Lack of Clarity between Students, Trent Governance Troubling

Accountability at the University. It seems to be a hot topic with almost all candidates across all elections this year, and yet no one is really saying how they plan on making the university and its student associations more accountable to the students they serve. The institutions themselves are not very clear on what accountability means. The lack of clarity between the students and various bodies claiming governance in this university on their behalf is a little frightening.

Corporate and governance experience has led me to believe that minutes should be a primary conveyance of what goes on in these bodies, yet at Trent that is not the case. It is shocking to consider that at Trent’s Senate, objections and concerns raised over the Trent International Program review—which was condemned by the TCSA Board of Directors, as well as almost every student that has been consulted, regardless of whether or not they were international—could be asked to be excluded from the minutes. A review which has been admitted by members of the administration to be less than satisfactory and a ‘lemon’ costing this university over $10,000, should for no reason be removed from the minutes of one of Trent’s two administrative governance bodies. Yet this is only a prime example. This university has moved too far into a trend of vague minutes which only indicate the topic of discussion rather than the details. This puts the pressure on the 11 students (only four or five being able to make all meetings) who sit on Senate to reach all near 8000 Trent students with the exact content of Senate meetings.

This is not a veiled attack on those senators or the Colleges, I am a proud supporter of both. I will not say that their work is not good, but that barriers of balance between work and communication need to come down. Realistically those senators are students, and have similar if not more limitations on them as every student. This is not to say the Colleges can not improve. However given that they are made up of an entirely volunteer cohort of students who spend long hours on committees, running events, meeting with students and more, there is room for leniency. Minutes being a hot topic of mine, the Colleges are readily available but they vary in consistency. When I came to Trent there was an unpleasant rivalry between the Colleges, a put-off for involvement. I cannot commend the Colleges enough on the improvements they have made in the past few years. Paying more attention the past year I was pleased to see how co-operative the Colleges were among one another: a plethora of pan-collegial or partnered events bringing students out from smaller communities to make ties across campus and deepen their experience. The Colleges truly are recouping from a period of confusion and growing to what Tom Symons wished them to be almost 50 years ago.

Watching the TCSA has been more concerning. Clashing egos and resignations, and individuals rising to the challenge of cleaning up the ensuing mess mean nothing new to our student association. However, this year has been particularly undesirable. Judging by one College’s public statements following a March 10 meeting, I would guess that this is fairly common sentiment to those in the know. I condemn the TCSA where I praise the university, as far as I can tell their minutes are available by request only, as they are not online and not readily available in the front office of the TCSA. Take a lesson from the university; put them out there for students—those who you claim to govern on behalf of should not have to specifically request to know what is going on at meetings, technically public records. The minutes I was able to get my hands on were at least better than the university in that they actually said who made motions, but were hazy at times on actual discussion. As far as the minutes convey there is almost no opposition to what is said, as though the near 20 individuals have no difference of mind, and that I find is either entirely concerning, or a bad representation of what went on. I would much rather read a document which the entire board has agreed is accurate than asking individuals. However, that is often what we as students must do, heightening hearsay comments and remarks that begin to run rampart like wildfires across the university. To add to that, most hiccups in the process are smoothed over and are reported by a person paid by the Association.

The university’s Board of Governors is no different. It is viewed as a symbolic approval body, or so was said at the TCSA speeches. This is perhaps right, as not many students understand what the Board of Governors do, and I wonder if even all the candidates who ran for the next student representative can fully understand what it does, as none of them have sat in on a closed meeting. The need for such secrecy is a frightening aspect of this university, which seems to stand on the line that students, only here for four years, are constantly changing their mind or are tumultuous in their opinions. Yet my time here has heard the same cries go unaddressed—those cries that have always gone on and in all probability will go on unless there is drastic change. There is no point in even mentioning these minutes, aside from being publicly available online the open session minutes are largely feel-good resolutions and discussions promoting the university.

This is my challenge: Students, let go of your egos and realize that you have been elected by a minority of students at Trent, in all cases with no exceptions. This does not make you untouchable. This does not make you the only voice and representative of students in this university. Realize that just like the university, your first concern must be the students and not the association you work or volunteer with. The hard question no one wants to ask or answer is why students seem not to care, why only a handful are involved. I suggest it is because the majority are so put off by the drama, the intimidating beginning, or even just the thought such strong personalities working together for 12 months rarely work-out well. It is much simpler to ignore the on-campus aspect and make smaller tight-knit circles in seclusion.

To the university: You are here to serve the students. Without us you would be a skeletal research facility, if you existed at all. Perhaps this is forgotten; perhaps the students who come for a degree only are thought to be able to sustain Trent. I shudder to think what the founding President would think, seeing how often students and the university butt heads over issues. Ill-informed students make a larger annoyance than well-informed ones, however, despite cries for more information, more understanding students have been largely ignored. You too ask the retention question, yet the answer is right in front of you. Trent is a wonderful place, and I love it, but I do not hesitate to list all the good as well as the bad when talking to prospective students.

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