A different kind of sponsorship scandal
Corporate-sponsored tables during O-Week sparks heated debate
Orientation week is a busy time for students and staff at the University of Winnipeg. Classes are beginning, tuition has to be paid and this year, protests have to be planned.
You may have seen Robert McGregor, an activist and 2010 U of W grad, roaming Riddell Hall in a suit made of boxes during O-Week. With him was a petition outlining his demands for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) to stop corporatizing the campus and to prioritize student groups’ right to tables in the popular student area.
“After five hours of petitioning I gathered 322 signatures from concerned students,” McGregor said. “The stereotype that students are inherently apathetic didn’t apply. If you actively seek students the right way they’ll voice their opinions. The UWSA isn’t seeking student opinions actively.”
Two weeks before O-Week began, Lana Hastings, UWSA vice-president student services, asked for student groups to apply for tables.
McGregor’s student group, the U of W Atheist Students’ Association, had a mix-up with their tabling forms and came to Hastings four days before the event was to begin.
“They wanted a table, and we were able to accommodate them by asking a student service group to sacrifice their table for a day,” Hastings said. “In the end, The Atheist Students’ Association didn’t even use the table.”
Instead, McGregor spent the day sparking dialogue with students about the issue of corporate sponsors in universities.
“These banks, cell phone and credit card companies are taking advantage of student naivety and promoting student debt. They don’t belong where they can harass students,” said McGregor.
McGregor was also initially upset with the UWSA’s decision to place student group tables outdoors by the Spence Street stage. He believes that student groups should have priority over sponsors as to where they want to table. The former student wants to see local businesses replace the corporations.
Gregory Furmaniuk, a first-year student at the U of W, also feels that sponsors should not be in universities.
“The idea of corporate sponsorship sends the message to the government that they don’t need to keep funding post-secondary education because the private sector can handle it,” said Furmaniuk. “Because of that, sponsorship moves away from the idea that school is for everyone.”
Hastings defends the decision to place sponsors in Riddell Hall, citing the UWSA’s projected deficit for this year.
“Students demanded a bigger O-Week with higher profile artists. Instead of increasing student fees, we experimented with sponsors,” Hastings said.
Barry McLeod, the U of W’s LGBT* co-ordinator, stands by the UWSA’s position on corporate tables.
“I understand why the UWSA requires sponsors to compensate for O-Week,” he said. “We received as much student attention outside as we would have inside.”
The UWSA’s transparency about the sponsored tables is something that Hastings hopes will allow other students to bring campus concerns to them.
“Hopefully students are able to get the full context of his petition and our organization’s financial situation that his petition didn’t have,” she said.
UWSA President Jason Syvixay invites McGregor to bring the petition to UWSA meetings for discussion.
“It’d be great if he brought it to the table,” Syvixay said.
Look for the UWSA’s survey in this issue of The Uniter and October’s annual Student Group Fair.
Published in Volume 65, Number 4 of The Uniter (September 23, 2010)