by Melanie Takefman and
Concordia offers support to students facing institutional charges through
its Student Advocate Program. Over the years, the student union has also
advocated on behalf of students, but this year, the CSU institutionalized
its activities as the Student Advocacy Centre.
The Student Advocate Program dates back to 1992. It is one of seven units
in Advocacy and Support Services, all paid for out of student fees, and
accountable to the Concordia Council for Student Life.
The students who seek advocacy may face charges under the universitys
Code of Conduct (Academic) or Code of Rights and Responsibilities. Others
may be seeking a grade re-evaluation or simply a consultation about a
Ralph Lee, VP academic of the student union, feels that advocacy should
be done by the student union, not by the university. He compares it to
a union representing employees vis-à-vis the employer. We
look at ourselves as more idealistic, as defense lawyers, he said.
Most of the students charged in the cancellation of Benjamin Netanyahus
speech on September 9 were defended by CSU advocates.
However, Ann Kerby, director of Advocacy and Support Services, said the
Student Advocate Program also goes to bat for the student. The university
can be quite formidable when it makes an accusation against somebody.
We make sure that the student has the checks and balances of due process.
Lee and his fellow advocate, Jean-Marc Bouchard, often deal with complaints
informally, and contend that the CSU service takes a more direct approach.
The Student Advocate Program also mediates wherever possible. Its student
advocates are not only trained by professionals, they can tap the resources
and vast experience of their sister units in Advocacy and Support Services,
and they have access to over 10 years worth of cases.
Kerby said that before the CSU established its own centre, she had hired
at least five outgoing VPs academic, because their advocacy through the
CSU had given them good background.
Advocates from both services are trained in the nuances of the codes as
well as in communication, justice and how to navigate Concordias
bureaucracy. Bouchard was trained and worked for two years for Advocacy
and Support Services before he went over to the CSU program.
Experiences of students who have dealt with one or both of the services
vary. Two students, Michael and Jarred*, consulted both services after
being charged with plagiarism for uncanny similarities in their chemistry
assignments. Jarred said that the CSU talked negatively about the dean
and informed them of certain regulations which proved untrue.
Furthermore, the CSU advocate told both students that the outcome is almost
always the same for that charge and that attending their interview with
the vice-dean would harm their case. Both students suggested that that
the CSU advocate they consulted was defending his own agenda through the
students being charged.
The two students met with a student advocate from the Advocacy and Support
Services program. She urged them to pursue their case with an interview
and verified details of the case that she was unsure of, Jarred said.
Ultimately, the charges were dismissed without a hearing.
Because the university advocate was so effective, Jarred doesnt
believe that two services are necessary, particularly when it comes to
academic offenses. She was there to protect our rights. She never
had her own interests implicated in the case. Michael disagreed.
Having two advocacy services is crucial to keep each other in check,
Advocacy & Support Services student advocate Jennifer Hopkins
believes that her status as a student helps her sympathize with the person
she is advocating, regardless of her employer. Ive had disagreements
with the administration, and disagreeing is fine. I dont use my
job to make friends and connections. I do it because I like working with
Like Hopkins, Ralph Lee finds his job rewarding. In fact, both advocates
said that the fact of having a choice in advocacy is positive for students.
Ann Kerby concurs: This year, theres been a lot of shopping
around. A smart consumer shops around.
Both services are focused on eliminating the overwhelmingly dominant
charge against students, plagiarism. Both are collaborating with the Centre
for Teaching and Learning Services and other campus resources to ensure
that students are fully aware of the definition and consequences of plagiarism
before having to procure the services of either advocacy office.
* Names of charged students have been changed for confidentiality.