A review of MASU’s part played in student issues in the 2015-16 academic year

Four Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) Council discussions, motions and actions in the 2015-16 academic year revolved around particularly contentious issues: correspondence course tuition, cuts to the women’s and gender studies (WGST) program, executive honoraria raise, and divestment from fossil fuels.

In November 2015, hundreds of students occupied Senate in a silent demonstration organized by the MASU to protest a separate $746.50 correspondence course fee. The administration said the additional $746.50 per course was not an increase in tuition but that it corresponded instead to a separate fee. The Students’ Administrative Council (SAC) unanimously passed a motion opposing the separation of correspondence course tuition from regular full-time tuition. On Dec. 4, 2015, Mt. A Vice-President Finance and Administration Robert Inglis wrote an email to all students in which he announced that, in part due to student concern, the administration had decided not to proceed with the implementation of separate correspondence course tuition for the winter semester.

In February of this year, Dean of Arts Hans vanderLeest told Lisa Dawn Hamilton, acting director of the women’s and gender studies program, that there would be no staffing budget for the WGST program in the coming year, and therefore no WGST courses would be offered. Due to student protests organized by the WGST society, the administration retracted this decision and announced that a full-time teaching position will be funded through the endowment fund for one year.

According to MASU vice-president academic Mary Emma MacNeil, the most important thing that happened in the MASU this year was that students began to see the MASU as more than just an organization that provides general services.

In contrast, some Mt. A students have expressed a disenchantment with the students’ union and feel that it does not accurately represent the student body.

The current chair of the MASU council, Andrew Johnson, was asked by the Argosy whether he believed the MASU did enough for students this year. “It isn’t fair to say that the MASU does enough,” he said. However, Johnson feels that the MASU does a lot with the resources they are given. Johnson said students have high expectations of their executive, and should, because it holds the executive accountable to the student body.

Johnson is in his fourth year at Mt. A, and has been a part of the MASU for all four of his years as a councillor and, last year, as vice-president campus life.

When asked about the MASU’s role in student advocacy this year, Johnson said the executive was not better this year than in past years. Rather, what Johnson feels is different about this year is that students did a particularly good job of mobilizing. Johnson added that the MASU did a good job of responding to student advocacy.

In March, MASU Vice-President Finance and Operations Alex Lepianka presented a draft budget to the SAC with a $1,500 surplus for 2015-16. It was originally proposed that this sum be divided fivefold among the MASU executive such that each position would receive a $250 increase in honorarium. The lengthy discussion around this issue hinged on the appropriateness of increasing executive pay when councillors, some co-ordinators and student volunteer positions receive no honoraria whatsoever. Other than the president, the executive still makes less than minimum wage which, as pointed out by councillor Maureen Adegbidi, makes executive positions less accessible to students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Council rejected this proposition and decided to put the extra $1,500 into the academic enrichment fund, which provides financial assistance with expenses such as registration fees, as well as travel and accommodation for extracurricular events.

At the SAC meeting on March 28, MASU Council unanimously passed a motion supporting fossil-fuel divestment from the top 200 carbon companies.

The SAC held one last meeting on April 4, after which it adjourned for the summer. With next year comes the expiration of both full-time and part-time faculty collective agreements, meaning that collective bargaining will occur once again between the University and the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA). In 2014, collective bargaining led to a three-week-long faculty strike. Furthermore, the long-term sustainability of the WGST program will once again be on the table, as staffing is currently guaranteed for one year. The Board of Regents is set to discuss this issue in the fall. These are only two of the many big issues that have the potential to affect students. The 2016-17 academic year will present many opportunities for student and MASU advocacy.

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