The World University Service Club has been planning their Shanti Day since July. The aim of the event is to showcase the eight United Nations millennium development goals to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women, while raising some money for the University of Calgary student refugee program at the same time. In addition to including students from nine campus clubs, the day involves the community by including other non-profit, fair trade and charitable organizations from around the city.
This show of dedication and passion to a cause and involvement in student life is exactly what the Students’ Union advocates. During their U of C 101 sessions, during SU general elections and in the executive members’ platforms there is a clear message to students: find something you care about and get involved to make the most of your university career.
Given this ‘get involved’ mandate, it is strange that two weeks before the WUSC Shanti Day, the SU clubs committee failed to support student involvement in campus life, claiming Shanti Day lacked a charitable focus. The committee pulled the funding for the event, which had been tentatively agreed upon in July. This decision left WUSC members panicking without space for the event they had been planning since the summer.
A week-long flurry of angry emails, finger-pointing and meetings–both formal and informal–followed before the SU realized their error and reinstated the WUSC funding at a second clubs committee meeting.
There were errors across the board leading up to this misunderstanding, but the major issue was poor communication. If clubs committee chair Dan Nixon had told WUSC to attend the Oct. 6 meeting at which their funding was denied, someone from WUSC would have been able to speak on behalf of the club. Other communication issues resulted due to a poorly outlined policy on club charity project grants. No one seemed to agree on what steps WUSC needed to go through to get a charity grant, and exactly what constituted a charity event.
The clubs committee opting for a ridiculous amount of in camera discussions also illustrates poor communication decisions. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, a motion to go in camera means anyone not on the committee leaves the council chambers and any discussion while in camera remains confidential. This is a tactic to be used sparingly when there is a confidential or legal matter that needs to be discussed in private. When over-used, in camera decision-making destroys the accountability of elected officials, even minor ones.
By going in camera at the clubs committee meeting on July 31, Shanti Day coordinator Valerie Cassley was not aware of the exact problems the committee had with her event. If there were problems with Shanti Day that would affect its eligibility for grants as early as July, these issues should have been discussed in-depth with WUSC members at that time, not in a secret, unrecorded meeting.
At the Oct. 13 meeting, miscommunication reared its head again when WUSC was informally told they would be the first item on the agenda only to discover they were actually last. Given that WUSC had about 40 supporters present, the clubs committee had the option to move the WUSC item up on the agenda to speed things along. SU President Emily Wyatt tried to do this, but was voted down by the other members of the committee, requiring WUSC supporters to sit through an hour of general club business before the clubs committee made their decision to give WUSC their funding.
Even though WUSC got their funding and Shanti Day shall go on, this confusion and miscommunication should be a red flag for the SU. Someone needs to sit down and review exactly what happened and where communication broke down, because if the SU wants to encourage student involvement on campus so badly, they’d better make it a lot easier and less stressful for students to plan future events.