Student voices sidelined, AMS says

Administration’s approach to alcohol policy and discipline ignores student input and could create wounds that would take years to heal

Every student who arrives at Queen’s has heard of the University’s long history of student involvement. Fundamentally, we’re told Queen’s thrives on student initiative — from Gaels on the field to students at Senate. We have long been a source of spirit for this school, but there have been a number of warning signs this year that the University’s embrace of involved student leadership is eroding.

From attacks on our more than a century old non-academic discipline system, to recently proposed changes to the university alcohol policy that would restrict students from advertising beer with profs fundraisers, students have been put on the defensive.

Throughout our terms, we’ve witnessed the University administration work to subtly exclude student leadership from university decision making. The Office of Student Affairs should be our biggest ally and champion, not our intended replacement.

The administration’s attempts to push students out of the decision-making process have also been evident in two committees that were struck this year to address stakeholders’ concerns over non-academic discipline and the University alcohol policy.

The approach to non-academic discipline — Queen’s system of peer-administered discipline that’s unique among North American universities — has been particularly concerning. When the University brought forward their initial concerns last year, including their impression that the system’s processes were unclear and flawed, they admitted they hadn’t yet read the AMS constitution where this policy is outlined. Further, they weren’t aware the Judicial Affairs Director produces an annual report for the University Senate on the system’s operations each year.

Despite this, the University unilaterally bypassed the AMS system and started redirecting cases to the Provost’s Office, who then sent cases to the Student Affairs Office, an office that has no Senate-approved authority to hold trials or issue sanctions.

This is a violation of Senate’s decision in 1898 to delegate authority to the AMS (reaffirmed in 2006). Moreover, midway through the summer, the University presented the AMS with a number of cases that had been redirected to the Provost’s Office but had never been acted upon. By that time it was too late to pursue action as a number of the students involved had graduated.

The non-academic review committee has acknowledged that the student representatives don’t agree with many of the changes included in their proposal. The committee has continued to move forward without addressing these concerns.

Meanwhile, the Alcohol Working Group’s draft policy remains unchanged from the originally-presented policy, despite constant opposition from student representatives who insist the policy will not provide a safer environment or encourage healthier habits, but will instead result in students seeking downtown establishments and unmonitored environments as venues for their celebrations.

While the committees cite practices at other universities, there has been no consideration given to the different circumstances of Queen’s, including its proximity to the downtown core, its residential community, the operations of the campus pubs or the unique role of student constables at Queen’s.

The reality is that these committees aren’t doing what they were designed to do. The University has ignored months of conscientious, researched and substantiated student feedback, and plan instead to try to push through new policies that student leaders say will only encourage students to drink off-campus in less secure environments. Initially struck to facilitate stakeholder feedback, the concerns of student stakeholders have not been addressed or incorporated.

It has been disheartening to watch administrative defensiveness and risk aversion at work, slowly erasing the presence of students from University leadership bodies. We’ve seen a tendency for the University to assume parental charge over the student population — a dangerous threat to our capacity to treat students as equal partners in university life.

There’s a very real threat that the tactics undertaken by our University administration — in dealing with students, but also with faculty and even with itself — will create wounds that could take years to heal. If that happens, the strongest feature of this institution, our community, will fail to sustain us.

It took herculean student-senatorial effort to preserve our Principal’s presence during the Orientation Week welcome ceremony, because standing alongside the Mayor of Kingston and the AMS President and welcoming students to Queen’s is no longer a priority. When we fight our hardest, we maintain the status quo. If we get distracted or fatigued, we could free fall.

The community spirit that this school prides itself on comes from us, the student body. We aren’t always alone: our faculty also feel they’re rendered impotent by the futility of Senate and the increasing pointlessness of faculty boards.

The Queen’s magnetism is the student experience. Our recruitment material is plastered with images of engaged students. Our alumni are indoctrinated with the importance of giving back in order to keep that passionate spirit alive. Yet we reward them by taking away their Homecoming.

This University needs to rediscover what defines its strength and protect what makes Queen’s a unique institution worth attending. It needs to decide what kind of university it wants to be, rather than let others dictate its character.

We can’t brand ourselves as something we’re not. We can’t advertise our unparalleled student engagement and “spirit of initiative” while increasingly sidelining student opinion and values; we can’t continue to promote traditions like the slamming of Engineering jackets, but then ban students from engaging in this tradition on move-in day.

This institution makes constant reference to the ubiquitous phrase “Queen’s community.” For this phrase to mean anything, we need to strive as an institution to actively build and sustains that community every day. Not just by the decisions we make, but by whom we empower to make them: faculty, staff and students. We have a long history of student involvement and community responsibility. Queen’s must continue to earn its history every day.

Morgan Campbell is AMS president. Ashley Eagan is AMS vice-president of operations. Kieran Slobodin is AMS vice-president of university affairs.

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