Congress Weekly

HERE COMES THE PETITION! Congress Weekly – November 13th 2020

Written by Tahira Akbar
Edited by Anson Yeh

This meeting was once again extended past its scheduled two-hour mark since several important topics were discussed. This was expected as well; there has been a great deal of activity lately and lots to discuss.

Tristan touched upon the subject of acquiring a Netflix account for interested students at the start of the next semester. Laurence suggested making it available for the winter break so that students could enjoy it during this free time.

This week there are quite a few activities planned for students. For instance, Congress mentioned the volunteer fair, which will be held tomorrow November 24th live streamed on the MSU Facebook page. Pratham and Allison are working on the project. Five organizations looking for student volunteers will introduce themselves live (on the MSU page). Students will have the opportunity to interact with the organizations directly via Google Meet breakout rooms.

Tristan floated a possible collaboration between Congress and the Study Sheep Club. The plan is to host study groups on Microsoft Teams.

Trudy also mentioned that Zen Week is coming up and had some ideas such as a virtual pet day where students can show each other their pets.

Currently, there are approximately 75 students who have joined the chatroom on Teams.

Congress’ goal is to have at least 200 students join the virtual chill chatroom. 

Emanuel discussed the finances of Congress. The budget for the current semester is $17,000 and unused funds are carried over to the next semester. This semester, about $21,228.86 was allocated to clubs. Emanuel also discussed plans regarding entrance scholarships for first-year students, which can be up to $4000 for qualified first-year students. He also discussed the renewal of a movie license costing about $1800. 

Laurence touched on emergency medical costs, which if Congress were to pick up the tab, would be less costly than insurance since each student would have to pay upwards of $40. Whereas Congress could pay only $500 in total on behalf of all students, as $500 is an amount that is estimated to be sufficient to cover serious, uninsured student injuries and health incidents on campus.

The goal of this discussion was the possibility of lowering the student fees from $25 to $20. There were some disagreements over the proposal, with some members believing that a reduction of 5$ would not make a difference when compared to the entirety of the school fees (you heard this story before…). Once again, Tristan felt that the extra $5 should still be collected from each student since they can use it for their own benefit in the future. While on the contrary, Misha still believed that eliminating $5 would not be a big deal, especially considering that there is already more money than they need and the budget needs to be balanced.

However, Misha also asserted that instead of letting the surplus carry over to the next semester, it would be much better to spend it on clubs. She raised the issue of the high fees for MariMUN, which is about $30 per event although they go for practically free in other schools such as John-Abbott.

It was mentioned that Congress will have a lot of carryover money at the end of this semester based on their current spending trends. However, if Congress were to invest more in clubs, then a lot of money could be wasted if students failed to attend the events; Misha added that there’s a distinction between not wanting to waste money and being conservative. Tristan then said that it would be better to keep the money and have a surplus; it is better to have a few large events rather than having many small events.

The Congress members voted at the end of the discussion and the majority voted to keep the fee at 25$. The majority opinion is that if Congress kept the fee at the current price, they could use the money wisely instead of letting it carry over from one semester to the next. They agreed to refrain from splurging the money, but to rather spend it wisely on students’ needs.

With finals coming up, it also means that the semester is coming to an end. In celebration, Congress is in the progress of planning a party. For obvious reasons, it will have to be a virtual party given the present situation.

Tristan suggested a collaboration with other cegeps so that they could have live musicians, comedians, and other activities planned in one big zoom call, with over 50 breakout rooms with each room having different activities. Each breakout room would last for about 20 minutes, giving students time to move around rooms freely. 

Thomas also suggested a collaboration with a local food provider, so that students can feel as if they are at a real party. Congress could sell tickets as a discount food coupon so that food can be delivered to students as the party is happening. Tristan mentioned that they already have an affiliation with Domino’s Pizza, so students can receive a free pizza with the purchase of their ticket to the party. 

It has not yet been confirmed that these ideas can be used and the deadline for more ideas from members is Friday.

With the holidays approaching, Congress wishes to give a small gift to every student. Tristan suggested low-budget gifts similar to the gifts students received at orientation. However, there is a major question that was brought up: how does Congress get the gifts to the students? Tristan proposed two ideas: the first idea being that the gifts can be picked up by students driving by, as to limit the amount of physical contact. The second idea was that Congress can collaborate with a local shop and receive a code to get a prepaid gift from the shop’s website so that it can be delivered straight to students’ homes. More ideas included a school-wide gift exchange, using Facebook or “The Chill” chatroom, where students can sign up to give and receive gift cards. As well, there was the idea of giving a book to someone and receiving one back. Emanuel agreed that these ideas would save Congress money but also brought up delivery costs. The first idea of a drive-thru system is more reasonable to the expectations of the Congress. Furthermore, it was suggested that Congress can collaborate with clubs who were already looking to give out merch, as they can give merch the same day students come to pick up the gifts. This also provides students with more incentive to come to the school to receive a gift. Misha advised to wait until January, so that clubs could have sufficient time to prepare. Laurence responded that there is still a month and a half to prepare. 

As to the nature of the gifts, Congress needs each item to be under $2 to stay within budget ($2 x 2000 students = $4000). Pratham suggested blue-light screen glasses, as they were practical considering classes are online. When it was asked if they were able to find them reasonably priced, Pratham assured everyone he could find reasonably priced glasses. No gift has yet been decided.

