SFSS approves a motion to cease to restrict student groups to SFU catering

The Meeting, Event, and Conference Services (MECS) monopoly on SFU student catering services is over. The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board of Directors approved a motion to “remove all restrictions on student catering,” after a long period of back-and-forth with MECS about their high prices and depreciating food quality.

SFSS president Hangue Kim stressed that the decision was made neither lightly nor swiftly. The concern about MECS had been germinating “over the course of the year,” and the catering survey the SFSS launched recently served as further evidence that students were dissatisfied with what they were getting.

“This is going to open up the floodgates and allow all student groups to be able to use other types of catering sources,” Kim stated. He anticipates potential “kickback” from the university: “It might be a war where it’s tit for tat. [. . .] They do control a lot of the services that we offer to students. I’m already predicting that there’s going to be a bit of push and pull.”

Some of the Board worried that SFU might try to overrule the change, in the sense that they might claim that regardless of the SFSS’s stance, SFU itself will not permit students to use outside catering. However, it was deemed unlikely that the school could reasonably do this.

“We’ve given them ample opportunity to respond in direct questions on three different occasions regarding whether [they can reference] specific policies that compel us to require student groups to single source,” said SFSS chief executive officer Martin Wyant. “They’ve not provided any, they’ve been given lots of time, so [. . .] you’re reasonably within your purview as a Board.”

The Board approved the motion unanimously.

 

The SFSS approves new policy for ex camera versus in camera Board meetings

The new policy outlines the reasons that a Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board meeting may be held in private (in camera). Meetings involving “SFSS HR matters,” “open contract negotiations or competitive processes”, or discussions of “a litigation process” that involves the SFSS or “advice subject to solicitor-client privilege, such as legal counsel” are all sanctioned to be held in private. Also meetings that deal with “subject matter that relates to, or is subject to the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA)” may also be held in camera.

According to vice-president university relations Erwin Kwok, this policy is “based on the best practices today within other government offices,” particularly at the municipal level in Ontario. “Historically, Board has not had any sort of standard for using closed meetings, so we could just do it if we wanted to,” Kwok stated while explaining the importance of the policy. “We could hold this whole thing today in closed meetings because there’s no standard that tells us not to.”

“I love the policy. I think it’s very transparent,” vice-president student services Jimmy Dhesa commented. “A lot of the time, the membership doesn’t know why we’re going in camera. I don’t think we’ve had bad practice in the past by going in camera, [but] it’s good for members to understand why we’re doing it.”

While the Board may hold in camera sessions for the above reasons, they are still required to release the outcomes of their sessions in their “publicly available meeting minutes.”

Wyant approved of the closed meetings policy as well. “Many of you probably ran [in the most recent SFSS election] on a platform that may have included the need to be more transparent, the need to share more information with students [. . .] That starts to wear off when you get controversial issues, and you’re going to get some. You’re going to have issues come forward where you’ll say, ‘Man, do I really want The Peak to be aware of my position on this while I’m debating it in front of the other 15 Board members?’”

Wyant explained further the importance of keeping in mind the public nature of one’s job. “Having something like [this policy] is a good piece of guidance for the Board. You’re going to be having some conversations that you may wish were in private. But it’s a good reminder that most of what you do is not [private]. When you’re having your debates, talking about important things, remember that The Peak and others will be there to record that and characterize it, and just keep that in mind as you contribute to the conversation.”

 

SFU offers to recognize time served with the SFSS as co-op credit

According to Kim, after some “back-and-forth” with the university, SFU “is willing to recognize the student society position as a co-op recognized program.”

Although Kim was “fairly indifferent” to the idea, he felt it was important for the Board to discuss it and be sure that it was something the SFSS wanted to accept. “There could be some implications in terms of the work that we do with the university. We’re very at opposites a lot of the time, so us accepting this co-op recognition could make it seem like we’re not at odds.”

Many Board members agreed that there might be complications in allowing Board positions to be assessed as co-op terms; co-op generally involves a level of oversight or supervision from the school, which would clash with the requirement for the SFSS to remain independent.

The Board did not come to a conclusion one way or another. Applied sciences representative Jeffrey Leung suggested that, if there was enough interest, the Board could task someone with engaging SFU in further discussion about the pros, cons, and limitations of the new proposed dynamic, and have the information be brought forward to the incoming Board for further deliberation.

 

A student approaches the SFSS about their belongings being stolen during an exam

An unnamed student reached out to Kwok about a dispute he had with a professor, who refused to allow him to keep his backpack near him during an exam despite the fact that he was carrying $3,000 worth of valuables at the time. At some point during the class, the backpack was stolen. SFU allegedly denied liability for the theft.

Kwok referred the student to the ombudsperson, and spoke to the Board to see if there was anything that the SFSS could do for them. The amount of power the SFSS has to act in such situations is unclear.

Arts and social sciences representative Jackson Freedman noted that departments generally set the policy about exam procedures: “As unfortunate as it is, what authority do we have as a student society to recuperate this loss? We don’t have any. [. . .] Our scope is not wide enough to address this problem.” Freedman suggested that, aside from the ombudsperson, the student consult with the faculty dean, the department administration, and/or student services.

Vice-president finance Baljinder Bains disagreed that there was nothing the SFSS could do. As the SFSS partially serves to advocate for students, he considered this “something we should look into.” He questioned the general exam procedures much of SFU has in place for personal belongings: “We live in the 21st century. We carry phones, we carry laptops for studying purposes [. . .] We do advise students to put their items in the front of the class; that may not actually be best practice.” Bains disclosed prior to this that he is a teaching assistant himself.