Student societies alleged Queen’s mishandled Student Choice Initiative implementation

AMS, SGPS and faculty societies raised concerns about DSA’s collaboration and transparency

The AMS sent a 20-page briefing document to the Division of Student Affairs alleging a lack of collaboration over the Student Choice Initiative implementation.
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Journal File Photo

During the months-long process of implementing the Student Choice Initiative (SCI), the AMS and SGPS raised serious concerns to administrators about their lack of collaboration and communication on the file, The Journal has learned. 

Through a freedom of information request, The Journal obtained a 20-page briefing document addressed to the Division of Student Affairs (DSA), prepared by the AMS and SGPS, outlining their concerns about how the University has worked with student leaders to implement the Student Choice Initiative. The DSA received the document on June 19.

“We hope that this document will serve to move this process forward, provide clarity to problems and concerns that have not been adequately addressed to date, and to rectify the deteriorating relationship between the DSA and Student Societies,” the briefing’s preamble read.

In a statement, AMS President Auston Pierce told The Journal since the document was sent to administrators over the summer, a number of the issues outlined have been resolved.

The briefing document laid out the concerns of not only the AMS and SGPS, but faculty societies as well. The Societies’ central concerns were a lack of collaboration, transparency and support offered by the DSA following the SCI’s announcement in January.

“The DSA made efforts to control the flow of information during this time as restrictions were made on the number of persons invited to attend meetings with the DSA and who received critical email updates or directives.”

The document alleged the persons restricted from the process were the AMS general manager, and vice-president (Operations).

“Without all relevant parties being able to participate in discussions with the DSA about the SCI, it was difficult to move the process forward, and it was incredibly inefficient,” the brief read.

The briefing document also suggested the societies’ difficulties were compounded by the non-collaborative, and instead directive, nature of the DSA meetings.

“The Student Societies were therefore unable to find anyone at the DSA willing to listen or learn about the organizations involved to effectively determine if there was an essential component to their various activities.”

The document also claimed that when student societies discussed the SCI with their counterparts at other universities in the province, it became clear they had far more collaborative working relationships with their respective administrations. 

“Meanwhile, representatives of Queen’s Student Societies during this time felt as though major concerns were ignored or disregarded. This has resulted in unanswered questions and complications.”

Other challenges arose in May, when the SGPS was told by the DSA the University wouldn’t accommodate the inclusion of brief descriptions of fees on the web-based opt-out application used by students to choose their fees.

“This was despite the fact that some fee descriptions were already available on this application,” the brief read. “The SGPS was told that the web-based opt-out application was not going to be changed as it was not a “priority for the University due to other projects.”” 

According to the document, both the AMS and SGPS immediately had concerns about their “responsibility to provide students with an easily accessible and fully informed choice.”

Throughout the document, student societies continued to reference their frustration with the DSA and its alleged efforts to “control the flow of information” during the process. They also frequently reference questions sent to the DSA which went unanswered.

“It is incredibly difficult to move the process forward when faced with repeated roadblocks and inefficiencies,” the document read.

University Response

In an email sent to student leaders on June 24, and obtained by The Journal through a freedom of information request, Ann Tierney, vice-provost and dean of student affairs, Teri Shearer, deputy provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion), and Steve Tanner, associate vice-principal (Finance and administration) responded to the concerns.

“We were surprised and disappointed to read your characterization of the events to date,” Tierney wrote in the email. “They did not reflect our understanding and perspective of how the process has been going.” 

Tierney wrote the University is committed to improving the fee framework in the upcoming years.

“We will take what we learn from this first year of implementation and continue to work together throughout the year on ways we can enhance the processes and information for 2020-2021,” Tierney said.

The AMS declined a request for an interview, but provided a statement to The Journal about how the Society’s partnership with the University has changed since the briefing document was sent to administrators this summer.

According to Pierce, executive members and the AMS General Manager are no longer being removed from email chains or meetings.

He also said that, through negotiations, students would be able to appeal their opt-out selection until Oct. 11, and fee titles were not subject to a character limit.

In a written statement in response to a Journal query, Tom Harris, the interim provost and vice-principal (Academic), explained the timeline universities were given to implement the  SCI was limited.

“Queen’s Board of Trustees approval of the fee slates was required by mid-May,” he said. “The SCI is an enormous change for student government and faculty societies, and the implementation timelines were tight.”

“All this work was done in a compressed timeline and in the midst of a change in the student government executive teams halfway through the process,” Harris added.

“We anticipate that lessons learned from administrators and student governments across the sector will inform updated processes going forward."

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