The Students’ Union is proposing changes to how student group oversight at the University of Alberta is conducted, including streamlining the process for booking event space in the Students’ Union Building (SUB).
The proposed changes would give the Students’ Union more control and oversight of student groups as opposed to the Dean of Students. The proposal, as presented to Students’ Council on November 27, would be able to oversee everything from initial student group recognition to disciplinary actions.
The Students’ Union’s proposal has been sent to their bylaw committee for review. Students’ Council is expected to vote on the proposal sometime in January.
Currently, student groups apply to the university to become a group. While groups can choose to be affiliated with the Students’ Union, Graduate Students’ Association, or the Dean of Students, all groups must be recognized by the Office of the Dean of Students in order to remain an SU group. Student Group Services handles the administration of student groups while the Dean of Students controls the majority of disciplinary measures.
If the new proposal is approved by the Students’ Union, the SU would then control disciplinary measures for those groups affiliated with the Students’ Union.
Dean of Students Andre Costopoulos said the process for student groups to receive recognition or book events is organized in such a way to mitigate risk and ensure groups are in a position to succeed.
“The university has to do its due diligence. There is a lot of management and planning that goes into these kinds of events and decisions,” he said. “Ultimately, before we say this is a university-approved event, we want to make sure it is safe, appropriate, and positive to the campus.”
According to Students’ Union vice-president (student life) Andre Bourgeois, student group oversight is a “messy” process.
“It is complicated and requires a bunch of steps to be carried out,” Bourgeois said. “We want to make this an easier process for everyone involved.”
Bourgeois hopes the changes will make it easier for events to be held within SUB. Currently, groups need to submit a detailed event application to Student Group Services before the event is approved. He said the time it takes to approve events is often lengthy.
Bourgeois added that with the Students’ Union’s insurance, and trained staff at both campus bars, it would be simple for groups to book either SU-owned space or a room in SUB for an event.
SU general manager Marc Dumouchel said the ultimate goal is to have the system in place and show the university it can work.
“What we are trying to do is to set up a system, get it right, and show [the university] that it works just fine,” he said. “In many ways, [our proposal] is superior.”
Rebecca Taylor, manager of Discover Governance — a Students’ Union governance, educational and research office, said another concern the proposal seeks to address is how the Dean of Students holds all the decision making power.
“Essentially, the university has all the decision making power,” Taylor said. “If they decide a student group is kind of risky, then they can just not accept them, and not much can be said about it.”
Taylor added the SU takes issue with some of the Dean of Students policies on student groups, which she said were vague, and led to unfair disciplinary decisions. Giving the example of Geer Week, the Engineering Student Society engineering festival, Taylor said the event was unfairly discontinued by the university from 2015 to 2017. According to the former Dean of Students, Robin Everall, the event was suspended in 2015 due to a sex doll which was brought around campus by three individuals participating in the event.
Costopoulos said the Students’ Union has raised their concerns to his office, and that he is reviewing it carefully.
“We do not have a clear answer on this at the moment,” he said. “Certainly, the SU administers [SUB], the university owns it so in terms of risk management there is a discussion to be had there.”