Budget cuts highlight 2009-10 news
- Office of VP: academic copes with budget cuts
Class sizes increase, fewer courses are offered and an honours BA Arts degree is proposed
The effects of the university’s $8.9 million budget cuts became apparent to students and professors as class sizes at Laurier have increased noticeably this past year.
Although the faculty-to-student ratio has not noticeably increased (it is currently 21.8: 1) overall classes have increased by 13.5 per cent.
The university’s reputation came into question as students, many of whom may have chosen Laurier based on the promise of small classes and individual attention – found themselves elbow-to-elbow in lecture halls and dealing with a more impersonal classroom environment.
Faculty complained of student experience suffering as teaching and evaluation techniques changed as a result of more students.
Increased enrolment was more apparent in first and second-year classes, especially in the faculty of arts.
Throughout the year, faculty and students remained unaware of what specific steps were being taken to remedy the impact this was having on the classroom experience.
Questions have been raised as to what class sizes will be like beyond this year as more drastic cuts to the budget are forecasted.
Students were also confronted with less choices in the courses available as departments were forced to offer fewer sections and the number of contract academic staff decreased.
Less variety meant that registration became frustrating as students struggled to sign up for required courses and find electives.
In second semester, talk of offering an honours BA Arts degree emerged as a means of rearranging the way smaller arts programs were administered.
This would allow Laurier to receive more provincial funding for students that would not otherwise have been classified as “honours” students.
As other strategies emerge for dealing with an increasingly difficult financial situation, the student experience may see more profound changes in years to come.
- Student dies in residence fire
First-year student David LaForest died as a result of burn injuries he received in a fire that broke out in his residence room on April 14, 2009.
The following September, police confirmed that the student likely started the fire. The total damages to the residence – which evacuated 320 students living in Waterloo College Hall in the midst of exams – cost $1.3 million. Repairs took place over the summer and were completed just in time for students to move back into the building in September.
Waterloo Regional Police Services stated that some type of accelerant was used to start the fire, and in January 2010 WRSP confirmed that it was no longer an investigation, as there were no outside suspects. The cause of the fire was reported to be “incidental to the actions of the victim.”
At a city council meeting in early January two Laurier students and two dons were recognized for their brave efforts during the fire.
Waterloo Fire Rescue determined that by activating the fire alarms and closing the door to the apartment, the fire was contained, which saved many lives.
- Charity ball donates a mere $159
Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union activity committee Charity Ball came under fire this past year when its 2009-10 donation to charity KidsAbility came to a measly $159, despite revenue of $27,355.
A former Charity Ball executive came forward stating the committee had become too focused on the extravagance of the event and were less concerned with the charitable donation.
She accused the committee of ignoring the final donation to charity in favour of a lavish party.
Concerns were raised in October over why the budget for the event, which occurred in March of 2009, had not yet been released.
A mistake with the budget and a misallocation of funds meant a discrepancy in the donation and the full amount was not given to KidsAbilty until mid-October.
The lack of a substantial charitable donation left many questioning whether Charity Ball was misleading the student population.
According to co-ordinator Claire Petch, this year’s committee members were met with “negative feedback” on the part of the Laurier community.
The issue even prompted some WLUSU board members to discuss whether the committee’s name was misleading to students if there was no sizeable donation being made.
The 2010-11 committee held events such as Hair for Hope and Luminera throughout the year, which were widely deemed successful, though attendance at the year’s final ball was approximately 350 guests lower than expected.
This year’s donation to Epilepsy of Waterloo Wellington is projected to be approximately $1500 to $3000.
- Three directors resign from board
This year saw three of 15 WLUSU directors resign over the course of the term.
The first, Justin Glover, resigned on January 5, saying that it was simply too much of a time commitment along with school and work.
The second director, Peter Hanna, resigned just prior to reading week, following an emergency board meeting where board chair Saad Aslam did not step down from chair after being hired as vice-president of university affairs.
Hanna also noted that due to his co-op commitments, he was unable to attend many of the board meetings.
The final resignation was Sunny Chan, who left following the results of the elections where he received only 7.5 per cent of the votes, saying he felt he no longer had enough student support to remain on the board.
He also noted that the results of the elections left him questioning the values of WLUSU; and therefore, he did not want to be a part of it any longer.
- WLUSU embarks on market research project
The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union market research project was already off to a rocky start when it was passed at the operating budget meeting in June.
Director Andrew Fryer caught the board by surprise when he motioned to add a $25,000 amendment to the budget, which caused a $25,000 deficit in the WLUSU operating budget.
After the budget meeting, WLUSU began the three-step process, first hiring an external firm to combine and organize the results.
