What the #%$& does the SA do?
by Zoey Duncan & Claire Miglionico
In mid-January, The Reflector performed an informal survey of students to gauge what the biggest issues on campus are. We also asked students their opinion of the SAMRU. While some students said they were pleased, plenty of students told us that they don’t know what the SA does, and couldn’t give an opinion.
With an impending election, The Reflector thought it necessary to take a look at what the executive council at the Students’ Association has accomplished lately.
Travis McIntosh was first elected president in the by-election in fall 2008. Now, though he only served as president for about a term and a half, it counts as two full terms: the maximum permitted, so he can’t run again.
“I’d love to have done two full years,” he said. “You can give somebody back the costs…but you can’t go back in time.”
“I think we’ve had some contentious elections in the past,” McIntosh said. “If you’re not proud of where you work, why would you tell anyone about it?”
In the spring 2008 election, then-chief returning officer Jim Robertson disqualified McIntosh and VP Student Life candidate Liz McKeown after determining they were running as a slate of candidates when a former executive created a Facebook page called, “I’m voting for Travis, Liz, Matt and Marie— the dream team!” After nine months of adjudication, an arbitrator ruled that McIntosh and McKeown were wrongly disqualified, that the SA would pay the legal fees incurred, and that a by-election would be held in the fall.
After legal fees and the cost of the election, the SA paid about $65,000.
Currently, McIntosh is assessing SAMRU’s membership in the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, which costs $50,000 annually. If he decides to end that membership, “that’ll hopefully cancel out the costs [of the arbitration].”
Currently he’s in budget talks, hoping to save students money.
Savings are unlikely though, he said, due to costs like maintenance on Wyckham House, plus staff salaries – including about $35,500 annually for each executive.
Before his term as president ends in the spring, McIntosh said he wants to assess the benefits of some SAMRU services versus the cost to students.
Other projects underway include piloting a project that could lead to more student housing, and advocating for a common UPass price for all post-secondary institutions.
“President’s probably the wrong title for me,” he said. “My job’s not as sexy as it sounds.”
“My day usually consists of answering a lot of emails and a lot of telephone calls, and a lot of meetings,” said Jones.
A quick look at his profile on SAMRU.ca reveals Jones’ passion for improving the many forms of transportation to campus.
“Everything is definitely still very much a work in progress,” he said. Last summer, he met with aldermen to lobby for more buses to come to Mount Royal. But Calgary Transit was hit with budget cuts and trimmed 21,500 service hours, Jones said. As a result, Jones wrote to aldermen, telling them not to cut bus service to Mount Royal.
“What we were able to do is maintain the current service,” he said. The only route that took a hit in service was the number 13, which lost only a single bus on Saturdays.
Perhaps the most glaring transportation issue on campus is the availability of parking, a problem exacerbated by additional students and construction this year. “As of right now, the parkade will be done in fall of 2010, [that’s] when they’re projecting it,” Jones said. In the meantime, students will have to schedule a few spot-sleuthing minutes into their commute.
Jones said that he is looking into using a carpooling or “rideshare” program called Zimride that uses Facebook and other technology to help students find a way to school. He said it’s still tentative as the startup costs are expensive.
Jones said that if he is “fortunate enough to return” as president next term, he wants to focus on increasing participation in student governance by creating more opportunities for students to communicate with executives, like having town-hall style meetings. “In terms of voter apathy, certainly it seems like our age group tends not to participate democratically,” said Jones.
At 23, Sweeney is in her third year at MRU and has participated in a plethora of on-campus activities from sitting on a dozen committees, to peer tutoring at the Student Learning Centre.
“I was able to witness what needed to get improved and [realized] how much I wanted to be a part of creating change in the community,” she said.
Sweeney is upbeat, enterprising, and happy to say how well in synch the executive committee is this year – both professionally and musically.
She shared that Travis McIntosh plays the guitar, writes his own songs and sings, while Robert Jones plays the drums. Sweeney plays the Celtic harp, sings, and dances.
Guitars and drums aside, as VP Student Life, Sweeney has three main goals: campus sustainability, accommodating students with disabilities, and a project called Forum Theatre.
Polystyrene (Styrofoam) was ruled out of Wyckham House – an idea that came up last year when Sweeney was president of the Sustainable Mount Royal Club.
Sweeney monitors the Access Ability Centre closely and said it has increased in popularity among students. Monthly meetings are held with the Centre to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are properly met.
The Forum Theatre is a “highly participatory and interactive form of theatre,” Sweeney explained. It initiates dynamic conversation in which participants get to explore a specific topic, such as student life, through theatre games.
Sweeney said the executives are making classroom visits, promoting themselves on Main Street, leading student orientation days and Wyckham House student tours to raise awareness of the SA.
Sweeney, who is running uncontested for VP Student Life in the upcoming election, is still working toward a regular busking day and drum circle day.
— Claire Miglionico
“I think this year has been amazing,” said a glowing Delamont.
Some of the projects she outlined on her SAMRU.ca profile have already come to light, while others are ongoing.
After many, many hours spent in meetings with professors and deans, Delamont established a reading day in the fall semester. The extra study day will be “attached” to Remembrance Day to create an extended weekend in November.
“That was extremely time-consuming,” Delamont said of the almost year-long process. “I will be a full-time student [in the fall semester], so I will benefit from that [extra day] and so will 13,000 other students.”
Recently, Delamont, along with VP Student Life Eily Sweeney and Brian Fleming from the office of Student Affairs and Campus Life, launched a website detailing student study spaces on campus, mtroyal.ca/studentspaces.
The project was a result of hearing that students were unhappy with the availability of spaces on campus for working on projects, and studying in quiet.
She said that eventually a new library will provide plenty of study space, but that project is still many years from completion. Delamont said making students aware of study space is just the beginning of the project. “It’s not something that’s going to take a 180.”
Another project that’s been percolating is the co-curricular record. This is essentially a transcript to keep track of students’ extracurricular activities.
The official document would likely include details like being part of a club or volunteering on campus and could be printed from an online database that would be included in job resumes and grad school applications.
“It’s unfortunate that some students don’t know about us and the services we offer,” Delamont said. She said that there’s been much time spent this year “just bringing the calibre of our organization up a notch.”