The first of three sets of recommendations made by the UNB Student Union’s Governance Review Committee was debated at council on Monday, Nov. 30. One particularly controversial recommendation of the committee was restructuring council, removing the voting position of the International Student Representative and creating what the Governance Review Committee’s report refers to as, “a network of non-voting members of Council to be called liaisons,” which would include an international liaison.
The change was recommended by the committee, allegedly to address the issue of what it called “over-representation” of international students on council. The change was supported by a majority of councillors. The only councillors who voted against the motion were Law Representative Dave Steele and Arts Representative Tom Cheney.
“I don’t see the justification in taking away their [the international student representative’s] vote,” Steele said in opposition to the motion.
“You can certainly interpret it to be taking away the international representative’s vote, to do that looks terrible,” said Computer Science representative Ash Furrow. “Even though it doesn’t look right, I still think it’s the right thing to do to ensure consistency and fairness”.
“I am quite comfortable with this motion. I understand the severity of what we are doing, and this motion is still being put forward after hours of discussion at the Governance Review Committee because we felt that it is in the best interest of making sure we are representing every member of our student union equally,” affirmed UNBSU President Jon O’Kane.
“If we have an international student rep with a vote, we are going to need a domestic [Canadian] student rep with a vote,” argued Science Representative Ashley Wile.
Steele questioned Wile’s argument, saying, “I just don’t see the comparison between needing an international rep and a domestic rep. I think that there is something unique about the position of international students–they pay twice the tuition of everyone else around this table.” All current faculty representatives on the UNBSU are Canadian.
VP Academic Shannon Carmont noted that there, “are a ton of marginalized groups on campus,” such as student parents and First Nations who do not have a voting representative on council.
At least 21 other universities in Canada have voting positions on their Student Council for international students and a large number of schools have guaranteed voting positions for Aboriginal students.
International students at UNB pay a $6430 differential fee, making their tution cost more than twice as much as domestic tuition fees. According to the report, Strategy for Change: Money does Matter, written by The Canadian Federation of Students (Canada’s largest students’ organization), differential fees only came into existence in Canada in 1976, and in 1982 still did not exist in British Colombia, Newfoundland, Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
“Think of an ideal world, an ideal campus. Imagine if half of this council were international students, clearly its not, but imagine. At that point do you think people would sit around debating this?” VP External Ryan Brideau asked council. He then suggested that international students should be encouraged to run for faculty representative positions.
When asked by the NB Media Coop after the debate how many international students currently sit on council, Brideau answered, “I think that’s irrelevant to be honest.” The VP External is, among other things, responsible for helping to create policy and to lobby politicians.
“This is a progressive thing that we have, to have a voting position for international representative on council, and we have a chance now to keep that progressive measure,” Cheney said.
The current International Student Representative, Marion Fernandes suggested that taking away the international students’ vote may be a disincentive for students to run for the position in the future, but in the end, voted with the majority of council. For it to be finalized, the motion must pass at two more council meetings that are open to all members of the UNBSU.
Alex Corey is a member of the NB Media Co-op.