In September, select students were invited to attend focus groups to talk about what they wanted from the students’ union, and these results were used to create the first mass survey for students.
Results of this survey offered insights into what students feel WLUSU needs to improve on, such as advocacy.
The third phase of the project, which involves another survey, has been pushed to next year, as WLUSU hopes to gauge student response on some of the changes they are making based on the results they have received thus far.
- Elections committee causes appeals controversy
The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union elections committee’s saw controversy early in their term, shortly after they made their first set of recommendations to the board.
After heated debate and frustrations from many directors, the board rejected most of the committee’s proposed recommendations at the Nov. 20 board meeting.
These included no campaigning on elections day; reducing the number of candidate signatures to two; acclaiming people to positions if there were not enough candidates (instead of re-opening nominations) and removing the policy that states that WLUSU is not allowed to voice opinions about referendum questions.
Controversy continued in January when many candidate packages were rejected by the elections committee for “not having enough valid signatures”; candidates also raised concern about what they were receiving fines for and the appeals process.
Early in the election, presidential candidate Reed Collis was disqualified for unclear reasons, as both he and members of his campaign team did not feel they broke as many rules as the elections committee stated they had. The final contention arose when an anonymous source told The Cord about board chair Saad Aslam’s questionable voting tactics during election appeals committee meetings.
It was confirmed that Aslam voted to disqualify Collis when traditionally the chair declines to vote on issues such as this.
And although the WLUSU election took place in early February, nearly two months later final voter numbers have not yet been released.
- Former OneCard manager committed to trial for fraud
In late January, former manager of Laurier’s OneCard office, Nick Tomljenovic, was committed to trial for fraud over $5,000. The preliminary inquiry that saw nine witnesses testify, four of which were from Wilfrid Laurier University administration.
Tomljenovic is being tried by the crown attorney’s office as the university has not pressed any charges.
This court date comes two years after a lengthy forensic audit that took place at the OneCard office between November 2007 and February 2008. This audit raised much suspicion around the financial activities of the OneCard office, though results were never released. Sometime during the time of the audit, Tomljenovic was no longer employed by the university, but there was no explanation as to why.
Tomljenovic will next appear in court on May 10; it is expected that his trial date will be assigned at this time.
- Problems with Campus Clubs
In an effort to make the process more efficient and timely, this year the students’ union created a new system through which Campus Clubs could apply for status as a club and obtain a budget.
Unfortunately, the new process took a while to get underway, and clubs were left without money well into October.
In a board meeting at the end of January, directors motioned for a board-direct inspection, requesting documents covering the policies campus clubs management was developing as well as their budgeting outline.
The board was interested in looking at how the amount of funding given to each club was determined; what outlines were in place to determine what clubs could do and how to attain status as a club.
It was reported on Feb. 24 that the new policies were available on the WLUSU website.
At a previous meeting, the board voiced interest in examining clubs’ finances, as students still had many unanswered concerns.
- WLU conducts ICT investigation
After continued frustration, a review was conducted this year regarding Information Communication Technology (ICT) at Laurier.
The first staged proceeded through September, where an external group was hired to examine the current systems in place, advise on what areas required improvements and how to go about making those changes.
The need for ICT improvements became increasingly evident when WebCT failed to be functional during the first few days of classes in September.
In March, students’ union president Laura Sheridan and assistant vice-president of academics Tom Buckley announced that as a result of the review changes are now in progress to improve and update systems at Laurier.
WebCT will be replaced by a new system called Desire to Learn, a new wireless server (Laurier Wi-Fi) has been added on campus, ResNet service has been amalgamated with central IT, a new external e-mail provider is being investigated to offer more storage and stability and the MyLaurier web site is being reconfigured to serve as a central database for all student accounts.
- Michael Ignatieff visits Wilfrid Laurier
Following a vote of confidence in the House of Commons on Sept. 18 that nearly brought down the Conservative government, Michael Ignatieff, leader of the official opposition, visited Laurier for the Young Liberals’ rally.
Students from across southern Ontario flooded Wilf’s to hear the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada address youth engagement and the current state of politics.
Ignatieff pinpointed failures in the Conservative government, including the federal deficit that has since remained a top concern in Ottawa.
While Ignatieff spoke to the cheering crowd, a group of approximately 15 students protested the rally amidst the sea of red signs outside of Wilf’s.
The protesters consisted of members of the Laurier Campus Conservatives and affiliate parties at the University of Waterloo and Conestoga College.
The newsmakers were decided upon by News Editor Lauren Millet, Editor-in-Chief Laura Carlson, Lead Reporter Andrea Millet, Local and National Editor Linda Givetash and Incoming Campus News Editor Mike Lakusiak.