Keeping URSU honest for one last week of the semester
The Mar. 24 URSU board meeting, surprising absolutely no one, was dominated by discussions of COVID-19. Before that came a discussion via a digital platform because of pandemic restrictions, led by president Victor Oriola, about the CFS plebiscite put forward during the elections and the mandate given to the organization to remove URSU from the federation by indicating that students did not want their fees to go to the Ontario-based organization. The result of the plebiscite was 861 in favour, 99 against, with 615 abstentions.
URSU General Manager Carl Flis noted to the board that the organization had issued 43 layoff notices and would be spending $70,000 in packages in lieu of the one-week unpaid layoff notice required in their collective bargaining agreement with part-time staff, most of whom are students. There is concern from the leadership that full-time staff may soon be affected, but Flis stressed that URSU is exploring all federal and provincial wage subsidy programs to mitigate the impact of unemployment due to COVID-19. As for tenants in the Riddell Centre, Flis said that each renter has been credit fifty per cent of their April rent and that this strategy will be “revisited for May.”
Another lengthy discussion was had about the growing movement from students to implement a pass/fail model for all courses this semester. Rylen Jensen said that education students are generally content. KHS director Barzany Anteras spoke to the concerns some students had about graduate programs.
After coming under pressure after an online petition asking for pass/fail, and with the Students’ Union also putting out a survey related to what students need, the University of Regina has since instituted a multiple option system. As written on the university’s website,
“… the options are as follows:
- We are extending the course withdrawal deadline to coincide with the final day of classes (Thursday April 9). Students exercising this option would thereby earn a grade of “W” which will allow them to avoid failing grades and negative GPA impact due to COVID-19 difficulties.
- Traditional Numeric Grading – student can chose to take their final grades as the grading approach to one, many, or all of their classes.
- We are creating a new course grade: “CRC” (Credit-COVID-19) for students who pass a course, but who experience stressors that have negatively impacted their academic performance. Students would have the option to replace their numeric grade with “CRC.” The deadline for students to select this option is May 31, 2020. A “CRC” grade:
- Is considered a credit/pass
- Does not impact GPA
- Can be used in degree completion requirements
- May have some impact on eligibility for funding or financial awards
- Is an irreversible decision
Another option for students is a newly approved grade of “NCC” (No Credit – COVID-19) for students who receive a failing numerical grade in a course and request to replace this numerical grade so as to preserve their academic standing. The deadline for students to select this option is also May 31, 2020. Students who do not pass due to failure to complete a final exam or other required component of the course, will not be eligible for “NCC”. A “NCC” grade:
- Does not impact GPA
- Does not count toward degree completion
- Is an irreversible decision”
It is important to note that information about the program was only sent to the president’s lit serv, so students became aware of the change at the same time as instructors. Back to the meeting.
Board chair John Lax went on to lay out how “unprecedented” COVID-19 was and to remind the board members that everyone was working on plans made without any prior context.
The CRO’s report came next, with Chief Returning Officer Amber Smale back after taking a one-year hiatus from running the event to, our EIC’s guessing, catch her breath. Highlights include a section on voter turnout.
“There was a total of 15,092 students eligible to vote. Based on the Executive positions where all students are eligible to vote, a total of 1,575 voted which is a 9.58 per cent voter turnout which is consistent with previous elections.”
A discussion of privacy breaches, URSU members campaigning on behalf of candidates outside the campaign period, and regular old campaigning outside the campaign period. Those eleven complaints led to 50 total demerit points with them being devied out amongst six candidates: Nifemi Adekoya with 10 points, Talha Babar with 10 points, Sid Khan with five points, Victor Oriola, with 10 points, Rajbir Singh with five points, and presidential race winner Gurjinder Singh Lehal with 10 points.
Also from the CRO’s report came this tidbit about other issues with the election, though during her presentation both Flis and Smale noted that the campaign was less challenging than those previous.
“There was an attempt from outside of the URSU membership to influence the results of this election by providing documentation related to incidents between one of the candidates running and others on and off campus. This information has no bearing on the current election and was not taken into consideration by the CRO as the matters are outside of the CRO’s and the URSU’s authority and jurisdiction presently. Once those matters are resolved, this may be considered further if/when required by the URSU.”
The CRO also suggested getting rid of the by-election, changes to the election by-law to allow campaigning on election day, and clarification on those running in constituencies about eligibility.
After the CRO’s report came a return to a discussion about a pass/fail model, and then a motion to increase the amount being paid to board members. There were two competing motions, Victor Oriola’s being to increase the amount being paid to board members to $65 for meetings and $50 for committees; and Jacq Brasseur’s being a maintaining of the status quo at $50, though allowing that to extend to committee meeting as well. Oriola’s motion was the winner.
