On Oct. 21, the Students’ Union announced they were suing the University of Calgary for the ownership of MacHall. The building provides the SU with a sizable chunk of their $19-million budget, and is one of the reasons U of C students pay some of the lowest student fees in Canada. The SU clearly has a vested interest in maintaining ownership and control of MacHall.
Alternatively, the school claims they have evidence documenting their ownership of MacHall. But they’ve refused to provide these documents to any student organization on campus, including the SU — despite the fact that these two groups have been negotiating with each other for the better part of three years.
Regardless of all this, when the SU announced their intention to pursue legal action against the university, provost Dru Marshall issued a statement claiming she was “extremely disappointed” with the SU.
It’s an aggravating rhetorical trick, but a good one. By adopting a tone of disappointment, university administration seems rational and reasoned, while students appear illogical and brash.
University administration has a habit of adopting a paternalistic tone with students. You’ll probably recognize it — the calm voice, the constant references to student consultation, the idea that they’ve considered your point of view but that you just don’t understand because you’re young and angry and irrational.
And at the risk of looking young, angry and irrational — this is bullshit.
Administration does not know better than us. They’re not a moral authority on campus or a voice of reason. They’re a group of people with a very specific vision of what this campus should look like. Sometimes students will agree with this vision. Sometimes they won’t.
This disagreement is healthy. It’s what happens when you have groups of adults with wildly contrasting expectations for what the U of C should look like. This is also why we have negotiations — so these various people who care about this campus can talk to each about what they want this school to look like and hash out their differences.
There is no doubt in my mind that negotiations over MacHall stalled and then ended before the courts because university administration refused to treat the people sitting across the table like stakeholders in the conversation.
Student consultation is treated like an inconvenient process the university has to go through before they can finally get what they want. But that’s not how this works. We have a seat at the table, whether university administrators like it or not.
The U of C has no business being disappointed in students for having a stake in what happens on this campus. They have no right to be disappointed in students for bringing their views and opinions and versions of events to the negotiating table. University administrators have no right to act patronizing, disappointed or dismissive towards a group of people who are by all rights their peers.
I’ve never been disappointed in university administration or the SU because I believe the people who work in these organizations are my equals. This doesn’t mean I’m not frequently angry, exasperated and frustrated with both of them. But I respect both of these organizations for their skills, their expertise and their time, even when I don’t agree with them.
And I think it’s time university administration started showing that same courtesy to students.
Kate Jacobson, Gauntlet Editorial Board