Note: I spoke to a concerned student at the University of Manitoba about current events involving the University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) and the administration. They expressed a number of concerns and I, The Analyst, asked if they would be willing to summarize the situation for interested members of the public. They agreed to submit a summary of the problems at hand geared towards University of Manitoba students. Presented below are the thoughts and arguments of the concerned student, not me. They have been edited for the blog format. Is power at the University of Manitoba too centralized
with the administration? In today's guest post, a
U of M student argues it is.
Image Source: University of Manitoba Administration
Building, obtained from Wikipedia.
We are often told that we are facing a financial crisis at the University of Manitoba, but what is ignored is that we are facing a political crisis as well. This crisis is driven by the structure of our university’s decision making process, and the political actors such as the administration and UMSU executives. Bureaucratic structure
The university administration has attacked students. The attack can be most clearly seen in the budget cuts and fee increases that were passed this May, 2015. Depletion in the quality of our education, cuts to programs and courses, a loss of services across campus, a drop in community morale, and, despite University VP Academic Joanne Keselman
’s claim that increasing tuition makes the university more
accessible, an increase in barriers to accessibility were visible results.
But the attack on students existed long before the vote on this year’s budget. The process, or system, that generates these harmful decisions is the larger problem that plagues this
university as well as many others.
The process in which the budget is created is incredibly opaque, as are many other decision making processes on neoliberal campuses.
The majority of budgetary decisions are made by a tight group of senior administration and by the Budget Advisory Committee – a small group completely lacking in transparency that meets throughout the year. These meetings are closed off to the public, including the university community. No minutes are published, and any documents dispersed are not allowed to enter the public domain. What a shame it would be for the university if their proposals could be properly scrutinized by the great minds of our campus.
Students who begin to question budgetary decisions, such as the $3.6 million transfer from the operating budget to the capital budget to pay offthe Welcome Centre
, or the plans for developing movie theatres on purchased golf courses, are directed by the administration to the University’s Strategic Planning Framework
and Strategic Plan
. But this plan was created without student consultations that could create any binding decisions. This means that the consultations with students could only end in recommendations that the admins were free to ignore.
Once the budget proposals have been created, they are passed on to the Board of Governors
(BoG) for a rubber stamp of approval. Students, who comprise the vast majority of the campus community, are given 6 out of 23 seats - 3 of these seats are given to UMSU who have traditionally given one of these seats to a University of Manitoba Graduate Students' Association
(UMGSA) representative. These board members are only given a single week to review the proposal before it is voted on, with no alternative offered. This decision came at a time when many student board members were preparing for exams.
The university both keeps us in the dark, and acts as if we are having our voices heard. They have created a façade of democracy where students are led to believe that they make decisions that in fact come from a small group atop the administrative hierarchy. This fake democracy conceals our lack of power on campus and creates passive tendencies in students. Bureaucrats
A question that is surely on the minds of many students is what the two UMSU representative’s positions were on the budget that was passed. The purpose of a union is to advocate for better and just conditions for its members. The last public stance made by UMSU’s executives seemed to reflect this when they claimed they were against budget cuts in a letter published by the Manitoban on December 4th, 2014
But the phrase “action speaks louder than words” comes to mind, as UMSU VP of Advocacy Rebecca Kunzman
refused to stand in opposition to the cuts and international fee increases, abstaining from voting while offering no amendments to the budget proposal. UMSU President Jeremiah Kopp voted in favour of the proposed cuts and international fee hikes, with no objection or amendments to the budget.
Our executives are failing us. On Friday, May 15th, students from the Student Action Network
(SAN) met with voting student members of the BoG in an attempt to have them vote in opposition to the budget proposals. Despite our efforts, despite the outcry and activism of the international community, and the hundreds of students who participated in the rallies and marches of last year, it was evident that Kopp had already made his mind to vote in favour.
It is has been said time and time again by student bureaucrats that “process is process”. But this reinforcement of the bureaucratic structure allows the administration to avoid responsibility for the dire situation it has created. It allows them to continue with the façade of democracy, pushing the blame onto the broader community who is not at fault and is ultimately powerless.
Our UMSU executives have confused the end goals of unions with the means of attaining those goals. While good relations between our union and the administration can perhaps streamline the procedure of advocating for students, these relations must never be prioritized above the condition of students themselves. Better conditions for students must be the goal. Their confusion is manifested in their support of the budget, and their refusal to oppose administration.
Where do we go from here? Our first step is to recognize that budget allocations are political choices, as are tuition increases. The austere conditions facing the community today are a result of the choices made at the hands of an administration.
Until UMSU takes issue with the processes it participates in, they can do little to solve our problems. It is not enough to ask them, or the administration, to make different choices on our behalf. The bureaucrats and their choices are a problem, but the problem also lies with the bureaucratic structure.
If the administration were to become reasonable before the next round of cuts, they would still be able to make terrible decisions on our behalf in the future. Instead, we must be able to make the choices ourselves. The university is a diverse and public intellectual centre that deserves a proper democratic process. The recently revived Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations
(MOFA) has begun to make headway towards a participatory budget for the University of Manitoba as well as the University of Winnipeg. No doubt this is a step in the right direction, and one we must push the administration to adopt. Hope that we may progress towards a democracy – one that listens to domestic and international students, workers, and faculty – is inspiring.
But our efforts must not end there. Problems such as quotas, differential GPAs, and an increasingly privatized campus cannot all be fought for, or even discussed, within the scope of a budget. We must democratize other aspects of campus as well.Liked this post? Consider liking us on Facebook and following The Analyst on Twitter (even though he didn't write this post).