Congress Weekly

MIDTERMS, CHEATERS AND MORE: Congress Weekly – October 9th, 2020

Written by Bhromor Rahman
Edited by Si Wen Shen

This week’s Congress meeting had yet another long agenda to liquidate, but somehow finished at the two hour mark on the dot. However, some items were skipped in order to give more space to the more pressing matters featuring a lengthy debate about the Coordinator of Internal Affairs’ ambitious project, the students’ midterm concerns (especially math midterms) and the never ending struggle with Academic integrity in the age of online scholarship.

Intercollegiate Ted Talk

Pratham is currently in the process of organizing an intercollegiate “Looking Back at It” talk, inspired from Ted Talks, where students can talk about their past experiences. However, Trudy from student services needs a date for the event which Pratham wants to hold in the first week of November before finals. Since 5 CEGEPs are members of the CASAQ, the event could be held up to five times.

Circle of reconciliation
Anne’s work has paid off and many have signed up for the Circle. However, there is a significant discrepancy between indigenous and non-indigenous applicants. This is understandable due to the obvious demographic gap, but she has nonetheless reached out to other CEGEPs and even Concordia University to get more indigenous recruits.  Pratham is also looking to invite several indigenous students through CASAQ. Overall, they are hopeful that there will be enough participants. The first circle will be held this coming Thursday, October 15th.

Constitutional update
From now on, in order to hold an online fundraiser, club execs must sign a contract to ensure that the money is going to the right place. Execs should refer to Anne Lin Arghirescu for having your contract reviewed to make sure that it conforms to regulations.

Social Justice update
The new SJC instagram page is now ready. Tristan emphasizes that it is not only for Marianopolis students; the goal is to reach out to as many people as possible. So far, there are plans to tell 6 social injustice stories. All of this will be done through an anonymous forum, of course.

Concurrently, there are ongoing discussions with ConcordiaU and the Green Team for installing composting facilities in the cafeteria.

Teams vs Slack
Congress has been using Slack to run its operations for the most part since everything had to go online, but there have been some questions as to whether it should migrate to MS Teams.

On one hand, Teams has a tasklist function, the possibility of working on the same page, integrated direct meetings and more. However, there is no anonymous polling which Slack offers as well as the ability to start different threads. Furthermore, Congress uses Google Drive therefore the usefulness of sharing work on another platform is questionable at best. Anyhow, Congress will internally vote on whether to migrate on Teams or remain on Slack.

Video streaming
Zhaoran has been looking at several streaming platforms because of recent licensing issues with ACF. Tristan spontaneously came up with a brilliant plan: Netflix party. Although he finds it hard to imagine that anyone would not have a Netflix account in this day and age, he nonetheless proposes that Congress obtain a Netflix account of its own for students who may not have one. Amidst the excitement, granting Netflix accounts for clubs was even considered. However, it is known that Netflix is quick to crack down when several people attempt to use a single account from different IP addresses, so a deal will have to be made with Netflix to make sure everything runs smoothly for students. Tristan personally took the responsibility to reach out to Netflix and explore available options.

Consequently, Allison asked why Congress would not provide Premium zoom for clubs to which Mau replied that this is what the G-Suite accounts are for and the Financial Policy Committee did not approve any Zoom grants for the same reason.

Intercollegiate Halloween activity
Unfortunately, a Halloween party is not really doable this year unless it was somehow possible to hold one online. However, Trudy is looking forward to a photo contest, streaming a horror movie and holding a halloween kahoot. SInce Halloween is on a Saturday, students will have a full day’s time to enjoy the activities.

Open House
Mark the date in your agenda! On November 1st, there will be a virtual open house. All members agree that Congress should have some form of presence, possibly through a  video or otherwise. Never lacking ideas, Tristan proposed to use Prezi for the open house. In any case, Congress will plan for the event in the coming weeks.

Réseau intercollégial des activités socioculturelles du Québec (RIASQ) update
Trudy informed Congress that the College has signed up for Recueil de poésies (submitted works will be published in a collection), comic book and bande dessinée workshops as well as visual film and art workshops, and, of course, the prestigious Prix littéraire des collégiens.

Having extensive experience with such events, Laurence inquired about CEGEP en spectacle, but Trudy answered that they did not sign up for it, sadly, because while the other events also accept English work, CEGEP en spectacle is exclusively in French.

Thanksgiving initiative
Trudy floated the idea to have students share something positive about what they are thankful for in life. As expected, Tristan was already prepared with several platforms that enable virtual boards. That way, students will be able to write their part on the board as if they were collectively writing on a wall.

Thrift shop
Congress has been working hard to set up a thrift store. The man for the job: veteran businessman Tristan Boucher, of course. Tristan started his own clothing & apparel company in his early teens, so there was never any doubt as to who would be spearheading this arduous project. Needless to say, the store will be online. Many clubs, such as the Green Team, have been excited about it and enthusiastically wish to collaborate with Congress.

