USC wants more collaboration; Western ready for it

Western’s University Students’ Council (USC) desires a more collaborative relationship between the student government and senior administration to address student needs. But this vision, at least according to the USC’s top official, isn’t exactly representative of the current situation.

USC President Adam Fearnall sees a climate of rivalry between the USC and university administration over which party is best suited to provide certain services to students.

While the USC has yet to detail the specifics of its complaint, rolled out last week in a public address by Fearnall, Western officials said they are always open to student comments.

Up to this point, Fearnall explained, the established relationship between the university and USC has been one of competition over collaboration.

“We recognize everyone has the interests of students at heart, but there have been some challenges in bringing student input to the right tables,” he said.

And while John Doerksen, Western’s vice-provost (academic programs and students), said specific concerns have yet to be brought to his attention, he stressed the university’s commitment to working collaboratively with all student groups to best meet student needs.

“Given Western’s focus on the student experience, it’s really important for us to do the best we can and to understand what students are looking for in structuring the services we provide,” Doerksen said.

The university will continue to work together with the USC and the Society of Graduate Students, Doerksen continued, adding the students’ voice will continue to be heard and heeded.

Recent examples of the university’s response to students’ needs and desires include the inclusion of their input in the development of the university’s Strategic Mandate Agreement, requested by the province, and the creation of more study space in various buildings on campus.

Gitta Kulczycki, Western’s vice-president (resources and operations), said she, too, has yet to hear specific concerns from the USC.

“We work with our students a lot and have regular meetings with student leadership. They sit on a number of committees and have every opportunity to come and meet with us,” she said.

“Clearly, our students are at the heart of what we do. If there are particular concerns, I need to understand them.”

In regards to specifics, Fearnall cited the USC Peer Support Centre, which provides peer support for students on a range of issues including mental health, sexual violence, women’s issues, ethno-cultural needs, LGBT and food support.

“Peer-to-peer support is a niche that the USC is able to service relatively well, but we have often thought of ourselves as providing professional support as well,” he said.

“There is a far greater chance that the university will be able to provide professional services to meet student needs. We want to make sure that both parties are building on strengths so that the network of support for students continues to grow. The main challenge is to determine who is responsible for professional support services on campus and how fees that maintain these services are being governed.”

Expressing a desire for the USC to play a larger role in determining which services to provide and how, Fearnall said the USC will move ahead with plans to hold a summit where student presidents from each faculty can voice the needs of students. The USC will release a document afterward, outlining the results, Fearnall said.

There are also plans for student surveys in various mediums next term that will allow students to identify what services they need and want to see on campus.

“We’ll ask students what they expect from services on campus. Once we have that data, we will be able to see who is in the best position to provide that service. We want to make sure we’re all doing what we do best and we’re all on the same page,” Fearnall said.

“We will also look at the agreement between the USC and Western. We will look at that document to see if there are things we can add, to see if there are things we can enhance. We want to look at a coordinated approach to providing student support services and to figure out what service levels students expect,” he said.

“The Principles of Collaboration and Commitment (in the agreement) could be strengthened by adding more specific language about the venues at which student priorities are heard and a more detailed breakdown of what each party sees as its role in providing support for students.”

A challenge to keep in mind is there are limitations of a one-year term for USC executive members.

“We realize this process is about the continuum,” Fearnall said. He noted previous councils have had successes with plans and proposals that were set into motion before their time.

“It’s certainly important to consider, as we move forward, there will be lots more analysis and lots more to do after our group is done. We are just laying down the foundation of the USC being a strong, student-focused advocacy group and we are doing our best.”