President claims no disconnect between university and students

Article written by Étienne Lajoie and Megan Hunt

Alan Shepard says he is interested in the results of the CSU student congress

In an interview with The Concordian on March 15, Concordia president Alan Shepard offered no comment in response to a recent CBC report revealing that two Concordia part-time instructors, Jon Paul Fiorentino and David McGimpsey, were the subjects of complaints in a third-party investigation.

“I wouldn’t be able to make any comments about any investigation,” Shepard said. The university has not made a comment regarding the complaints since the report was published on Feb. 28.

Although Fiorentino and McGimpsey were originally scheduled to teach this semester, their classes have been reassigned while the allegations against them are being investigated. Shepard told The Concordian on Feb. 15 that professors are not allowed to teach while they’re under investigation.

Lack of faculty attendance at student congress

When asked if he felt the university’s administration was disconnected from the student body, Shepard said: “Absolutely not.”

As previously reported by The Concordian, only one Concordia faculty member was present at the congress organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) to discuss proposals on potential sexual misconduct policy changes. Kate Bligh, a part-time faculty member in the School of Irish Studies, as well as the theatre and English departments, said that in her 20 years of teaching, she had never been asked to attend any consent training similar to what the CSU wishes to implement for all students, staff and faculty within a reasonable time frame.

“The same way we hold discrimination and violence to this standard, we have to do the same with sexual assault and violence,” Bligh said.

Shepard said he was “very interested to see the results” of the congress, adding that Bill 151, provincial legislation requiring universities to take certain steps to address sexual violence, will require consent training for faculty and staff in all universities.
“We have to comply by September 2019 and I anticipate that we’ll do it this coming year, so it’ll be early,” Shepard said. According to him, the university is already doing “a huge amount of voluntary consent training” for students, but whether or not the training will become mandatory depends on the findings of the newly created sexual assault task force.

He also said the university’s Sexual Assault Research Centre, whose employees were not present at the congress, “does a great job [and] has been training hundreds, if not thousands of students. Probably thousands at this point.”

Shepard told The Concordian he hasn’t received an invitation from the CSU to meet with executives, but said if they want to speak with him, he is “always willing to talk to them.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Students discuss proposals for policy changes

Article written by Matthew Coyte and Megan Hunt

Concordia students and department association representatives voiced their thoughts on potential sexual misconduct policy changes at a student congress hosted by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) on Feb. 28. At the end of the night, attendees voted on which demands would be included in a proposal the CSU will present to the university’s administration.

Following the congress, Leyla Sutherland, the CSU student life coordinator, said that despite the discussion not taking place in an official student union setting, the approved proposals will have a real impact and will be presented to the administration “very soon.”

“When the details are plugged into these proposals, they will be very effective ways of addressing and hopefully combating campus sexual violence,” Sutherland said. “I didn’t know what was going to come from [the congress]. I’m happy to have so many proposals to dig my teeth into.”

The congress took place in the downtown Webster Library lobby. The chairs that had been set up were quickly filled, and many attendees had to stand. Audience members candidly discussed their concerns about sexual misconduct at Concordia, as well as the administration’s response to the allegations plaguing the creative writing program.

A recurring concern was the lack of mandatory training on issues such as consent, power dynamics, sensitivity and disclosure. Although Concordia’s Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC) offers consent workshops, students and staff are not required to attend. SARC did not have a representative at the congress.

Following a lengthy discussion, which saw the proposal go through multiple iterations, the congress attendees voted on a demand for the university to fully fund mandatory consent training for all students, staff and faculty within a reasonable time frame. The demand received unanimous approval from attendees, meaning it will be fully endorsed by the CSU and included in their proposal to the administration.

The congress attendees also voted to approve a demand for the university to accept all the policy recommendations made by Our Turn, an organization that works with student associations across Canada to prevent sexual violence. These recommendations include developing and adopting peer-to-peer sexual violence prevention and training. Another proposal included lifting the current rule that all applicants to the university’s Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence fulfill the vague requirement of “good academic standing.”

Concordia students gather to discuss policy changes at student congress. Photo by Mackenzie Lad

One of the many student associations present at the congress was the Concordia Association for Students in English (CASE).

