially re-written their board minutes to make their stance stronger. Furthermore, attempts to access both the ASA’s constitution and minutes are somewhat restricted, considering their website does not allow for any of those documents to be printed, creating another level of frustration from those attempting to conduct business with them.

To add to the situation, Lohner states that the Dean of Arts, Richard Kleer, has given them his support in the matter, but intends to let the two sides attempt to settle their differences before stepping in.

While many student groups from within the Faculty of Arts are in support of the proposed ASCA, including student groups representing the departments of Economics, History, Justice Studies, Political Science and International Studies, Psychology and Women and Gender Studies, it was the English Students’ Association [ESA] that reached out to the Carillon to comment further on the situation. ESA president Tea Gerbeza supported the notion that Desjardins and the ASA had been unprofessional and uncooperative towards the ESA.

“Jean Luc [Desjardins], the president of the ASA, approached the groups at the beginning of the year wanting to unify the arts students’ groups, which is great. However, in particular to the ESA, [he] approached us in a very unprofessional way,” Gerbeza told the Carillon.

Gerbeza would go on to note that ASA representatives came to their pizza lunch demanding their office space, to which the ESA complied. Despite attempts to maintain a line of contact with the ASA, sending them a “budget, constitution, a letter from our department head saying that [they are] active, and went to the AGM with hopes of having the University of Regina Students’ Union [URSU] make a new definition regarding clubs and groups, and associations.”

Despite their attempts, communication has been lacking.

“There’s no transparency between them and us. They won’t show us their budget, or answer any of our questions,” Gerbeza said.

“They want to separate the ASA from all other department groups, and function as one group, even though it’s there to unify us. We don’t know how the ASA will respond, which is why we’re having that meeting.”

The Carillon reached out to Desjardins and the ASA, and were sent the following as a response to the claims made by Lohner, and the other students groups:

 

The Carillon has been told by representatives of arts students’ group that they intend to void the ASA’s constitution to form a new group: the Arts Students’ Council of Representatives. What is the ASA’s position on this potential new representative group?

 

It was my own and the Arts Dean’s initial vision to see one cohesive arts group. Back in 2016 the ASA had proposed the idea of forming a single Arts Student organization. This was met with push back from Arts groups as many are accustom to their individual autonomy. Each Arts Student group (including the ASA) would have to dissolve their system of governance according to their own organization’s constitution before all parties could combine. A project of that scale would require unanimous cooperation, dedication and time, and each group giving up their autonomy. However, any group who understands URSU policy knows they can’t simply “void” a separate group’s governing principles. Voluntary cooperation is a must.

 

These representatives have already released a document on the purpose of the ASCR. Can you speak to the new proposed goals set out in the document, and also respond to the criticisms that have been made against the ASA?

 

Our executive is not currently aware of any such statement. We know in our own policy we attempt host a “Council of Representatives” which participation is voluntary. It is our attempt to foster inter-group communication between the independent Arts Groups. It is about having some common ground and a place to formally address issues affecting Arts Students at the U of R. We have had a couple of these meetings so far and the minutes are available on our website.

 

If the ASA continues to be an organization after the meeting on Thursday, how does your executive committee plan on mending relationships with these groups, as well as students?

 

It is not a question of “if”, [sic] the ASA has been rebuilt from nothing and we intend to keep it that way. If it were to fall now, all Arts Groups and students stand something to lose. A large part of ASA mandate is to foster cooperation and common ground between all Arts groups, and with cooperation comes benefit for everyone. The meeting with URSU is the first step in clarifying what have been many misunderstanding’s with URSU, ASA, and Arts Group’s policy. Having a strong understanding of policy should be inherent to the student organizations.

 

Does the ASA have any final statements on the matter? Is there anything else that you would like to add that students should know?

 

Our own constitution demands of us a large degree of accountability. You can expect a publicly released annual report and budget summary for the end of the term April 30. As well all our policy and council meeting minutes are on our website asauregina.wordpress.com.

 

Arts students are encouraged to attend the meeting on Thursday at 1 p.m. in the URSU boardroom and voice their concerns. Students can also read the ASA’s constitution on their website (https://asauregina.wordpress.com), and view the criticisms made against the ASA and proposed goals of the potential ASCA on the SHS or ESA’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/uofrshs/posts/234104546994816).

UPDATE (April 6): The meeting between the ASA, URSU, and the representatives of the students’ groups has ended. The meeting was intended to address issues of miscommunication between all parties, as well as the intention of amending the ASA’s constitution. The meeting adjourned with all representatives being in favour of amending the constitution. As of May 1, 2017, the ASCA will come into effect. ASA representative Ben Kelsey apologized on behalf of the ASA’s lack of communication during the year, and was supportive of the changes coming, believing that it was in the best interest of all parties.. The meeting was adjourned at 1:56 p.m.

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