Students are advocating for change, now McMaster needs to listen to them

C/O Lewis Parsons on Unsplash

By: Alexandria Peacock, Contributor

This past Friday over 175 students participated in the McMaster Climate Strike. The goal of the strike, aside from raising awareness about climate change, was to push for divestment here at McMaster University. McMaster currently invests about $22 million into fossil fuel companies, which are the leading greenhouse gas emitters.

On March 4, McMaster President David Farrar released a statement asking the Board of Governors to create a concrete plan for divestment within a specified timeline. This demand for a clear timeline and action plan for divestment was the primary goal of the McMaster Climate Strike. The strike was endorsed by several faculty societies and the McMaster Students Union which represents over 20,000 undergraduate students.

The demand for change is clear. We are well aware that climate change is the biggest threat of the 21st century and that action needs to be taken now and not in some vague future. If this strike has shown us anything, it is that the students are prepared to fight for change. So why has it taken this long for the university to commit?

If this strike has shown us anything, it is that the students are prepared to fight for change. So why has it taken this long for the university to commit?

According to a representative from Mac Climate Advocates, one of the many clubs here at McMaster which seeks to raise awareness about climate change, the Board of Governors has yet to respond to the strike. It may have only been a week since the strike, but the issue of divestment is not new. In fact, discussions concerning McMaster’s investments in the fossil fuel industry have been ongoing for the past five years.

Although the Board has recognized the need for divestment, they have yet to commit to any concrete plans on how this is to be achieved. It’s disheartening to see that our school, which is supposed to empower students to speak up and foster an environment in which we feel that our voices are heard, has chosen to ignore our demand for change.

McMaster claims to be committed to creating a “brighter world” and it is evident that the students of this school are more than capable of carrying out this legacy. But while we have the power to demand change, it is those who run this institution that are in the position to actually do something about it.

McMaster claims to be committed to creating a “brighter world” and it is evident that the students of this school are more than capable of carrying out this legacy. But while we have the power to demand change, it is those who run this institution that are in the position to actually do something about it.

I am proud to be part of a community of impassioned students capable of inspiring so many others. Last week’s strike is only one of many strides made by students here at Mac to combat climate change.

The fight for divestment did not begin nor does it end with this strike. According to a representative from Mac Climate Advocates, the McMaster Climate Strike team will continue to raise awareness about this issue and put pressure on the administration until they commit to a legitimate and achievable plan for divestment.

As cliché as it may sound, we are the future and I am glad to know that our future will be led by dedicated and passionate students that continue to fight for a better world. I can only hope that the Board would agree with me.

[spacer height="20px"]Back in September, a Silhouette contributor signed up to write a story about a piece of information that was stuffed into an old board of governors meeting agenda. While the contributor was working on the story, the agenda curiously vanished from the McMaster website. The agenda has since returned, being scrapped initially as a byproduct of the Brighter World redesign.

However, the university must maintain a higher standard of information transparency and when it restricts public access to meeting materials, even temporarily, be held accountable to properly notify the public.

After the agenda disappeared from the website, the university did not even feign interest in letting students know. No McMaster Daily News announcement was trotted out. In both failing to make meeting agendas available and communicate about their lack of accessibility, the university made an implicit assumption: the removal of meeting materials was an unnoticeable and insignificant byproduct of the website redevelopment. This assumption is misguided.

It may be true that most students do zealously read through board of governors agendas. However, The Silhouette needs these documents. Our job, in large part, is to hold the university accountable, and we cannot do that when we do not know what is on the university’s agenda. Our role is diminished when it takes us a month to receive a single document.

The university also assumed that the scrapping of these agendas was not important enough to warrant a public announcement. This assumption does a disservice to the university, delegitimizing the discussions held in board of governors meetings in the first place.

Moreover, while not an arm of the university, the McMaster Students Union should not escape scrutiny either. The meeting schedule for this year’s Student Representative Assembly has yet to be updated on the MSU website. How can the MSU expect students to attend SRA meetings when this information is not accessible?

Even amid the Brighter World campaign, the university has virtually no excuse for not making its meeting materials publicly available. If doing so would have presented a logistical challenge, the university should have at least publicized its technical limitations and not destroyed any semblance of transparency.

