With almost 120 students groups at the University of Manitoba and only 16 offices on campus, student groups can sometimes have a difficult time finding space to operate at the U of M.
“You do the math, a lot of student groups don’t get space,” said Matt Hepner, University of Manitoba Students’ Union vice-president (student services).
Hepner explained that UMSU has been working to make the student group resource centre located in Helen Glass more accessible for groups to book out for weekly meetings.
He explained that the office spaces allocated to groups such as the U of M chapter of Amnesty International or Campus for Christ are mostly used for storage space.
“A lot of groups would like to have an office space, but the reality is they don’t actually need it necessarily,” said Hepner.
“For the most part, the groups in there right now are extremely active.”
Isha Kaushal of the Human Rights and Democracy Delegation, a student group at the U of M, explained that while her group hasn’t found it too difficult to find places to hold meetings on campus, booking university space for events has proved to be more of a challenge.
“There was one documentary night we had planned last year where we had wanted a room in UC, but were unable to get one because there wasn’t anything open,” said Kaushal.
“We had our event in a room in Frank Kennedy, which wasn’t necessarily beneficial for us because it’s not a central location for all people to come to.”
Kaushal said the biggest problems her groups has faced were with student group recruitment week last year.
“[ … ] Even after giving our availability for a table, [UMSU] gave us no time to set up a table. There just wasn’t enough space to accommodate all the student groups in one week,” sais Kaushal.
Kaushal said she felt that UMSU and the university could do more to accommodate student groups on campus.
“I can obviously understand that there are other events that go on, on campus, but it seems as though there aren’t enough rooms available for everyone at times,” said Kaushal.
UMSU has been meeting regularly with Dean Duff, manager of Conference and Catering Services, and Pat Reid, director of Ancillary Services, to discuss issues with student groups booking space for meetings and events on campus, particularly the issue of increasing room rates for students.
“It’s definitely something that we’re trying to fix. It’s something that’s been proposed, but nothing’s set in stone yet,” said Hepner.
These issues stem from the takeover of the Special Functions department, now Conference and Catering Services, this summer by Aramark.
When the switch took place this past August, UMSU president Heather Laube voiced her concerns to the Manitoban. She said that the change in Special Functions from a public to a for-profit company could result in the loss of free access to university space for student groups and faculty councils:
“I think it’s really important that they are putting students as a priority before profit,” said Laube.
Reid pointed out that although management of the Special Functions department was handed over to Aramark this summer, Aramark still has to comply with university policies.
“They do not change policy or make up policy,” said Reid.
She explained that the university currently doesn’t charge student groups when booking meeting rooms. Groups are charged for the cost of coordinating a large event such as social, which usually involves obtaining certain permits for selling liquor and setting up audio visual equipment, for which students get a preferred rate.
“We are responsible for covering our costs, and that’s what the student groups would be charged for,” said Reid.
The university is currently working with UMSU to allocate new rooms on the fifth floor of University Centre to student groups, which UMSU would administer.
“Our intention is to work closely and to be as cooperative as possible to help [UMSU] and their crew and make this a really great place for the students,” said Reid.