York graduate students stand up to administration on representation

On March 12, 2015 it was announced that the Brock University Board of Trustees had voted on a proposal to reduce the size of its board, which in turn, reduced the number of undergrad student seats from two to one. The plans for this reduction had been proposed a year earlier, and was tabled to seek community, faculty and student input.

Despite BUSU advising against this change, as well as many students voicing their concerns about changing the structure of the Board of Trustees in a way that will limit undergraduate student representation, there was a vote held in-camera on March 12, and the proposal was passed.

This is, of course, old news, as it’s been almost a year since it has passed. What is news however, are the actions taken by a group of graduate students at York University where a similar situation has resulted in York University administration’s proposal to be shut down.

York’s graduate students led an opposition against a motion by the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ governing council that proposed to reduce the number of graduate student representatives on council. Beyond representation, the motion proposed to change their current democratic form of council election, in favour of appointing council representatives.

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“The proposed changes would have served to limit student influence over rules and procedures governing graduate studies at York university” said Vice President of the York University Graduate Students’ Association, Mina Rajabi Paak.

On February 4, this motion was tabled and defeated. It’s defeat shows the power that a student group can potentially have, even when their interests conflict with those of the university administration or other governing bodies within the university institution.

Of course, Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario Rajean Hoilett believes that this type of motion is representative of larger trends within university governance policies, beyond just York, or Brock for that matter.

“These cases are reflective of a rise in secrecy and closed-door decision-making on campuses across Ontario” said Hoilett, in a statement. “Students, faculty and community members have a right to know about the important decisions being made by their institutions, especially when it comes to tuition and the working conditions at their institutions.”

Despite the defeat of the motion, the up-hill battle against the proposed changes to the governing council, the Canadian Federation of Students reports that York is looking to “re-examine” the vote results.

While it might be too late for the Brock University Board of Trustees to restore a representative student voice, as one student bears the burden of speaking for 17,000 undergraduate students, and additionally, one student speaks for all graduate students, the news of a group of York students pushing back against the interests of a massive institution should inspire all students to keep their ears to the group and recognize their collective rights to involve themselves within official processes and ensure that representative decisions are made on behalf of them.

- Steve Nadon

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