It took me almost a month to access an agenda. How can the university convince students it is fostering a “Brighter World” when it obscures the most illuminating information about its own plans?

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After the springtime primary election period left vacancies on the Senate and University Planning Committee, a secondary round of elections is now underway. Up for representation are the undergraduate and graduate Social Sciences Senate positions, a graduate DeGroote School of Business Senate seat, and an undergraduate student (any faculty) seat for UPC.

McMaster’s Senate, Board of Governors and University Planning Committee are governing bodies that make critical decisions for the academic and financial future of the institution. They are largely comprised of faculty members but all have student seats – seats that are arguably too-frequently left unoccupied given their importance.

“Senate is where all the decisions are ultimately made about your education,” Tamara Bates of the University Secretariat’s office (which facilitates these bodies) said. “That’s where the decisions about new academic programs, changes to academic programs, what is approved and where all the policies are upheld. Senate also approves whether you graduate or not,” she continued.

While Senate actions have the most obvious impact on students, the BoG is critical for its complete trust of McMaster’s finances, while UPC works as a joint Senate-BoG committee for significant long-term big-picture planning.

Despite only one undergraduate and one graduate representative per faculty (Arts & Science only has observer status), electoral rounds are not always successful at getting students in seats; hence, the current autumn secondary election.

“Going back in the records, there will be one or two years where some faculties aren’t represented because no one steps forward,” Bates said. The spring of 2011 was one particularly bad example: half of the eight open seats remained vacant post-election, and two of the four seats that were actually filled were won by acclamation (there was only one eligible candidate).

Student interest in elections “seems to go up and down,” said Bates, despite the Secretariat’s outreach. The call for nominations is advertised in The Silhouette, in the Daily News, on the Secretariat’s website, as a banner on Avenue to Learn, and as a mass email notice to students.

Bates partly attributes student disinterest to the electronic advertising and election processes. “The fact that things can go by email and electronically is great but there’s so much that comes into your inbox that it’s also more easily forgotten about or dismissed,” she said.

“There used to be polling stations in the student centre and all across campus. So as much as electronic balloting and voting are a lot more convenient… they’re not as in your face as they could be.”

In an effort to educate interested students about what to expect, new this year will be an information session for students. “This year I’m having a mandatory session for the approved candidates, which is partly to [act as an] introduction to Senate… and [to go over] campaign rules and how to campaign and things like that,” Bates said.

Nominations opened on Monday, Sept. 16 and will close at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 2. Interest from candidates – and voters – remains to be seen.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, OUSA, is concerned that McMaster's administration didn't seek student input before suspending MAPS from collecting fees last week.

A motion to stop the part-time students association from collecting students' money was announced last Monday on the Daily News. The motion was brought to the Board of Governors meeting last Thursday and passed without student input. The administration reasoned that the new MAPS board had not met expectations of transparency and accountability, and therefore should not collect any fees from students this fall.

Three days after the Board of Governor's decision, OUSA blogged about their concern over the way the situation was handled, with the understanding that the new MAPS board was working to address the administration's concerns.

OUSA, which represents 8 student organizations including the MSU, says McMaster's decision to impose the suspension goes against the autonomy of a student organization:

"Most concerning is the fact that the decision [...] was motioned and passed by members of the University Administration, rather than by the actual student membership of MAPS. This sets a dangerous precedent in which an institution has chosen to withhold fees independently of student input or support."

Ken Seville, a part-time student at McMaster and a Hamilton resident, commented on the post and expressed disappointment in the way the decision unfolded.

"I was shocked at how quickly this motion was brought forth and passed without any discussion or even questions from the BOG," he wrote. "I also find it disingenuous that the admin. claims to be protecting pt students but made no effort to consult them on the decision."

"The university has an email address for every MAPS member. Even something as simple as poll daddy would have sufficed," he wrote in an e-mail. He says he doesn't know what other part-timers think of the suspension.

"That's the problem about being a pt student, you are disconnected from campus life but decisions are made on your behalf without any consultation. For my part, I don't mind paying MAPS fees because I have confidence in the new BOD and them making the organization accountable," said Seville.

MAPS President Andrew Smith said the new board "has always been in agreement with strengthened accountability and transparency measures. He continued, "The MAPS board will not, however, agree to unrelated issues being attached to the resumption of fee collection."