However, the task comes with its fair share of problems. For example, students would have to come pick up their purchases on campus because there will be no shipping available. Moreover, Tristan wishes for the website to be moved on Wix which Maria predicts will be a long process that would not be completed before the end of the semester. Finally, Yena was skeptical of the FPC’s ability to organize and keep track of all the transactions if they are all done through the MSU bank account. Tristan had the idea of students paying for their purchases by cash during pick up, but he concedes that using cash during the pandemic may not be ideal.

Student fee change
Congress has been looking into reducing student fees from 25$ to 20$ for a while now, but it will have to reach a decision by mid-November the latest.

Tristan had an alternative to the reduction: give clubs more money instead of taking money away since, after all, 5$ reduction won’t make much difference on a 3000$+ tuition fee.

Laurence has been looking to negotiate with Le Plan Major for student supplemental insurance, but as this would add about 50$ to the tuition, he will need to gauge student interest for the insurance plan. Importantly, based on the information provided from last year’s Congress, such a plan only has an opt-out clause in the contract, but no opt-in clause. This means that students would automatically be charged the insurance premium unless they willingly choose to opt-out from the plan altogether.

Laurence is also working on several pet projects including the Social Impact Fund, Innovation Hub and Montreal Projects Database.

Les Impatients
This is a project that Coordinator of Internal Affairs, Anne Lin Arghirescu, is adamant on accomplishing, for she believes it would be greatly beneficial for students struggling with a deterioration of their mental health in an online environment.

For some context, Les Impatients is a social services organization that offers therapeutic art workshops. Anne reached out to them to suggest a partnership based on volunteering, they suggested offering their services for Marianopolis students. The terms of such a partnership are still being discussed. As the price they are provisionally proposing (600$ for a set of 3 workshops for 5+ students) for their services is somewhat high, she is looking  to negotiate a preferential discount . While Anne is hoping for Congress’ financial contribution to this project, she believes that the administration should provide most of the funding as it is the College’s responsibility to look after its students mental well-being. After reaching out to members of the administration who have expressed their interest, she will be drafting a formal proposal to submit them.  She will be assessing student interest in the upcoming weeks with the help of the Gray Matters club who are collaborating on the project.

Some Congress members are still hesitant to provide financial support for this project, given the high price put forth by the organization, and the matter requires further discussion. Anne believes that given the organization’s approachability and flexibility (she has met the administrative board of the organization in person a few weeks ago) she will be able to obtain a more satisfactory arrangement. She hopes a second Congress member will be willing to accompany her when meeting Les Impatients again.

However, Tristan, in particular, seemed to find the project overpriced. He mentioned that Marianopolis has a tradition of collaborating with clubs to organize such activities and found it doubtful that the VP finance would approve funding the project in its entirety, especially since the workshops would most likely be held online.He suggested that a similar initiative could be organized by Congress in collaboration with Marianopolis  clubs. In response, Anne emphasized the mental health component of the workshop which could only be performed by professionals.

Ensued a brief confusion over the existence of the Art club. Tristan proposed a collaboration with the Art club, but Anne pointed out  that, unfortunately, there was no Art club this semester because none of their executives was present for the required club planning sessions and subsequent meetings. Tristan nevertheless insisted that, be that as it may, there are a lot of art students at Mari who would seize the occasion and that there could be many less pricey alternatives. On the other hand, Anne evoked the potential difficulty in recruiting committed students who would have time to spare in their studies to offer virtual workshops. .

Mau also jumped in. She is favorable to the idea and agrees with Anne about leaving mental health to professionals and not other 17 year olds. Nonetheless, she is concerned about money and outreach. Since only a very limited number of students would be able to participate in a session, it could be a prize or a challenge, but they would not be representative of the student population as a whole. Providing this service in priority to students with special needs could be an alternative.

Student update
Zhaoran is pondering on whether to organize another event like an Instagram challenge where some participants may be randomly chosen for gifts to increase turnout. Since the bulk of midterms is next week, there are plans to hold a study space. Congress will make a post about this shortly. By the time this article is published, it should already be up.

Chill where we C.A.R.E
Trudy revealed that student services are working on a new virtual lounge on teams where students can hangout. So far, there are several teams on MS Teams with little to no activity; student services hope that their attempt will succeed by centralizing all students into a single virtual space which will ensure activity. Tristan, never short of ideas, proposed to schedule calls at certain times that students can join to study or hangout.

Study groups
Speaking of study groups, students have expressed significant interest, but it remains to be seen how to set them up and organize the channels. Trudy encourages Congress to partner with student services on this matter.