After came a spirited discussion on the election’s results, with a number of members asking for an in-camera session to discuss. Equity and Diversity representative Jacq Brasseur brought the motion forward to approve the election results, telling the other members of the board that they should have asked the CRO when she was there if they had any concerns, noting the troubles of the past when the CRO and the election committee’s decision was not respected.
“I want to stress my frustration that if URSU, for however many years in a row now, continues to have conversations around the election in-camera that undermines the transparency and the accountability of our elections to our student body and we know that our student body is frustrated by the way that our elections have gone in the past. So, I welcome conversation, but I think that it can potentially harm the trust [our electorate] has or does not have in us to continue to have conversations like this in-camera.”
Board Chair John Lax resisted the complaint by Brasseur.
“I’m going to say, from my perspective, and Jacq I know you object, but from my perspective … I clearly have board members who aren’t comfortable at this point and that, as a chair, makes me uncomfortable moving to a motion on this. So, we can go in-camera this conversation and then we can vote on the motion. I get that maybe it has a damaging impact on trust of the student body, and that’s not a good thing, but the board cannot do its job properly if directors don’t feel like they have enough information.”
Brasseur then brought the motion forward to pass the CRO’s report. With all those involved in the election asked to abstain, the motion passed 4-3. The meeting then moved in-camera for most of the rest of the evening. There was no public mention of President-elect Gurjinder Singh Lehal’s legal issues.
There was some consternation by the URSU Boar Chair John Lax at having the Carillon record the meeting. There have been previous disagreements about the right of the paper to record the meetings for accuracy, including an incident earlier in the year when web writer Julia Peterson was asked to not record sections of the meeting about funding, but was permitted to take notes. Those detailed notes were then incorporated accurately into her story.
In an email exchange on Mar. 23, Board Chair John Lax said that the board had no responsibility to journalistic integrity, stating in his email “You have a responsibility to good journalistic practices. I do not.”
The entire email is printed below, for said journalistic integrity.
“I certainly understand your perspective and am supportive of your right as a member and a journalist to access public information. It is also the duty of the Students’ Union to provide access and information within reason.
That said, there seems to be a fundamental confusion in responsibilities. You state that “URSU cannot, based on journalistic good standards, ban the carillon [sic] from recording.” My responsibility is to manage board meetings for good governance outcomes and to enable board members to efficiently and effectively carry out their duties to constituencies and URSU membership in general. You have a responsibility to good journalistic practices. I do not.
And while you are correct that meetings are public, there are many public spaces and contexts that do not allow for the use of recording devices for various reasons.
In this case, I am not disallowing recording. I am disallowing recording of a specific portion of the conversation and asking that you not report specific names within that debate. I have, as I laid out before, a reason for making this request: it is to enable members of the board to have open, honest discussions to reach conclusions with the assurance they have weighed all of the evidence.
I have made this request before. And the Carillon failed to strictly abide by it – naming two directors in a piece claiming board members were contributing to inequality. While disappointing, it wasn’t an argument worth having. And I chose to continue holding those deliberations in the public portion of the meetings, rather than in camera with publicly reported figures after the fact.
I will continue to make this recording limitation request moving forward and expect you and your publication to abide by it.
I may be willing to entertain further discussion on the matter in the proper forum and conducted respectfully. However, less than 48 hours before a meeting being held in an entirely new format because of a global crisis, is neither the time, nor the place.
Furthermore, there is nothing in the Non-Profit Corporations Act that requires these meetings be open to public attendance. The URSU Constitution holds, in article IV (2), that “[a]ll members are entitled to attend, speak, and make submissions to all SU meetings.” This does not imply recording must be allowed. I also reserve the right, as circumstances require, to limit these rights in the interest of the board’s ability to carry out its mission and duty to manage, provide oversight, and provide direction of the Students’ Union and the services it provides to the entire student body.
You can feel free to protest this or challenge it in any way you see fit. However, I expect you may find that many conditions you seem to view as absolute rights are actually just conventions which are adhered to for the sake of transparency and decorum. The URSU Constitution can be changed or clarified.
Transparency is important but it is not so important that I will risk the effective governance and management of the Students’ Union and its services just to provide greater transparency than is required under law and regulation.
URSU board meetings are held in good faith and in pursuit of benefit for the entire student body. Board members represent constituencies that have direct access to them. There is nothing untoward about operating in a way that acknowledges practicalities.
I am too busy today to debate this further. So, either accept the terms or don’t attend.”
As evidenced by the above article, the Carillon attended digitally and all parts of the meeting were recorded for accuracy.