A McMaster representative could not be reached for comment before this article was published.

MSU President David Campbell said he agrees with OUSA that an effort should have been made to reach out to students before the decision, even if that meant a non-binding question to part-time students over e-mail.

"We understand the reasoning behind it but [getting student input] would have set a different tone," he said.

However, Campbell also expressed some skepticism that the University would have received a large or unfavourable response to suspending MAPS, given the spending scandal that has severely impacted student confidence in the organization.

"Getting input would have been more of a symbolic decision," said Campbell, who noted that context plays a role.

The MAPS annual meeting in February was poorly attended by members. Several confusions came up because by-laws were not present at the meeting. In 2012, MAPS was denied a fee increase and audited by the University. In the weeks and months following, the organization's executive director was fired and its former board of directors replaced.

This article was last updated June 17 at 17:15 ET.

McMaster University will stop collecting MAPS fees from part-time students following a vote by the Board of Governors Thursday morning.

The McMaster Association of Part-Time Students came under public scrutiny earlier this year over its spending practices and lack of fiscal transparency. After firing its executive director, Sam Minniti, MAPS elected a new board in February.

At the June 6 BoG meeting, the University administration recommended that fee-collection for MAPS be suspended, citing that the new board has not yet met the expectations laid out for them at the beginning of their term.

"We don’t believe we can continue to collect the fees when MAPS has not ensured transparency, accountability and clarity on the services it provides in return for student fees," said Provost David Wilkinson, in a release.

As of now, part-time students (registered in less than 18 units) will not be required to pay $7 per unit to MAPS come fall.

The University has held fees collected from MAPS members since last summer and will continue to do so. Some of the fees will go toward sustaining MAPS operations.



Elections for the sole seat for student representatives on the Board of Governor’s were held Tues. March 19 and Wed. March 20. But the question most candidates asked was how many students even know what the Board of Governors is?

The Board of Governors (BoG) is the chief governing body that oversees the University’s financial and administrative operations. The BoG is legislated by The McMaster University Act, 1976. The act has been unchanged since its inception.

Several of this year’s undergraduate candidates have called on the BoG to change member allocations, which are governed by the Act.

They argue that by increasing the number of held by students, the Board will be better able to garner student interest and adequately address their needs.

According to a 2011 OUSA report, the lobbying body that represents the MSU, McMaster has one of the lowest student representations on its chief governing body.

One seat of the 34 has been allocated, under the Act, to undergraduates since 1976. One seat is also allocated for graduate students. 2.7% of the board is allocated to undergraduate student representation. The provincial average for student representation on governing bodies is 7.1%.

Schools such as University of Toronto and Ryerson have 12% and 12.5% student representation respectively.

Candidate Shanthiya Baheerathan noted that the Board is interested in giving students what they want.

“Having one rep is not okay for 28,000 students. This is really important to recognize, if they really want to gauge student interests. Regardless of their receptiveness to student interests, they need to be more actively engaging with students.”

In contrast, candidate Leah Pantich focused on how an increase in the size of the BoG could be detrimental to governance.

“When additional members are added to a group, the structure of communication between the representatives and the group represented must be altered, and this can give rise to complication.”

Candidate Derrick Yick reiterated the importance of the BoG but emphasized how inaccessible it can be for undergraduate students.

“Despite the influence and the responsibilities that the Board holds (such as overseeing financial investments), it seems that the largest group affected –undergrad – students, have the smallest voice.”

Multiple candidates identified the issue of representation and student body awareness as core ideas in their platforms.

“Honestly, if I were to ask students across campus if their concerns of the university are being heard, I can say that the majority of us will somehow mention the MSU,” said David Cheng, another BoG candidate.

In general, the majority of the members of the BoG are from the external business community. Board members are also allocated to sit on specific committees. The current undergraduate representative, Melanie Iarocci, sits on the Finance and the Human Resources Committee.

Helen Ayre, Acting University Secretary, explained that most of the BoG is governed almost entirely by the McMaster Act of 1976.

“[In order to increase the number of student seats], it would require changing the act which would require the provincial government to change the act, as a provincial piece of legislation. This would be a long and complex process.” 

