Over the past few days, petitions have circulated among some Dalhousie University classes. A cup of free soup at Tuppy Thursdays or a study session at the Killam has come with requests for signatures.
Students Mobilize for Action on Campus (SMAC) is pushing for greater access to information about Dalhousie Student Union’s corporate deals. The deals in question are with Pepsi Co., Moosehead and Sodexho.
“There are issues with contracts that we don’t even know about,” says SMAC member Brian Lume.
“There are potentially private firms that are called upon to do work on campus.”
“Full transparency regardless of what the company does on campus is crucial,” Lume adds.
In recent years, corporate presence has increased at Dalhousie. It’s in line with all other post-secondary institutions because of the struggling economy. But according to their website, SMAC wants the information accessible to every member of the student body. It’s the central focus in their campaign.
Lume says the privatization of university services limits freedom on campus to choose local or sustainable products. He says the DSU should find partnerships with local organizations because it best represents the interests of the students.
“Students have been receptive,” Lume says. “This isn’t a partisan issue regardless if you stand left or right on the political spectrum. This is about governmental accountability.”
In an email, DSU VP (finance and operations) Doyle Bond says the DSU can’t comment on details surrounding the Pepsi contract.
“The reason for this is because of competitiveness,” Bond says.
“Contracts that are open competition we cannot share,” adds Charles Crosby, media relations and official spokesperson for Dalhousie. “There are confidentiality clauses for reasons relating to basic competition issues. It is not fair to any of the parties involved in the process to share details of the arrangements one may have with the university. It would render the process moot, or at a minimum, unfair. With regard to Moosehead, there is no exclusivity agreement with Moosehead, and it’s not even a contract per se. That is a sponsorship through Athletics.”
“This process ensures that these services are delivered with the best value to students at Dalhousie,” Crosby says.
“There are many hundreds, perhaps more, of individual contracts at Dalhousie,” he adds. “That’s the nature of any large organization. We have similar contracts regarding everything from snow removal to elevator maintenance to monitoring the steam lines, to employee contracts in departments all across all three campuses, and everything in between.”
Pepsi contract specifics are not known. Lume says Dal has to fill a quota. If the amount of Pepsi products sold doesn’t meet a certain number then Dalhousie doesn’t receive funding. Dal didn’t meet its quota last year. Essentially, Pepsi had its machines on campus for free, he adds.
According to Lume, if Dal doesn’t make a profit from these exclusive deals, then it’s not beneficial to have them. Dal should look for contracts that foster better educational experiences for all students, Lume says.
As stated on their website, SMAC’s goal is to create an environment that allows more participation among students. This will ensure greater democratization.
The group is trying to obtain 1,500 signatures so they can present a motion to the senate and get legislation passed by the end of the term to put forth a referendum.
By last Saturday, SMAC had already collected about 400 to 500 signatures. But last year’s DSU elections had just a 20 per cent voter turnout. This translates to nearly 3000 students.