Draft Branion Plaza Booking Policy Goes too Far

Monday, March 10, 2014

  • Students rally at Branion Plaza to end the sale of bottled water on campus.

    Students rally at Branion Plaza to end the sale of bottled water on campus.

Written by Peter Miller

Branion Plaza is a place where students can host events, promote campaigns, and fundraise for different initiatives. If a student group wants to book space at the plaza all it takes is filling out a quick form at Conference Services on the fourth floor of the University Centre.

The student group does not have to submit too much information about the event. The group can simply say they will be using part of the plaza to hand out pamphlets and promote a campaign.

Booking space allows for organizations to be sure they will have part of Branion Plaza for an important event, and not have to worry about the plaza being double booked. However, draft booking policy for Branion Plaza that Administration is hoping to implement in the fall of 2014 will bring more rules to booking out space in the plaza.

The first draft policy produced earlier this semester immediately raised concerns for student representatives on campus. The policy stated in section D that Branion Plaza bookings may be declined, canceled or modified if the booking, “may violate a contract with a university strategic alliance or sponsor.”

At a board meeting in February the Central Student Association passed a motion calling for amendments to the draft policy, because sections of it violated CSA policy that advocates for the right of students to organize on campus. If the university became able to cancel any event that “may violate a contract with a university strategic alliance or sponsor,” then what would happen if a student group decided to organize an event against a corporate sponsor at this university that has human rights abuses or invests in tar sands oil?

Rules in any policy that prohibits students bringing awareness to students about sketchy relationships this university has with corporations must be condemned. Thankfully, student organizations like the CSA let the university know about their discontent with parts of the policy that violated students’ right to organize, and administration has taken out the policy mentioned above. This is one of many examples of ways students can have influence on the university when we have a strong student union.

However, the most recent draft policy still has many issues. It does not allow students to use any amplification in Branion Plaza except on some occasions. How will students have speakers heard in Branion Plaza then?

The policy does not allow student groups to book the plaza more than twice a semester.  It also does not allow student groups to book the plaza during exam periods. Conveniently the Board of Governors often votes on tuition fee increases during exam period in April. Is the University Administration trying to stop students from protesting against tuition fee increases and having their voices be heard?

The draft policy also states that space bookings must be approved in advance to ensure, “the general safety and wellbeing of the university community.” The University of Guelph already has a Human Rights Policy that all student groups must abide by for space bookings. If a student group decides to host an event against companies tied with the University of Guelph, program cuts, or tuition fee increases, will this result in the event being cancelled because it effects the “wellbeing of the university community.” This phrase is very vague and provides an avenue for the University of Guelph to abuse its power.

If this draft policy goes through and the university of Guelph can deny bookings at Branion Plaza because a student group plans to use amplification or protest university policy, public space at Branion Plaza will become private space. The University of Guelph is a public university where student and community groups should be able to book space without hassle from an administration that does not want any bad publicity. Students must be allowed to make use of Branion Plaza as a public space available to everyone, not just “university sanctioned” events.








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