The McMaster Association of Part-Time Students passed a set of revised bylaws at a special general meeting held on Oct. 22. The meeting was the first to be called by the new board of directors, elected in February after former MAPS director Sam Minniti was fired and board members resigned.

Just 28 people, including two guests and MAPS board members, attended Tuesday’s meeting. During the one-hour meeting, extensive changes to MAPS' bylaws were passed by a vote of 22-0 including nine proxy votes.

MAPS president Andrew Smith said the bylaws were completely overhauled and rewritten.

According to the new bylaws, an online referendum system will be put in place to reach a larger number of part-time students in MAPS' corporate decision-making process.  Acting MAPS director Kyle Johansen said the referendum system is a response to low attendance at MAPS general meetings. Before an e-referendum is held, MAPS will hold an information meeting in person, through broadcast or on the Internet.

Should a referendum not be possible, a general meeting would be held. A quorum of three per cent has been set for all general meetings.

MAPS' previous bylaws stated a motion could pass with at least five MAPS members in the room and at least five proxy members.

“That’s a lot of power for five people,” said Johansen.

“The bylaws kept being changed. Setting quorum at three per cent is a significant goal to achieve. Referendum will allow members to address issues on their own terms and their own time,” Johansen said.

Another new bylaw provision says that only MAPS members can approve new fees or an increase in fees and the board must provide a rationale for any request.

A two-year term of office is being enforced for directors and directors cannot serve more than eight years in a row. A review committee will be set up by both MAPS and McMaster University to evaluate MAPS’ progress and make a public report available every three years.

In addition, MAPS president Andrew Smith said he anticipates MAPS fees held in trust by the University since May 2012 will be returned to MAPS. McMaster is holding more than $362,000 in MAPS fees until the new board meets the University’s requirements for fiscal transparency.

“Hopefully, the fees will be returned by the end of the calendar year, but I can’t give a definite timeline,” Smith said.

MAPS’ most recent financial audit for 2012, released in September, was also included in Tuesday’s meeting agenda materials.

MAPS spent $206,117 in salaries and benefits, down from $352,023 in 2011. Staff travel expenditures amounted to $14,663 in 2012, up from $4,577 in 2011.

MAPS posted $209,600 in net assets for the 2012 calendar year.

In July 2013, MAPS was released from its $1M commitment to the L.R. Wilson Hall.

In September, my final year as an undergraduate student starts. For the first time in a while, I don’t have to worry about which courses I need to take. Having conquered SOLAR in June for the last time, I don’t envy those still trying to get into courses, much less those trying to figure out what their major will be.

In today’s economy, it’s often easier to ask questions about which majors are ‘useful’ in terms of monetary investment—as opposed to why we really want to major in something, or anything, and why we came to university in the first place.

Media outlets have been reporting for some time that students are shifting away from the liberal arts and toward more ‘practical’ fields of study. Lists of “Most practical majors” and “Highest paying jobs” have been springing up vigorously. They’re hard to turn away from, given the dismal job market millennials are facing. The Washington Post reported that 70 per cent more American college grads worked minimum wage jobs in 2012 compared to ten years before. The Globe and Mail published an online interactive “time machine” showing that Canadian university grads of 2010 have it worse in terms of income, housing prices, tuition, and student loans, than grads had it 30 years ago.

After OUAC released confirmation statistics earlier this month, Maclean’s On Campus ran a short article on how students are opting for practical programs. (In Ontario, confirmed acceptances to university science programs are up 5.2 per cent from last year and down 1.6 per cent in the arts, although the fine and applied arts experienced an 8.7 per cent increase.)

But ‘practicality’ is too often being associated with ‘employability,’ though they don’t imply the same things. In the current job market, being able to apply skills you’ve learned doesn’t necessarily mean you will get a job. Students feel pressure to look employable on paper, and many struggle to gain experience that leads somewhere and pays a decent wage, too.

How career development can be improved and whether students are fully prepared for the workplace are concerns that most programs are grappling with. There’s nothing about the humanities, sciences or social sciences that makes one more objectively valuable, or “practical,” than another.

We should be speaking more directly to the economic reasons why universities and students are in a tough spot, instead of painting a bleak picture of academia being divided between ‘old-’ and ‘new-’ age programs. The reality is that post-secondary education as a system needs revamping.

That being said, university is not for everyone. It’s not fair to keep telling high-schoolers that they will fit the mould if they just try. (Note: OUAC’s statistics show a steady increase in confirmation of university acceptances, from 67,393 in 2004 to 91,378 this year.)

As student debt soars and issues like underfunding continue to be hotly debated, public institutions should avoid overstating the monetary returns for an undergraduate degree, and students shouldn’t underestimate the cost (financial and social) of getting one.

And if a student does choose one program over another, it should be because they are genuinely interested in going another route, not because they’ve been told not to take a risk on the ‘impractical.’

Francis Kabisoso, who's usually behind the lens, at Gore Park in downtown Hamilton. Photo by Anqi Shen / Online Editor.

