By UMSU Executive Committee
As your Executive Committee for the 2018-2019 school year, our focus is on three main objectives: making education more affordable and accessible, engaging students in UMSU’s decision-making and cultivating greater community on campus. In the first seven months of our term we have made progress on numerous initiatives towards each of these goals.
The five of us have been honoured to serve as your executives since taking up our positions at the beginning of May. As we head into the holiday break, we wanted to bring members up to speed with some of the pursuits and initiatives that we’ve led during our time in office so far.
All our efforts are underpinned first and foremost by the desire to improve student supports and enrich the learning experience. In September, we ran our annual Financial Aid Awareness Week, arranging info sessions for students regarding Co-Circular Record, Indigenous funding opportunities, skills for submitting scholarship and bursary applications, and participating in student-exchange opportunities. In addition, UMSU Residence Skills Week provided skills training for residence students’ associations.
A key aspect of this training was sessions on consent culture – something we strive to foster across campus. With the help of the advocacy group Justice for Women, this year we required that at least 75% of students on each student association and residence council participate in consent culture training in order to receive their allotted student group funding from UMSU. However, with the number of allegations of sexual misconduct by faculty continuing to grow, we have also applied pressure to the University to urgently address the issue. In both private meetings with administration and via media coverage, we have called for the University to: implement mandatory consent training for faculty, staff and members the administration, open a dedicated sexual violence support centre on campus, and prohibit sexual relationships between faculty members and students wherein a power imbalance exists. Our team has also been actively engaged in the University’s consultation with stakeholders as part of the administration’s ongoing review of its sexual violence policies. As part of the dialogue we have been sharing research and analysis of progressive sexual violence policies at other universities that more capably support an intersectional, survivor-centric approach to dealing with sexual violence.
Elsewhere, at the UMSU whiteout event for the Bison’s Women’s hockey home opener we raised over 1,000 canned food items for our food bank. In addition to holding an inaugural international soccer tournament on campus and hosting World Cup viewing parties at IQ’s throughout June and July, our team has overseen two sellout events this year: the Frosh Music Street Party and Malpractice. This year’s Frosh festival was the most fiscally responsible edition in the event’s existence – costing 90% less than last year – with increased safety measures and no reported incidents. Looking ahead to next term, the Residence Students’ Association Council (RSAC) has approached us about partnering to put on a drag show at The Hub, ideally bringing in a past contestant from the show RuPaul’s Drag Race to headline the event alongside other local queens. We’re planning for an exciting speaker series and several other events in 2019 that celebrate UMSU’s centennial year. Stay tuned!
We have also bolstered academic, health and logistical supports for students. Through our initiative, UMSU has partnered with Nimbus Tutoring for a one-year pilot contract to implement a peer tutoring app, providing both educational support and income opportunities for U of M students. A part-time coordinator was hired in November, and since then over 150 tutors have been vetted and approved by UMSU. All tutors should be ready to take on tutees by the start of Winter semester. We are also currently negotiating with StudentCare and Manitoba Blue Cross about authorizing health benefits to include medicinal marijuana as part of the student plan. So far talks have been promising and coverage could possibly be in place beginning September 2019. For those that already have their own family or personal health coverage we have brought in an online appeals option, which allows students to appeal their fees directly to StudentCare. We also successfully advocated for the Board of Governors to cover the entirety of international student health care in 2018-19 after their premiums were cut by the provincial government.
Speaking to affordability, we recognize that major hidden costs of attending postsecondary education tend to revolve around housing and commuting to and from campus. On this front, we’ve worked with the U of M’s Residence Office to bring in Places4Students, a new platform connecting students to off-campus housing options that will be more properly vetted and safer than those previously marketed to incoming students. We have also met multiple times with U of M Parking Services and they have committed to have some form of flexible parking in place for next September – most likely a Monday/Wednesday/Friday pass and a Tuesday/Thursday pass. Meanwhile, our U-Pass Committee has been busy for months collecting student feedback, reviewing the service, and creating recommendations for the start of U-Pass contract renewal negotiations with Winnipeg Transit that just began in December. A study by Winnipeg Transit reviewing the U-Pass program has detailed how the U-Pass program has been extremely successful, saving students $186 per semester and enabling more buses to be dedicated to routes to and from the Fort Garry campus (see our article: ‘Winnipeg in Transit’). Part of our negotiations with Winnipeg Transit will also include exploring the possibility of extending the Winter U-Pass to cover all four months of summer. For those that don’t use the U-Pass, we’ve implemented an online opt-out process for the U-Pass this year, which has proved to be extremely efficient.
Another significant cost of university is course materials. Throughout the Fall our team has consulted with student leaders at other major Canadian student unions about the use of Open Educational Resources (OERs) at their schools. We believe that OERs – free open source materials available for editing by lecturers – represent a vital way to lessen students’ financial burdens. (For more background, see our article: ‘Preserving Fair Dealing Use of Copyright Materials in Education’.) Over the course of the Winter term, our Accessible Education Working Group, created in September, will be crafting an action plan to promote greater inclusion of OERs across all University programs. The end goal of this year will be for the University administration to undertake a working group to study and implement OERs, building on our research.
Internally, our team led the creation of UMSU’s brand new research department by bringing in a Governance Research Advisor, who in the future will be assisted by part-time student research analysts to be hired on a project-by-project or semester basis. As an organization, this will enable UMSU to take informed leadership positions on advocacy issues on our own campus, with provincial and federal governments, and within external organizations and student coalitions, such as the Undergraduates of Canadian Research-Intensive Universities (UCRU). Secondly, it will create ongoing income and professional development opportunities for students. Major points of research and advocacy emphasis for the remainder of the 2018/2019 year include developing proposals for implementing OERs; expanding sexual violence prevention measures and mental health supports, while better highlighting those already in place; analyses of municipal, provincial and federal budgets; establishing a composting mechanism on campus; and developing ways to diversify UMSU’s revenue streams and service offerings.
