To say that students at the University of Regina are angry is an understatement.
Citing lack of transparency, and little to no consultation, students came together in an open forum on Thursday Jan. 24 to respond to the current changes and possible cuts brought on by the U of R’s Academic Program Review (APR). Organized by the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG), the forum hosted Vice-President (Academic) Dr. Tom Chase, and nearly 50 students demanding answers, and relaying their suggestions.
The APR process began in 2009, when the University community came together to adopt mâmawohkamâtowin, a strategic plan aimed at creating a successful and thriving university. In order to succeed, the plan outlined that the University must be “selective in the programs it offers,” stating that, “to achieve excellence, choices need to be made” to accommodate the growing student demands in some areas, and the declining interest in other areas.
Three years after the APR process began, students and faculty have started seeing and feeling the repercussions of the changes, and few are happy about what is to come.
One of the biggest concerns of the APR process has been the lack of student representation and consultation over the course of the program review, and the absence of the student voice in the decision making process. While there are some student representatives that sit on various University councils and committees, the majority of students agree that these few representatives do not speak on behalf of all students.
Matthew Lensen, president of the Arts Students’ Association, is also a student representative on the Dean of Arts Management Committee. He says that students are caught in the midst of a “participation trap” whereby the administration uses the bodies of a few representatives as an excuse to claim fair student consultation.
“Students do not have adequate representation … we are included simply so administrators can look us in the face and say: ‘students have been a part of all different levels of University governance. We have one vote on the Board of Governors, one vote on nearly every committee – Council Discipline Committee, President’s Advisory Council on Sustainability – to name a few’ Do you really think that including one student per committee gives us any sort of voice?” Lensen asked Chase at the forum.
University of Regina student Kay Niedermayer agrees, and called on Chase and the administration to take responsibility in creating a more extensive consultation process.
“I think it’s not a student consultation unless more than half, at least, of the students on campus are represented in the consultation. Of course, that’s very difficult to do, but that should be the administrators role – trying to get student engagement,” she said. “Before you can even say you completed student consultation, there actually needs to be student consultation of the entire body of students.”
“Part of decolonization is an even distribution of power. We know that money is power, and we know that force is power. It disturbs me greatly that students are expressing that they do not have a voice in this institution. Whether you agree with them or not, that is irrelevant. They are expressing that, and that needs to be addressed.” – Amanda Lyn Baldwin
Failing to provide this extensive consultation puts students in the minority group during the decision making process. Lensen illustrated this by giving an example of a recent Management Committee meeting he attended where members had been discussing possible steps in dealing with the inevitable cuts to the Faculty of Arts. One faculty member suggested cutting TA positions, and “revolutionizing” the grading system by introducing automated marking technologies whereby exams would become multiple choice answers marked by a computer.
“The most unsettling part, however, was that the member was suggesting we do this for all classes, from Anthropology to English,” said Lensen. “I don’t know about anybody here, but I can’t imagine wanting to stay at a University where my English classes had no essays, just multiple choice exams that could be scanned through a machine.”
Lensen suggests opening up such a discussion to the student body, and allowing students to share their voices and their thoughts. This would be a first step in providing much needed advice and consultation to the administration.
To take up some of these concerns, Chase suggested that students contact the University’s Board of Governors to discuss issues around student representation and consultation, but he was fast to learn that students had already tried this approach, and were banned.
Board of Governors meetings are privately held, and closed off to not only the public, but to students as well. In February 2012, students held a peaceful sit-in asking the board to let them participate in the governance process. Not only were students denied access to the meeting, but they were also met with six security guards.
Thursday’s forum, students agreed, is one way to demand attention, hold the administration accountable, and allow student voices and concerns to be heard.
For instance, the voice of French education student, David Craig, rang loud as he pointed out that the APR process has gone against the very core of the U of R’s mission of being “a welcoming, student-focused institution that combines deep-rooted values with innovative thinking, classroom theory with real-world practice, and global ideas with regional needs.
“The cuts and allocation of funding towards certain faculties and away from other faculties, seems to consider the needs of a specific student demographic…which translates to direct revenue for the U of R,” Craig said. “Students who don’t belong in the [group] of money makers, are falling out of focus at the U of R.
“So I ask, is this really student focused? Is this a compressive approach to education?”
Many agreed that not only was the APR process converting education into a business, but, argued PhD Student, Amanda Lyn Baldwin, the APR has created a destructive power dynamic between students and the administration.
Having previously studied in Alberta, Baldwin came to Saskatchewan because the U of R was often advertised as “one of the … progressively decolonized institutions in Canada,” she said.
“We are nowhere near that here. Part of decolonization is an even distribution of power. We know that money is power, and we know that force is power. It disturbs me greatly that students are expressing that they do not have a voice in this institution. Whether you agree with them or not, that is irrelevant. They are expressing that, and that needs to be addressed,” she said at the forum.
With students expressing their frustration, anger, and concerns about the future of the U of R, Chase had little to say to ease the concerns.
“Help me out, and help us all out, what do we need to do? … How do we respond to legitimate student demand … while still maintaining the commitment in the strategic plan, to the liberal arts and sciences core of the University? These are difficult questions, complex questions, and not ones for which there are [certain] answers.”
Photo by Taouba Khelifa