Editor’s note (the content in the following paragraph is not associated with MSU Congress and was not presented on the agenda of the meeting): This was briefly touched upon during the meeting, but it is important to note that some of the best run study groups in Marianopolis are on Discord. For example, on the Marianopolis Gaming Club’s discord server, the study group channel (colloquially known as Zeyuan gege’s tutoring center) has now been run for over 2 years by prominent Marianopolis alumnus Ze Yuan Fu with massive success. The math prodigy’s gratuitous tutoring services have yielded dozens of desperate math students astonishing results in otherwise hopeless exams they were mentally preparing to fail! Of course, not all students have discord, but it is good to know that the free services offered by the platform such as screen sharing and voice channels allow for smooth live study sessions with friends, tutors or both.

Unsurprisingly, the most contentious topic of the meeting was the upcoming midterms.

Earlier in the meeting, Zhaoran had a class anecdote to share about online exams. It seemed that some internal information in Congress had been leaked and a student in class claimed that a ‘‘Congress friend’’ had told them that the math exam would be ‘‘more difficult’’ because it is going to be online. Evidently, the teacher was visibly confused as to how Congress came to know the difficulty of the math exam especially since the math department hadn’t even made the exam yet at the time. Zhaoran reminded her colleagues to watch what they say even to their friends because other students view them as authoritative figures.

Before getting to official business, Mau wanted to clarify that the perception of Congress members as authoritative figures was erroneous because they were simply representative figures elected by the student body. Congress only has limited information and to quote Mau: ‘‘All we know is what admin tells us and everyone knows that they don’t like to tell us very much.’’ She ended her sidebar by reminding her colleagues to avoid commenting on exam difficulty and such academic topics.

The main focus of the midterm discussion was centered around the student survey Congress had circulated earlier. Mau detailed that the survey went well and many students answered it.
The first survey was for Social Science (with math and without math), Liberal Arts and ALC students. The biggest concern for those students was online evaluations mainly pertaining to the harsh penalties (automatic 0% for late submissions).
The second survey was for Science students. For them, the main concern was about websites crashing, the extra time needed to print graphs and sending files. The issues with the Crowdmark website also came up a lot.

In both surveys though, there were concerns about academic integrity (cheating), Internet connection problems and harder than normal exams because of the online nature.

Congress is looking to compile and communicate the students’ grievances to admin. In that regard, Congress has evidence about which teachers have said that there will be harder exams from student testimonies. However, Yena was concerned about the small number of answers from social science students and that it may give enough wiggle room for admin to dismiss them as non representative. Mau agreed that there definitely needs to be more outreach to Social Science students, but that the crux of the complaints seemed to be focused upon the math department specifically, so that was more urgent.

Pratham believed that Congress should focus on asking admin to simply enforce the same rules and guidelines in the same course. Anne particularly pointed out the issues with Crowdmark and the lengthy time it takes to upload pictures on the website. She also agreed that different teachers in the math department proceed differently and that there should be uniform guidelines for all. Allison was also insistent about making all the exams uniform and fair.

However, the second years know better and Tristan gave his first year colleagues a brutal reality check. Tristan firmly replied to his colleagues’ wishful thinking: ‘‘I get it, first years don’t know how exams will look like, so they are scared and they refer to Congress, but you cannot complain about math [exams] because we cannot change anything. [Teacher] is hard[….] You’re going to struggle in the midterm, but you’re going to get over 95 in the final because by then you know your [material]. And the crowdmark upload speed discrepancy is about internet speed; the best you can do is call Bell or Videotron and upgrade your internet, that’s all you can do.’’ He concluded his speech by agreeing that one issue which needs addressing is some teachers presenting the exam as harder because it does not help the situation.

After hearing their senior’s facts and logic, Pratham and Thomas had some more practical and realistic solutions to potential problems. Pratham proposed that the math department give a 2 hour timeframe for a 90 minute exam which would include the additional time for uploading pictures and files. When some inquired as to how teachers would know that the students are not using the extra time to write their exam, Thomas replied that teachers could simply ask all students to be on a Zoom call where they would have visual proof of each student’s actions.

By the time of release of this article, Congress should have already communicated the students’ concerns to the admin, but even after this lengthy discussion, there is very little Congress can actually do. At the end of the day, the students are at the mercy of the admin and the teachers.

Academic Dean Integrity Task Force
Of course, we cannot talk about midterms without talking about academic integrity. To that end, a new college committee will be formed composed of teachers, admin and two congress members to encourage academic integrity and prevent cheating (and other things, but mostly cheating).

Tristan inquired about who decides penalties for violations whenever the admin suspects cheating. Trudy outlined that it was a process involving the department Chair, the Associate Dean and Academic Dean. Part of this process is lined out in the IPESA, but the new committee was created to respond to a new reality. Tristan answered that he is aware of the formal process, but there are decisions that need to be made on a case by case basis. Laurence closed the topic by proposing a Congress post to discourage cheating.

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