Electronics ban goes too far

(Photo by Brooke Hovey/The Weal)

(Photo by Brooke Hovey/The Weal)

Some of us may recall way back at the beginning of the school year—towards the end of September—was a campaign to vote for SAITSA’s Board of Directors (BOD).

This is a group of 15 elected individuals that represent students in a government fashion and, just like our municipal government, hold big important meetings that concerned citizens are welcome to attend.

Unlike municipal meetings, however, SAITSA’s BOD meetings currently do not allow voice recorders and in some instances other electronic devices like laptops and phones.

Such rules raise certain questions, naturally.

Firstly—a disallowance of electronic devices seems somewhat controlling in this day and age.

Secondly—a ban on recording devices is, perhaps a little suspicious.  What could the BOD, an elected group, possibly have to hide from the population that put them in their seats to begin with?

A quick survey on campus—check out the campus comment section of this paper—clearly demonstrates that some students view the procedures as a lack of transparency.

We all know that addressing the “T” word in the context of any elected government can be a slippery slope.

SAITSA’s BOD Chair, Mikayla Schaffer, assured that both of these measures are for the purpose of “fostering a safe environment for the BOD members to speak.”

Laptops and cellphones can act as distractions, so restricting their use from meetings encourages attendees to maintain full attention.

Schaffer explained, with permission, individuals could have their phones handy in case of emergencies.

“It was a decision of the old chair,” an individual named Muna Saeed, had proposed the restriction as a way to seem more professional, and they kept it.

“Laptops can be present, but just like in lectures, we just don’t want people playing on their computers.”

She described they can be at arms length in case something needs to be looked up or referenced, but no more than that.

And true, we all know the distraction that electronic devices can supply.  Schaffer mentioned that prior to the rule, people would just “check out” during topics they weren’t interested in.

It would be nice to believe that, despite the strong pull of Facebook and Tinder during a BOD meeting, members would have an adult-like discipline to remain invested in the topics at hand, but clearly that is not the case.

Onto the recording devices.  There are no distractions associated with this electronic device, as journalists and concerned students need to just set it and forget it.

So why are they not allowed?

“We want to make sure the board members are focused on what is going on and not word for word monitoring what they are saying for fear of being taken out of context,” explained Schaffer.

“If someone said something and it is not how they meant it or it comes across [negative] because their tone is naturally aggressive, it could be misconstrued into them saying something intentionally offensive, rude
or belligerent.”

Now we enter into a bit of a tricky area.  As elected officials, surely they are aware that some form of public speaking is involved.

A natural assumption would be that board members passionate about the school and the needs of the students would be able to speak freely with appropriate tone and rhetoric.

After all, isn’t this a part of their job?

If a recording device is cause for self-censorship, maybe we are no longer just looking at transparency but also a lack of authenticity.

But what could they even possibly have to hide?

“We don’t want to lose our board members voices because they are worried about being misunderstood or taken out of context,” described Schaffer.

A valid argument, but these circumstances are better observed in action.  The BOD meetings are open to anyone who wishes to attend.

If you think you would like to check this out for yourself, visit the SAITSA webpage to learn of upcoming meeting dates, and then contact Deanna Berry to let her know you are coming.

The BOD needs to know beforehand if there is going to be an audience.

All meeting minutes are posted online, but if you are looking for rude and belligerent material, it is a safe assumption that you will need to be in attendance without a recording device to catch it.

Meetings are open and all SAITSA members are welcome to attend. Please RSVP to saitsa.info@edu.sait.ca, at least one business day in advance.

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