As the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union implements the initial stages of its new multi-governance policy, students at the Laurier Brantford campus, in particular, haven’t been feeling all that satisfied.
The first stage of the new policy will introduce a new position, vice-president: campus experience, on both the Brantford and Waterloo campuses. As a result, for the Brantford campus, the three current associate vice president (AVP) positions will be eliminated and replaced by the VP: campus experience.
Tensions were on a rise at the last WLUSU board of directors meeting, when around 50 Laurier Brantford students attended the meeting to express their dissent with the new restructuring framework. This framework, many at WLUSU in Waterloo argue, will eventually create a realistic multi-campus policy for WLUSU.
“Brantford is losing its voice, it’s losing its representation, it’s losing its influence. We shouldn’t have to go to Waterloo to have a decision made in accordance to our own student body.” said Angela Hoorneart, a fourth-year student from the Brantford campus who attended the meeting.
Her statement came after a vote to endorse phase one of the restructuring process, a tied vote which was eventually passed 5-4 by the tie-breaking vote of chair Chris Walker. Those from Waterloo argue that this new structure will streamline the work and create a more effective multi-campus governance.
Brantford students, however, have felt left out in this process.
“The students that are not involved, they don’t see of the transparency, they don’t see any collaboration at all with Brantford and they are upset about that,” explained Nick Savage, external affairs coordinator for WLUSU Brantford.
For Savage, the current structure is adequate and the current AVPs have a vital role in support and programming. “I think the biggest thing is that Brantford works. Right now Brantford’s structure, as much as any structure, it does have limitations, it does have ‘bugs in the software’ but it works,” he added.
Nick Gibson, president and CEO of WLUSU, maintained that this new structure will be a benefit to both campuses. Though he has recognized a large sense of “uncertainty” from the Brantford campus, he aims to make sure that everyone at Brantford is well informed.
“It’s absolutely fair, I think people are concerned about how we will ensure that the high quality of service that we have right now remains and how we will enhance it,” said Gibson, adding they have consulted a human resource firm when developing the new policies.
Communication with the Brantford campus, according to Savage, has been minimal and he hopes that the WLUSU executives from the Waterloo campus work for better cooperation and collaboration.
“I think at the end of the day people have to focus on the fact that we have done things a certain way, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way of doing things,” he added.
“The multi-campus principles were understood from a Brantford side of things, this structure itself was not,” Savage continued. “Ideally, I would like to see a form of collaboration. President Gibson, he does a good job of doing the sort of the bare minimum of trying to understand.”
According to Walker, the chief governance officer at the WLUSU, the next stage of the multi-campus structure is determining how the departmental structures will look like. Since this is an operational decision, the board has no direct involvement in the approval of the new structure, they can only endorse the various stages.
Instead of the previous position of Brantford VP: executive, which is currently held by Holly Kaiser, the new structure will include two vice president positions for campus experience, one for Brantford campus and one for Waterloo.
“What they are going to be in charge of service distribution and programming and those are the issues and things that the union does, as we see it, that can truly take on a campus-specific tone and mould their departments to fit to that particular campus,” said Walker.
This new role of VP: campus experience will cover the executive positions behind campus services, programming and activities. All other VP positions within WLUSU will change to multi-campus roles, but they will be centralized at the WLUSU offices on Waterloo campus.
Gibson added that these roles will have the expectation of travelling to Brantford and employees would be appropriately reimbursed for travel. In addition to the VP: campus experience role, there is the opportunity for additional paid part-time positions, along with more volunteer positions.
“There has been a presence of Gibson on this campus—minimal, but there has been a presence. It would be interesting to see what their opinion would be if they came down for a whole week and operated our office,” added Savage, noting that the “cultures” and operations between the two campuses are different.
Searching for a fit
Despite reassurances from Gibson that phase two of the process will include continued input from executive positions within WLUSU including Brantford, a large number of students from Brantford campus continue to voice dissent, especially online, as a Facebook group with over 500 members has been one of the main point of contact for many Brantford students.
“I think many students, they feel like President Gibson is asking them to walk down a dark path, saying, ‘don’t worry, it’s all going to work out’ but I don’t think they are ready to take that risk.” added Savage.
Gibson defended phase two as not a trip back to the drawing board, but a way of using the consultation process to create a structure that would benefit WLUSU on both campuses.
“The development of what [the VP: campus experience] is a very collaborative and very consultative sort of process. It could very well mean that we have two positions per campus, if that makes sense,” Gibson continued. “I want the best support for all students on all campuses. Phase two is going to answer a lot of the questions and the consultation process is something I anticipate a lot of people will engage in.”
Committees can be formed under the various different departments that can be campus specific, but, as Walker pointed out, there is no clear link between the two campuses yet.
“Those committees can tailor what they do to that specific campus but also working towards a common vision. The problem right now is that there is no alignment there, they’re very different,” Walker explained. “Our operating policies on the Waterloo campus are different from our operating policies on the Brantford campus.”
Gibson and Walker have asserted that they are committed to both campuses and the implementation of this new structure. While Brantford may be upset, the interaction and involvement of Laurier Brantford students has been beneficial.
“We understand the anxiety from the Brantford students and it’s kind of nice to see that students are that passionate about it and care that much to come out to the board meeting,” said Walker.
“What we’re trying to say though, is that we value what you say to us, but ultimately, we have to make a decision and it’s not always going to be easy and it’s not going to be what everyone likes. We’ve got to make a decision that’s in the best interest of students,” he concluded.