“I think it was important for CASE to participate because, obviously, a lot of the attention has been surrounding cases that are specific to the English department, even though it’s happening in various places at Concordia,” said CASE president Debby Gemme. “This particular executive team is committed to helping fix these issues […] and I think this went really, really well.”

A Concordia student employed by the Montreal Sexual Assault Centre (MSAC) said they wanted to participate in the congress after receiving a spike in calls to the centre from Concordia students and others following the #MeToo movement.

“It has come to our attention that there’s a problem with the Concordia administration and how it addresses complaints,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous. “I’m hoping that numbers have power, and it’s going to put enough pressure on the administration to give us more leeway or liberty in defining these new policies that work better to address students’ rights.”

The congress was attended by numerous student politicians, including councillors, Senate and executives members. Jonathan Roy, the president of the Arts and Science Federation Associations (ASFA), also attended the meeting. He said he is happy to be able to present these proposals to ASFA members, as well as to the Senate of which he is also a member.

“These are very acceptable, realistic requests. We want to feel safe in our own school; that’s not a wild thing to ask for,” Roy said. “We need to take action and hold the administration accountable.”

Despite the congress being open to faculty, only one professor showed up to voice her opinion. Kate Bligh is a part-time faculty member in the School of Irish Studies, as well as the theatre and English departments. She shared input that helped the congress shape their proposal, including insight that the university could not legally force part-time staff to undergo this training, as it would violate their contracts. All training at the part-time level would have to be voluntary. She also suggested the congress add these proposals under the health and safety regulations already in place, which the congress did.

Bligh said that, in her 20 years of teaching, she has never been called to attend any training like the kind the CSU is hoping to implement.

“The same way that we hold discrimination and violence to this standard, we have to do the same with sexual assault and violence,” Bligh said. “We need to decide what sort of culture our school should have.”

Photos by Mackenzie Lad


‘An avenue for productive political discussions’

The first Concordia Student Congress was held last week wherein representatives from student associations and faculties gathered with representatives from the CSU to discuss issues related to being an undergraduate student at Concordia.

“We had a pretty good turn out. I was pretty happy. We had I think over 20 associations or student groups from all four faculties,” said Gene Morrow, VP academic and advocacy, who was a primary facilitator of the event. “Everybody was really able to have very frank and constructive discussions about the challenges of being`an undergraduate student at Concordia.”

Antonin Picou, president of the Engineering and Computer Science Association, felt that this was a positive initiative in bringing to light issues that all faculties and associations face.

“It was really productive, we brought up a lot of points that were valid to all faculties and initiated discussions and got to have a feel for how they reacted to them and it was reassuring to know that we’re not the only ones that were having these problems,” he said.

During the March 6 meeting, the student congress adopted several proposals directed at the university administration. The proposals collectively asked the university to address their concerns regarding “student involvement in university governance,” “student evaluation of professors mid-semester,” “budgetary cuts to the academic sector,” the “intellectual property policy,” “co-operative education programs,” and “student space.”

The proposition regarding student involvement in university governance, asked that in order for students to be able to participate meaningfully in the governing of the university, that the administration guarantee that departments notify departmental student associations about the date, time and location of departmental council meetings, as well as send out minutes from previous meetings and “the agenda for the one being called.” As well they asked that “every department at the university should have at least one (1) Student association representative sitting on its departmental council. Student representatives should be allowed full speaking, voting, and moving privileges as full members of the council.” Furthermore, they require that member associations have the opportunity to speak with respective department chairs so that they might discuss “improving student representation on department councils.”

The proposals also spoke to what they felt student groups could do to address some of their concerns.

The congress is asking that student groups petition their “respective faculty councils or their professors” for informal mid-semester evaluations of professors, “in addition to the one included at the end of the semester.”

They are also calling on student representatives to talk to their faculty councils about the space needs of their members.

Additionally, as the congress was made up of faculty associations and the CSU, they collectively resolved to work with the dean of students in order “to develop and provide training to student leaders in the areas of respectful conduct, identifying troublesome situations and positive intervention thereon, and crowd management, with the goal of ensuring that deleterious actions or situations do not occur.”

Morrow was pleased with how the event turned out and has plans to put together a full briefing on the experience in the hopes that it will be re-initiated by his successor.

“I think we demonstrated that this could be an avenue for productive political discussions to occur. We had representatives from all four faculties and everybody was able to bring an important perspective to the process.”


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