We are proud that our advocacy efforts thus far have reached all three levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal. In October, we worked on a Get Out the Vote Campaign for Winnipeg’s 2018 municipal election, mobilizing the student vote and generating media coverage highlighting bike lanes, transit, and composting as major student priorities (see our article: ‘How to Capitalize on Waste’). In November, we met with the provincial Minister of Education and Training, and members of opposition parties to underline the importance of government funding for postsecondary education, and the value of preserving Manitoba’s interest-free student loans (see our article: ‘Tackling Student Debt Burdens in Canada’). At the beginning of December, we participated in UCRU’s federal advocacy week with nine other U15 student unions, altogether representing 250,000 students. For four days we collectively held over 50 meetings with federal MPs and ministers to lobby for: increases to undergraduate student research awards and expanding them to the social sciences; the re-allocation of $1.5 billion from the Tuition Tax Credit to upfront student grants; fast-tracking international students into the Canadian workforce; enabling better access to postsecondary education for Indigenous students; and maintaining the Fair Dealing provision as it relates to educational materials as part of the ongoing review of Canadian copyright law.
These advocacy efforts have happened amid consistent and ongoing engagement with the U of M administration. UMSU president Jakob Sanderson has sat on the Board of Governors since the beginning of his term and, along with VP Advocacy Sarah Bonner-Proulx, submitted a proposal earlier this year for a revenue neutral tuition increase that would be less than the maximum 6.6% allowed. Jakob will continue to push for the affordability of education through his work on the Budget Advisory Committee. Acknowledging the U of M as the home of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, we have listened to member requests for the implementation of a universal Indigenous course requirements for the student body and mandating orientation programming relating to reconciliation during annual orientation. We fully support these initiatives and our team has made this a point of emphasis in meetings with administration, while consistently reaching out to faculties to monitor current progress on the Indigenization of our campus.
We are also proud to have been part of the decision by the Board of Directors on November 29 to choose to not re-affirm membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). As executives, we have been able to closer examine our relationship with CFS since taking up our roles and believe that UMSU is simply not getting equitable value for the roughly $350,000 we pay in membership fees every year. We will now go about laying the groundwork for a referendum to be held likely in Fall 2019. The decision whether to stay or leave CFS remains a solidly democratic one, in the hands of UMSU members.
The past seven months have also been an incredibly successful year for UMSU from a financial and operational standpoint. In the coming months, our Governance Committee will be presenting changes to the structure of UMSU’s Community Groups. These changes will convert existing community groups into student groups, while expanding funding for community initiatives – which will include funding for international students who are currently not represented in a community group. As well, we will be allowing communities to administer their own funding through open town halls, as we attempt to foster a more autonomous, self-governance model. We also improved the online form for student club funding to be more explicit in terms of what types of spending qualify to be covered by UMSU. To increase the continuity between incoming/outgoing executives and Board members, we are instituting a formalized transition process and will be requesting the Board of Directors vote to enshrine it in our bylaws.
We have also been working with our general manager, Thomas Blumer, towards engaging in a feasibility study of attaining our own student union building to increase the self-sufficiency of UMSU. We will be hearing consultations from agencies this coming term and conducting the feasibility study – paid for with grants from the provincial government – with the goal of presenting an action plan to our Board of Directors by the end of our term. The GPA’s renovations project is well on its way and should be completed by fall 2019. Furthermore, our Participatory Budgeting initiative will allow students to choose how $20,000 of our budget is spent. The first Participatory Budget Committee meeting was held on October 16, while tabling was held on November 7-9 in University Centre. For those of you unable to make it to either, the survey link for is still open for you to be able to give your input. Please do.
To raise awareness of what UMSU is doing, our marketing team has created signage that makes it clear that our businesses are owned and run by UMSU. Admittedly, we find a lot of students aren’t aware of what businesses we operate which is partly due to the lack of connection between our businesses and the UMSU brand. A new videographer position is slated to begin in 2019 so that we can produce a more diverse form of media content. We are also currently looking at a food delivery service on campus from The Hub, and have brought back the grocery run, making it better than ever before with the help of RSAC and AMSA. Soon residence students will be able to purchase groceries online and have them delivered to them. Meanwhile, in attempts to continue to create more healthy food options in our business, we are looking at ways to include smoothie and fresh juice options at our businesses by purchasing VitaminBar blenders and expanding the Degrees’ gardens on campus to be able to sell more of the produce that comes from those gardens.
It’s been a whirlwind first semester in office for all five of us, and we want to sincerely thank all the members we’ve been able to hear from and work with. The above is just a summary of our actions as your union executives – for a more detailed view of what we’ve been up to, we’d encourage you to check out the UMSU website to access all our executive reports submitted to the Board of Directors, along with minutes from each of our meetings. A reminder that Board meetings are open to all UMSU members. We value your input and look forward to serving as your Executive Committee for the remainder of 2018-2019.
Enjoy the holidays everyone!
President, Jakob Sanderson – firstname.lastname@example.org
VP Advocacy, Sarah Bonner-Proulx – email@example.com
VP External, Owen Black – firstname.lastname@example.org
VP Finance & Operations, Mbuli Matshe – email@example.com
VP Student Services, Carly Mastromonaco – firstname.lastname@example.org