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UNB Act changes will impact students

At 147 pages long, it’s an intimidating document. A year and a half in the making, you might think that the whole thing was transcribed by hand by monks sitting in the Old Arts Building. If it was monks transcribing it, we might’ve, at the very least, known about it. Instead, the UNB Act revisions were better hidden from the university community than President Eddy Campbell.

I hear your first thought: what are you talking about? Let’s start with what the UNB Act is. Installed as the governing document of UNB on July 1, 1968, it a public act which grew from a previous act. Being a public act means that it has the oversight of the NB Legislature (for now). Symbolically, the Act belongs to the public and not the UNB Board of Governors, Senates, or administration.

The UNB Act outlines not only the governing structures of UNB, but specific pieces that pertain to academic freedom, financial responsibilities, and the representational makeup and limitations of the university’s governing bodies. Before 1968, our university was run by a senate that had no faculty or student representation. This Senate was instilled with far-reaching powers. The UNB Act came in and laid out what university authorities could and could not do to members of the school.

The Act put in place a series of safety nets and divested authority away from a single board and into multiple, overlapping bodies. The Act set out what the goals of the university are: a public and collegial institution with research and teaching at its core.

If the Eddy administration has its way, this will all be changing. But who cares. I know for myself, I only came to this university to pay $50 000+ to get a couple pieces of paper and then walk away. If I learned how to be critical, responsible and socially aware, well, that’s a risk I had to take. I’m a lowly student and the Act revisions aren’t going to impact me at all.

Wrong. Without the Act, I am pretty sure I’d have been expelled by now. The Act revisions are looking to, basically, open up how important decisions are made at UNB. The revisions are removing sections which guarantee a student’s right to complain to the president about any grievance they have at the University. The changes are opening the door to allowing certain power figures at the university to make decisions about a student’s future at the school.

Take a look, if you’d like, at section 74(8) of the current Act. This section outlines a student’s right to complain to the president. Had enough with the one-ply toilet paper? Write a letter. Too much lead in your water? Send Eddy a note. 74(8) mandated that any complaint sent to the president would be passed onto the appropriate governing body. Not anymore. The Act revision document states “remove from legislation.”

Maybe nothing will ever come of this. I mean, as of right now, I doubt anyone writes letters to Eddy to complain about anything. Now that you know you can, though, and the fact that that right may soon be gone, why don’t we all start writing complaints to Eddy to pass on to the appropriate bodies?

You have nothing to complain about? Well, here’s some ideas: tuition and fee increases, the fact that the university is apparently on the province’s steepest hill, the lingering scent of body odor in the Engineering building, the cost of a Twix in a vending machine. Write a letter about anything, because soon you might not be able to.

I am being petty and I’ll stop. Despite my reducing the issue, there are some serious changes being made that we, the student body, should be a part of. The Student Union should be taking this opportunity to not only send a letter about their concerns, but to campaign to insert new pieces into the Act which would outline the rights of students.

The SU is correct in expressing their worry over much of the Act being moved to bylaw, which I will be discussing next week. However, the SU Executive should also be pushing to have new student rights inserted. These suggestions could range from student fee and tuition increases being subject to a student referendum to making it a responsibility of the administration that every student has access to a counsellor and mental health services in a swift and timely manner.

The Act is going Orwellian: trust Eddy and the admin, they know best. What I’ve outlined here is the tip of the iceberg. The very foundation of the university is going to be shaken. Next week, I’ll be going a bit deeper. Hang in there with me.

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