When The Silhouette went to press, online voting was still being processed. The elected student representative for the Board of Governors should be announced on March 21.





Re: “Apathy or lack of awareness?” by Jemma Wolfe [Published Jan. 31, 2013 in Opinions] 

By Helen Ayre, McMaster University Acting University Secretary and Freedom of Information Officer

In her article “Apathy or lack of awareness?” published in the January 31, 2013 edition of The Silhouette, Student Senator Jemma Wolfe makes some very important points about the significance of the elections of undergraduate and graduate student representatives to the University’s governing bodies. As Ms Wolfe points out, student representative seats on McMaster’s Board of Governors and the Senate are instrumental in ensuring that both undergraduate and graduate students have a voice in the academic and financial governance of the University. Ms Wolfe is to be commended for her efforts to raise awareness of and interest in the various elections for student representatives on University bodies. Participation on these bodies is an important service to fellow students and to the University. I would urge all students to participate at every opportunity either by standing for election or, at the very least, by casting their vote.

However, some of the information provided in Ms. Wolfe’s article requires clarification.

Student members of the Board of Governors, Senate, and University Planning Committee serve two-year terms (or until they graduate or withdraw from the University, whichever is the shorter period). The primary (Spring) election period is held between January 15 to March 31; any vacancies that still exist in the first week in September are filled in the secondary (Fall) election period which must be completed by October 31.

There are sixteen students elected to serve on the governing bodies. Twelve student representatives serve on Senate – one undergraduate and one graduate student from each of the six Faculties: Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences. Two students, one undergraduate and one graduate, serve on each of the Board of Governors and the University Planning Committee. The two-year terms are staggered so that roughly half of the terms end in any given year. In a typical year, then, about eight student vacancies are expected to be filled. In addition to these vacancies, occasionally student representatives graduate at the end of the first year of their terms and new members are elected to finish the final year of those terms.

During the 2011 Spring elections, there were eight student vacancies on Senate (four undergraduate and four graduate student seats), and one undergraduate student vacancy on the Board of Governors. Five seats were filled during the Spring elections. The remaining four vacancies, along with three additional seats that had become vacant over the summer (because the incumbents had graduated) were filled in the 2011 Fall elections. Students elected in those Fall elections took up their seats immediately, meaning those seats were vacant for a total of two months while Senate was in session. The 2012 Spring election successfully filled all eight vacancies for student representatives to the governing bodies, and that year there was no need for a secondary Fall election.

Eight student members of the Board and Senate will be completing their two-year terms on June 30, 2013. As a result, there are eight vacancies for student representative on the Board of Governors and the Senate to be filled in the 2013 Spring Elections. The successful candidates will take up their positions on July 1, 2013 and serve until June 30, 2015.

It is true that acclamations in elections to the University’s governing bodies are more common than we would like. However, acclamations do not always occur simply because “no one else applied.” Although we take steps to ensure that students are aware of the eligibility requirements, we sometimes receive nomination forms from students who are not eligible to run in that particular election in that year. This occasionally results in a vacancy being filled by acclamation because not enough eligible candidates come forward.

Whether the elections are held in the Spring or the Fall, it is always difficult to capture the attention of the constituents for the student elections. For this reason, the University Secretariat advertises the student vacancies on the Board of Governors, the Senate, and the University Planning Committee in several ways. The call for nominations and the slate of candidates are advertised in The Silhouette at key times during the election period. Notices are posted on the Daily News, the McMaster Update, the University Secretariat website, the University Secretariat’s bulletin board, and on Avenue to Learn throughout the election period. Notices are sent out to all the Faculty Deans, Associate Deans, Chairs of Departments and Directors of Schools, and others to assist in advertising the positions as widely as possible. Throughout the election period, notices and reminders are also sent out to the MSU and its President and to all MSU Clubs, to the GSA and its President, to MAPS, and to all the Faculty student associations with requests to post the notices in offices and circulate the election information to all students in their constituencies. And when the voter lists are set, every eligible voter receives an e-mail at their McMaster e-mail address about the election and follow-up reminders up until voting closes at the end of the last voting day.

Elections for student members of Senate and the Board of Governors will be held on Tuesday March 19 and Wednesday March 20 – Be sure to vote!

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