Francis Kabisoso has mastered the art of talking to strangers. The 22-year-old photographer is easy to talk with but isn’t overly talkative, any nervousness overrun by the calm of someone who knows what he wants.

You’re more likely to know him as Francis Fiction, the name he uses to credit his work online. Most people who have seen his work don’t know it’s a stage name.

“I didn’t put a lot of thought into it. The words just sounded good together,” he said. “I like alliteration. Francis Fiction. Humans of Hamilton.”

Since coming to Hamilton in 2005, Kabisoso has started several creative projects, including ‘Humans of Hamilton’, a blog and Facebook page chronicling the lives of Hamiltonians one photo at a time. The project started out as a little-known Tumblr blog called Fiction 365. When a friend showed him the popular 'Humans of New York' Facebook page, Kabisoso liked the idea and ran with it.

He began approaching people he didn’t know and asking to take their photos. He captures them in transitory moments—running errands, sitting on a park bench, taking a stroll with their girlfriend or boyfriend—and captions the photos with their favourite quotes, or if he doesn’t remember, words that resonate with him.

These days he’s trying to get the shot in one take. “You have to do that if they’re busy or walking by,” he told me after taking a snapshot of a friendly woman we passed on James Street S.

Kabisoso has had a passion for the arts for as long as he can remember.

He was born with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that compresses it on one side, causing back pain and difficulty breathing with over-exertion.

“I couldn’t really do much physical activity, so I relied on writing and anything artistic that didn’t involve situations where someone could hurt me.”

In high school, Kabisoso got into creative theatre and participated in the Sears Drama Festival. After getting his diploma, he enrolled in Niagara College’s broadcasting program, but found that it didn’t suit his passion for film. He wanted to meet people and travel. Thinking that tourism was his calling, he started taking classes at Mohawk College. That didn’t live up to his expectations either, so he told his parents he would drop out again.

“I trust my instincts,” he said. “When I want to do anything, I don’t go by what my parents or anybody tells me, I just do what feels right for me in my life.”

Kabisoso went out and bought a Canon T3i, the camera he still uses, and started by recording videos of himself.

“I took it to church once and took a couple of photographs, and I really liked it. I decided to create a Facebook page so I could start posting them. That way I didn’t have to send the photos to everybody.”

His 'Humans of Hamilton' Facebook page has since garnered a following of more than 800. Earlier this month, he used the platform to launch Human Stories, a documentary series about connections between Hamiltonians.Eager to juggle both projects, Kabisoso paired up with his friend, Kyle Dowie, to start producing segments. They’ve shot three episodes and combined two that were similar in theme.

“Sometimes when I talk to people, I get home and I want to write down something they said, but I can’t really remember it. So I thought I should start to make videos. No one can tell your story better than you can, right?”

At first, Kabisoso was anxious about asking people for interviews, even though he’d been taking photos of strangers. “Rejection sucks,” he said. “Some people say no, but I’ve just learned to not take it personally.”

“When we do interviews, it’s not formal at all. This is the thing I tell everyone—they say, what do you want me to do, how do you want me to stand—and I say, just be.”

“How do you get strangers to open up to you?” I asked.

He chuckled at that. “Smile?”

“I can’t really say what it is that I do – I just talk to them like they’re human, like they’re my friend, and they just kind of open up,” he said.

“You start with just like, how was your day, and just move on. The material we use doesn’t even start from the hour mark, but we talk for an hour, two hours. It’s really, really hard to try to condense that into five minutes each. But I think you get more honesty that way.”

“The thing is,” he said, “People want to be listened to. People at some point in our lives feel like we want to be sort of validated, to know that our lives really matter to someone.”

Kabisoso works on his creative projects in his spare time and says none of his previous jobs had anything to do with photography.

Since last October, he’s been working part-time at Canada Post’s call centre.

“It’s made me that much more compassionate because I’m talking to people all day on the phone and I hear what they’re going through,” he said.

This fall, Kabisoso will be attending Humber College, where he’ll study creative photography.

When people ask him what will become of Humans of Hamilton, he’s at a bit of a loss. He knows he won’t be in Hamilton forever and that passing it off to someone else is probably the best way to go.

“I get scared ‘cause when people message me, they’re like, Francis: don’t ever stop doing this, and I’m like, don’t do this to me.”

For now, he’s still rolling out photos and videos one at a time, having learned more from strangers than he’s learned in class.

“A lot of times I go to Gore Park and there are certain people that are sort of just sitting there. Sometimes I feel like they’re just waiting for someone to talk to them because there’s something on their minds that they want to let out. And so I go there and start a conversation.”

In spite of his body of work, Kabisoso is uncomfortable with the title of ‘artist.’

“People call me that and I don’t really consider myself that at all. The only thing I would call myself is a storyteller. I feel like I will get there sometime but calling me an artist right now—I’m on my way, I’m getting there.”

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