On November 1st, two devel-opment studies students, Jenn Marshall and Eric Shorten, attempted to conduct a survey in MacEwan Student Center as part of a project for their GNST 500 class. Their project is a multi-faceted attempt to get all coffee providers on campus to offer at least one variety of fair trade product so that students can have the option of making an ethical consumer choice while on campus. They approached students who seemed unoccupied and asked if they would like to complete a five-question survey on fair trade products. The majority of those asked agreed, though everyone was given the chance to refuse the survey.
The questions were simple and non-threatening, including "if fair trade foods were on campus...would you buy them?" And "how much extra would you be willing to pay?" Apparently, such questions were beyond the comfort zone of one food services manager and her walkie talkie toting side-kick. The manager approached Jenn and Eric, demanding to see their survey. Once she retrieved walkie-talkie man, the pair reviewed the survey, exchanged some meaningful looks and asked the students to remove themselves from the building. When the students asked why, they were told they were not allowed to do surveys in MacHall and required a table for solicitations. They were then escorted from the premises.
If you just grimaced and thought "what the hell?" then you're on the right track. Something's wrong when students are escorted from campus buildings when conducting class work. No one should be restricted from doing ethics-approved research on their own campus for a class. Apparently, you have to be more than a lowly student to conduct research in MacHall: food services states on their website that they might have managers stop by your table at lunch to get feedback, and they plan on conducting two surveys a year to get student opinions on how they're doing. What happened to the solicitation table?
The moment this incident occurred, the Gauntlet began investigating and the resulting article states two important things. Firstly, the Students' Union plans on developing a formal policy regarding student surveys and soliciting in MacHall. It seems curious that a formal policy is required, when the two individuals responsible for kicking Jenn and Eric out of MacHall seemed to think they already had a damn good idea of what was allowed and what was not. Clearly, if no formal policy already exists, the responsible food services manager and side-kick were not acting on established regulations and should be investigated as such.
The second important point the article raised is that there is a problem with students being solicited in MacHall. Apparently, solicitors will be asked to leave only if the soliciting encourages students to drink or attend bars. Jenn and Eric were clearly not asking students to drink, nor to buy anything from a particular location or company. They weren't even asking students to not buy food on campus, nor from food services. If any new food vendors adopt fair trade policies, Eric and Jenn would have been encouraging the purchase of food on campus. The food services staff need to brush up on their rules and regulations--if they exist--and be reminded they don't have the authority to kick students out of the student center on flimsy pretenses.
This incident also gives off the sour smell of privatization. What does one have to do with the other you ask? Privatization happens when a government or publicly owned business or service is bought by a private company. In April of 2005, the university administration turned food services operations over to an international food conglomerate called Chartwells. Turning over an operation like food services to a private company that's just out to make money guaruntees student's best interests will not be considered.
If you think the university made a poor decision by signing with Chartwells, you can participate in the ongoing Chartwells boycott. To do so is very easy: simply do not buy any products from a Chartwells food vendor. This refers to 13 establishments, including the Taco Time, Pizza Pizza, and the ever-popular purveyors of cat-piss-coffee, Tim Hortons. For a full list, go to ucalgary.ca/foodservices, or just look for the Chartwells uniforms and signage near the establishments. To participate in Jenn and Eric's survey, go to http://www.questionpro.com/akira/TakeSurvey?id=305512