Disgruntled graduate students met with members of their Executive last Friday to discuss the recent decision to reduce the Graduate Student Association House’s computer lab hours. Previously open until 11 p.m. and employing three lab supervisors in the evenings and weekends, as of Nov. 1, the labs will close at 5 p.m. and the supervisors laid off.
The decision sparked a reaction from graduate students, who sent over 20 emails to the Executive, all expressing their disapproval of the decision and a plea to keep it open. An online petition was started by Michael Gollner, one of the supervisors out of a job Nov. 1.
The decision was made at the GSA’s first council meeting on Oct. 10. Reasons cited were to cut costs because the association is struggling with a budget shortfall.
Friday afternoon, GSA President Mousa Bani Baker met with two Vice Presidents from his Executive, three councillors, three students who said they use the lab on a regular basis and one of the lab’s moderators, to “listen to their concerns,” as he said.
“We have done research, and we have documents,” said Baker, regarding computer usage over the past few weeks. He said the council had decided to shorten the hours because VP Services Bijan Derisi had reported the computers were used less than 20 per cent of the time, “especially after 6 p.m.,” said Baker.
Gollner strongly disagreed with their findings. “Over the past two weeks since this decision has been made, we have been making sure that students have signed in,” he said.
“Those [sign up sheets] that document the use of the computers are booked almost every single evening. Certainly after 5 p.m. Almost every single computer is booked between 5 and 7 p.m.”
Svetla Turnin, an Arts and Science councillor, who hadn’t been at the council meeting, said to Baker, “One of our major concerns is that you didn’t provide any supporting documentation [to support] the decision to close these labs. Secondly, there was no discussion [at the council meeting] about closing the labs… How do you deem this decision, that is affecting so many students at the university, legitimate?”
Baker defended the council’s decision, saying they felt they were acting in the interests of students who were unsatisfied with the services the GSA had hitherto provided. Council was also trying to make up for some “very high” spending from June to September when the association had been under the direction of interim president Patrice Blais.
Baker said these costs – over $46,000 for the four summer months, $16,500 of which was paid out to Blais, the association’s legal council, and $11,200 for the production of the annual agenda – had left them short and they needed to find a way to make up the money. Closing the lab early and laying off the supervisors would save them around $9,000 a year, estimated Baker.
A student who uses the lab regularly, Elizabeth Edwards, asked what options had been discussed in terms of filling the deficit. “Why, instead of looking at other budget options, did you decide to remove services from students?”
Baker replied that they weren’t removing a service, but were “minimizing the hours.”
Gollner made the point that the decision was made by five Engineering and Computer Science (ENCS) students. “[They] have brand new computers, brand new facilities, accessible to them at all times [and who] wouldn’t feel the loss of the free computer lab. To all the other students, it’s a tremendous loss,” said Gollner.
The five Executive members are, in fact, ENCS students. Serving on council are three Arts and Science Directors, two each from the John Molson School of Business (JMSB) and ENCS and one councillor for Independent students.
Jean-Phillipe Savar, a councillor for Arts and Science students, said it was imperative that they find a way to keep the House open with its current hours. “If we don’t do that, there are so many angry students, we’re going to have a recall [of the Executive.] If someone decides to get a petition together tomorrow, we’re screwed . Graduate students want our heads.”
There was also serious debate around the topic as to whether the decisions made at the council meeting of Oct. 10 were legitimate. “If there’s proof that those motions were not circulated to councillors prior to the meeting. I would imagine that those decisions would be null and void, because it was not a legitimate process,” said Laurence Miall, a Communications student.
Mail expressed his surprise that a decision this serious was made with so little representation from students from all faculties.
Two councillors, Turnin and Erik Chevrier (for independent students), also said they hadn’t been informed prior to the meeting about the motions on the agenda.
According the agenda minutes, council voted on four motions, including a vote to reopen the nominations for representatives of graduate students on all Concordia committees; a selection committee was chosen to conduct those interviews; the decision was made to reduce the lab’s hours, and new signing officers were appointed, all within a 45-minute period. “This really doesn’t leave much time for discussion,” said Chevrier.
“It hints that there was a secret meeting beforehand, where all the discussion took place, or that the councillors just passed everything without discussing anything,” concluded Chevrier.
“You don’t start [the year] with motions that no one has ever heard of, at a meeting that you don’t have all councillors present,” added Turnin.
Baker went on record that he would apply for additional funding from the Dean of Students to bolster the association’s operating budget, but remained firm that the lab will close at 5 p.m. after Nov. 1.