Why some have concerns over academic expectations
With the Students’ Union President and Vice President Academic elections just around the corner, many have been talking about just what it entails to work for The U in any capacity and who can apply in the first place.
As it stands currently, the only requirements are to be in good academic standing – that is have an average of 60% or higher, not have any major infractions, and be able conduct a good interview. However, at the last council meeting, Sunday, January 14, a new Eligibility Policy was introduced to be discussed and debated upon.
The proposed policy states that “all students applying for Union positions, elected or hired, to be in accordance with the following:
‘Have no outstanding academic or non-academic disciplinary sanctions, including but not limited to Academic Probation, outstanding disciplinary fines, or non-academic probations.’
‘For all Union positions, excluding First Year Representative Council position, Executive Board, and Chair of Council hold an overall academic average of 70% or higher from their most recent student grade report at the time of application.’
‘For the Executive Board and the Chair of Council applicants that must have a 75% or higher’.
It must be said that these numbers, the 70% average for sub-executive positions, and 75% for executive/Chair positions, are arbitrary. The entire concept behind this policy is that the mandatory average for working for the Union be higher than a 60% - which is what is currently needed to stay in ‘good academic standing’ at StFX. As was emphasized at the council meeting, it could be 65% or it could be 95% - that was what the council members were there to discuss.
However, the reactions to the proposed policy were quite varied. Some, including Students’ Union President Annie Sirois, felt that the policy was essential to success within the Union. Sirois stated, “First and foremost we are students, and then leaders on campus, and the Union needs to prioritize what is in the best interest of students, and that's not by providing positions to students who need support academically, [and add] another thing to their plate”.
In discussing the proposed policy with others afterwards, some council members admitted to getting too caught up in the numbers themselves. This was evident throughout discussion as tensions rose while it was debated what the difference between a ‘60’s student’ and a ‘70’s student’ truly is.
Others, like VP External Zak Chatur, were adamantly against the policy as a whole. Chatur questioned whether exams and test scores truly indicate job performance ability, feels that the entire policy is incredibly paternalistic, and declared that he will never support a policy that puts barriers up for students.
Board of Governors Student Representative, Alex Corrigan, on the other hand, was against the policy but for a much different reason. While Chatur felt that students, provided with the right information about the positions, should be able to make decisions for themselves, Corrigan felt that the policy itself was inequitable. He stressed that there are many different reasons as to why a student may not necessarily succeed academically, such as dealing with any type of traumatic experience. He also said that should someone already have worked for The U in any capacity, and proven themselves to be competent employees, then they should not be subject to the grade requirement, almost like being “grandfathered”. Corrigan passionately maintained that arbitrary exclusion, which he sees this policy to be, is simply quieting the voices of the student body.
VP Academic Patrick Panet-Raymond agreed with Corrigan, chiming in that grades vary for everyone, and that a high average requirement is building barriers instead of creating opportunities.
I feel that many fundamental points were brought up within the Council meeting. In a sense I agree with Sirois in that the Students’ Union needs to be able to have a strong foundation in their academic studies so as to dedicate as much time as needed to their role. However, I understand the argument that a person’s worth and work ethic are in no way solely depicted by their GPA. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we need to externally verify and quantify our success with a numerical value and so our worth comes down to a 60% average to stay at StFX, a 75% average to be in a BA Honours program, and so on and so forth. It makes sense that the Students’ Union wants to ensure that they have qualified and motivated individuals applying for their positions, but in raising the bar too high, there is a danger of falling closer to the elitism they so wish to avoid.