This semester, Congress has not had as much student reach as they have had in previous years, and Congress is looking to change that through student feedback. Misha says that there are two surveys, as the administration conducts one and Congress conducts the other. The survey from the administration was conducted a few weeks ago, and its results are not yet available, so in order to avoid overlap, members should develop their questions for the Congress survey in the near future.

Laurence also suggested creating a five-year strategic plan for Congress with long-term goals. They can build cumulative projects to build with student body input as well as having something for future years. This would also provide future marianopolis students with a foundation to build upon.

Members will be proposing a timeline for a long-term plan in the coming weeks, and are planning to host a general assembly next semester for input on the five-year plan.

Recently, a petition was created in support of scheme B of the Mathematics Department even in the case of an online final examination. The petition was initiated by a group of students who wished to have their final examination count for up to 75% of their final grade, similar to the grading scheme for in-person finals. However, many teachers and students are assuming that this petition has been endorsed by Congress, even though the latter has not voiced its position. It was suggested that department chairs be invited to a Congress meeting to strengthen student-teacher relations. But Emanuel and Thomas each reminded their colleagues that Congress is the voice of the students, not the decision-makers in this matter. Questions were raised in regards to whether or not the petition was directed towards the teachers or to the Office of Associate Deans. One member asserted that she believed that the latter has no power over the decision of one department. In addition, it was also mentioned that the course outlines received at the beginning of each term were soft “contracts” that were very difficult to alter.

It is important to understand the context in order to proceed further and to set expectations. In summary, President Laurence, VP Mau, and Mr. Eric Lozowy, the Academic Dean of Marianopolis, had a discussion on Tuesday November 10th concerning the petition. Mr. Lozowy insisted that the administration has no power to enforce grading schemes onto departments and asked Congress to refer the petitioners to the mathematics department. However, the students in question had already reached out to their math teachers but were then referred to the administration as a result. Laurence hypothesizes that this seems to be an administrative responsibility rather than a Student Union responsibility. To add to the confusion, Tristan recounts that he spoke to his teacher, who explained that teachers are allowed to make changes to grading schemes as long as they are approved by the administration. Congress reaches the conclusion that the protocol for changes in grading schemes is most unclear. As a result, there has been an endless referral ping-pong between the administration and the mathematics department, with Congress and students trying to get some clarity.

If you didn’t understand the situation, we don’t blame you.
Therefore, here is a comprehensive graph.*

*This graph was created by MWR and does not necessarily reflect Congress’ position.

Nevertheless, granting a 75% weight would rectify disadvantages that some students currently face. It is also the only common evaluation for all Cal 1 students. This examination is crucial because the R-score is calculated using the entire grade’s average and not on a section by section basis. This would mean that decreasing the weight of a common final would widen disparities between students in different sections. In most math programs, the final exam is worth 40-50% of the final grade. Still, the petition is asking for the exams to be worth 75% of their final grade.

There is also the issue of R-Score. Allison pointed out that math class averages have been higher lately due to cheating, as assignments, tests, and exams are all done online. She questions the relevance of cheating in this discussion as it is the case for all evaluations. 

Misha also believes that the whole situation involving the petition is a reaction to unsatisfactory midterm results: ‘‘everyone understands that the classes are difficult, but it is too late to do well [because] the final exams will not help your grades now.’’ Allison believes that it is unfair to consider the petition reactionary since this subject was brought up before midterms; before students even received their grades. Furthermore, she added that this problem should be addressed because it is an important facet of our new online education reality. 

More importantly, the petition led to bullying. Rude feedback and unfiltered comments have compromised the mental health of some of the petitioners. Allison is extremely disappointed about the cyberbullying cases, but is unsure of how to handle it; saying “stop bullying” is not enough. Misha has scheduled a meeting with the petitioners to discuss the events and issues at hand. 

Pratham suggested that a Facebook group unaffiliated with Congress be created, where students could anonymously post petitions. Then, petitions that gather enough signatures could be brought up to Congress and potentially endorsed.

Congress believes that the petition has received much backlash because the students were unfamiliar with the petitioning process which inevitably led to its mismanagement. The creators were unsure of who to send the petition to: should it be sent to the Mathematics Department or to the Administration? 

Due to the highly tense situation, Congress decided that they will not make their position on this petition public, but will meet with the students in question to further discuss the state of the petition. 

Pratham is offering students the opportunity to participate in online virtual escape rooms in association with a British company. Students can participate in these activities as soon as the end of this month. Pratham explained that these escape rooms don’t need to be synchronous or live.  However, it was suggested that it would be better as a live team activity, as there was a similar activity on Halloween that students enjoyed and that had gone well. It was suggested that it can be a team activity during an activity period or as an activity to replace movie night, as well as having these activities available in The Chill room. Pratham explained that there are one time links so students can sign up, and receive links to play. The cost of each person would be around 2 pounds each, or a total of 300 pounds for 150 people, which Emanuel approved would be fine. 

With the upcoming open house, members discussed the possibility of each club making their own video, and with Congress creating their own videos for the club weekend beginning November 24. Tristan will be creating a video with clubs where every club executive will make a short one-sentence video. He also advised Congress members to brainstorm ideas for their video.

Clubs can make short videos introducing themselves and can even work together with other clubs for these videos. Depending on how many clubs there are, club weekend will either be on Saturday or Sunday.  The videos can be shared with students first, and subsequently, the open house can have a link to view them, and eventually, other cegeps can view them. Congress members plan to contact clubs soon. 

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  1. […] the Congress Weekly of November 13th 2020, a student petition was analyzed. Students taking math courses wanted their final examination to […]

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