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Is this how IGNITE wins students over?

A student reporter’s experience with IGNITE.

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Eli Ridder | Opinion

When I arrived at Humber College on Thursday evening after spending several hours commuting from Guelph, I was looking forward to covering the final, and very critical, IGNITE Board of Directors meeting.

I arrived around 5:10 p.m. and made my way to the top and sixth floor of the Learning Resource Commons to wait for the meeting to start. This floor is where the administration of the college works.

I went in search of the room where the directors would gather but I found it was down a hallway with signs marked “employees only past this point”, a sign that did make sense to be there because of the floor the meeting was on but did not appear very inviting.

I then went to takes pictures of the campus from the beautiful top windows of the LRC while contacting one of the Board directors about the meeting, to confirm that it started at 6 p.m. as the website indicated.

Top floor of the LRC on April 18, 2019.

The director informed me that it was actually 5:45 p.m., a time that IGNITE did not post online iron their social media at any point in the last week or earlier. So, before 5:40 p.m., I made my way to the room, knocked and started to open the door, seeing the board members inside.

However, I was confronted by Executive Director Ercole Perrone, who said that I was not allowed inside because I was not a student.

So let me interject with some context here. I was a University of Guelph-Humber student off and on up until recently and had been covering IGNITE since October 2017. 

In February, I was allowed in a Board meeting even though I was not attending Guelph-Humber at the time. 

Maybe that was a mistake and I should not have been there but no one ever approached me about it and I was reporting for The Avro Post as an invested community member, and I knew I was returning back to Humber in the fall.

This time, I was attending the student union meeting — which is open to all students in the spirit of transparency — as a journalist for the independent student publication and as an accepted and registered Advanced Journalism program student.

I pointed this out to Mr. Perrone, who said insisted I could not be there because I started this fall. I do have a student number and have started paying tuition fees, so I found that inaccurate, but that is definitely my opinion. Reaction has been mixed.

However, aside from this, the facts are that I am a “future student” starting in September who is interested in the college and how the student union works. 

For a future student — a student, by the way, that will choose whether to opt-out or continue funding IGNITE this fall — to be blocked from a public meeting of the student union’s board does not look good transparency-wise. I write that analytically.

It does not look good for only independent student publication that has worked hard to report the facts — whether perceived as good or bad — on the student government to be shut out of the single most important meeting of the year.

IGNITE will be fighting for its very survival come fall, and while all of the current executive team are moving on, President Monica Khosla was re-elected and will be leading a new executive and Board of Directors into optional student fees this fall.

But, during a year where many of the current executives dropped platform items without notice, an Annual General Meeting was held without a live stream and IGNITE has defiantly ignored the independent student press and student activists, will students choose to fund the union?

On the other hand, IGNITE executives have successfully carried out 13 clear initiatives, some of which were on their platforms, and the student union has expressed their defiance of the provincial government’s mandated Student Choice Initiative.

“Progress is made through open and honest conversation,” reads the description of Board meetings on the IGNITE website, inviting students to attend in-person and get engaged. It is up to you to figure out if the were being “open and honest” on Thursday.

Take everything into consideration over the past year.

Is this how IGNITE wins students over? You tell me. The Avro Post will continue to report but is it you that makes the judgements. And this, fall you will have a significant way of making your voice heard.


Image of IGNITE from The Avro Post.
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Campus

IGNITE ramps up promotion ahead of Special Meeting

A new poster was released on Friday.

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Photo of IGNITE banner in the North Campus Student Centre on Jan. 16, 2020/TAP.

IGNITE on Friday ramped up its promotion of a critical Special Meeting of the Members with new posters calling on students to “voice your opinion” and vote on a package of proposed bylaw amendments that would bring significant changes to the structure of the student union if passed.

Any Humber College or University of Guelph-Humber student with their post-secondary identification is allowed entry into the meeting taking place in North Campus’ Student Centre, with a live stream taking place in Lakeshore’s K Building. It starts at 11 a.m. on Jan. 22.

Photo of IGNITE poster on Jan. 17, 2020.

Beyond the new poster, encouraging students to “amplify your voice”, IGNITE has in the past week published a blog post giving “three reasons” for its members to show up to the Special Meeting, or SMOM, and posted a formal, though scarce agenda. Also, freshly printed literature was first seen on Thursday that outlined what the new structure of IGNITE would look like with hired executives.

An email went out on Friday afternoon to all students from the student union encouraging students to attend the SMOM. “IGNITE will propose policy updates to align ourselves with the Ontario Not-for-profit Corporations Act,” the email read.

At the Special Meeting, several bylaw amendments previously approved by the elected Board of Directors will come forward to the student body at-large for approval. The proposed changes include hiring executives instead of an election process and giving more unilateral power to the Board, among five other items.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act. ■ ■

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Analysis

What we learned from IGNITE’s information session

Executives will be called Student Engagement Coordinators.

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File photo from the event.

ANALYSIS

The new name of the executives, the source of the proposal ending executive elections and a lot of deflected questions — this is what took place at Thursday’s information session hosted by members of IGNITE’s Board of Directors and other officials ahead of the Special Meeting of the Members.

Who was present? For the time that The Avro Post had reporters present from 12 p.m. to about 12:50 p.m., Board Chairperson Neto Naniwambote and follow North Campus Director Eden Tavares were in attendance.

Who else? Guelph-Humber Director Erika Caldwell, who hosted her own similar event last week with her counterpart, Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan and Vice President Megan Roopnarine, who also represents Guelph-Humber.

So what did we learn? Probably the biggest story here is the constant deflections or, in most cases, the lack of knowledge the directors have about their own bylaws. When a reporter and a columnist with The Post pushed the directors present on some of the questions we had, they didn’t have much to say.

When it came to the question of IGNITE not allowing a Post reporter into their September Board of Directors meeting, going against a rule in what was then in their policies, Caldwell said she would not comment on previous events.

The second up to bat when it comes to big news items are the statements from Tavares and Gavlan that revealed it was IGNITE’s lawyer who was at least part of the initiative to end executive elections and hire students instead.

Tavares specifically said the lawyer “proposed” the amendment while Gavlan stated that the idea of ending executive elections had been “on the table” for some time, without specifying how long. The Post asked several times exactly how long the concept had been considered but Gavlan only answered that with a question: “Why do you want to know?”

We learned some new and exciting things about what the executives will become. First off, they will be called “Student Engagement Coordinators”. Secondly, there will only be three of them and the way directors explained it to The Post , there will no longer be a president-like role.

Thirdly, they will be hired regardless of campus, based on merit only. For example, if the three best candidates are from Lakeshore Campus, then they will be hired.

Finally, the student engagement coordinators will be hired via a panel that Gavlan said would include a representative from the Board of Directors and a member of the administration. The hiring group would be chosen in such a way to avoid conflict-of-interest. For example, staff that have worked with an applicant that was previously a director would not be part of the panel.

A reminder: a lot of these changes actually come down to a vote by students before they are set in stone. On Jan. 22 there will be a Special Meeting of the Members that any full-time student can go to and vote. Part-time students can go but cannot vote. All that is required is a student identification. ■

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Campus

Lawyer partially behind end of executive elections, says director

IGNITE

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File photo.

IGNITE’s Eden Tavares, an elected representative on the Board of Directors, told The Avro Post during an information session on Thursday that the proposed amendment to end executive elections in favour of a hiring process was, in part, initiated by the student union’s lawyer.

After a reporter and columnist from The Post pressed for an answer several times, Tavares revealed that IGNITE’s lawyer “proposed” the amendment included in a package that was passed by directors at a Sept. 11 meeting. The proposed change will need approval by the student body at a Special Meeting of the Members later in January.

File photo of Eden Tavares via IGNITE.

The question over the origin of the specific bylaw amendment was first asked to Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan, who said that the student union’s lawyer was “supportive” of the move but stated the idea of ending executive elections “was on the table” for some time.

When asked how long specifically the amendment was in the works, Gavlan declined to give a time-frame. The amendment ending executive elections was passed at the second meeting of the 2019-2020 term of the current Board, meaning that if the idea of hiring executives was in the works for some time, it was likely carried over from a previous year.

It is not the first time that significant changes to the student union have originated with a different administration from the one at the helm when an initiative comes to fruition. Former Vice President Jeremy Alfonso told reporters last year just before his term ended that the reason his central campaign goal of bringing back an alcohol-serving bar back to North Campus never came to fruition was because the pay-what-you-can soup bar was prioritized in a previous IGNITE administration.

Alfonso was not the only executive in IGNITE’s history to have his campaign promises shut down without at least immediate explanation to the student body. Maheen Nazim campaigned on creating an IGNITE app that would include functions such as informing users how full a parking lot was. All of the initiatives brought forward have to be approved by the Board of Directors, as they sit at the top of the student union.

Is it this issue of campaign promises getting sidelined by larger objectives set by the student union that is part of the decision to end executive elections, officials have maintained. Additionally, Gavlan confirmed that the terms for the hired executives — to renamed “student engagement coordinators” if the amendment is passed on Jan. 22 — would be two years. Caldwell said last week that the two-year term proposal was “up in the air”.

Gavlan explained the longer term length for the coordinators would aim to bring more consistency to the role they hold within the organization, which is focused on operations and carrying out the Strategic Plan as a whole and year-to-year initiatives. By installing a longer term, the students that are chosen will have the time to adjust and grow into the role, Gavlan added. Current President Monica Khosla will, by April, have served two full terms.

The most-used reasoning repeated by officials for taking the hiring route is so that the best qualified students fill the roles, instead of what they call a “popularity contest”. IGNITE joins at least two other student unions in Ontario, including the Sheridan Student Union, by taking this direction.

The revelation on Thursday that a lawyer for IGNITE played a significant role in initiating a bylaw amendment process could lend further credibility to the claim made last year by two former student officials that the priorities of paid staff or third parties could override or have a major influence on the decisions made by elected student representatives.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act. ■

Reporting by Eli Ridder,
Christian Aguire; Files
from Joelle Awad
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