Students attack task force tokenism

May 16, 2014

Getting writing published began for me on The Uniter, the University of Winnipeg student newspaper (and those were the days– and late nights, my friends). 

I took a year off university to travel with my then boyfriend, Kim. During that time I realized that what I liked best about university was writing papers in courses such as English literature and history. 

When I returned from our six month stint through western Canada, many of the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and The Bahamas, I decided to volunteer for the student newspaper in the hope that I would be able to write for it. Not only was I writing shortly after I joined the paper, I quickly became the copy editor. It was a blast with lots of friends, including guy friends trailing me around, and late nights at least once a week when laid out and copy edited the paper that would appear once a week on Wednesdays. Putting the paper ‘to bed’ was an endurance test in staying awake but we loved it.

I also enjoyed doing investigative reporting and covering what was happening at a time when student activism was king and queen of almost every campus in North America. The University of Winnipeg was right up there and that was due a lot to our radicalism on the student newspaper.

Here is an example of what we reported:

The Uniter

Wednesday, February 7, 1979

Students attack task force tokenism

by Tanya Lester

“We should boycott because all we ever get is tokenism,” said Fred Robertson, UWSA director at large.

Robertson was referring to the proposed student representation to sit on the Task Force on Academic Development recently set up by U of W president Henry Duckworth. Duckworth said because of “an error on my part” the UWSA were not invited to attend the planning meetings for the establishment of the task force. Since then, Duckworth has asked the UWSA to appoint two students to sit on the closed committee.

When asked about the lack of student representation while planning the committee, Pat Falconer, UWSA vice-president/academic, replied, “Who was planning it? It was Duckworth’s committee. They didn’t go through the Senate or the Board of Regents. It would seem obvious students should be on it as it concerns student enrollment declining.”

Falconer believes Duckworth’s request for student representation, now that the Task Force is set up, is tokenism, “but that’s not inconsistent with what they’ve done with the Board of Regents and the Senate.” Falconer said students on the committee will “help legitimize the Task Force and make it look ‘very nice’.”

Duckworth disagreed that student tokenism is practised on the Board of Regents and the Senate. Regarding the Task Force, Duckworth said he was not looking for the appointment of token students. “I hope the student association would name some members who would contribute in a very material way to the Task Force,” said Duckworth.

Robertson said he, also, objected to the Task Force because of “the narrow range of people he’s (Duckworth’s) got on the committee, ie his bureaucrats.” According to Robertson, there are no women, students, or people from the outside community on the Task Force.

“It’s basically a sexist committee unintentionally,” said Robertson. He added being unintentionally sexist was even worse than being aware of sexism.

When asked about this, Duckworth said, “That may be so. They (appointees to the committee) were named in different ways.” He went on to say it might have been the “method of election.”

The Task Force meetings, similar to those of the Senate and Board of Regents, will be closed to the public. “Sometimes it’s expedient when charged with a certain thing to meet with the deliberation that whatever decisions made will be made public,” said Duckworth.

“They’re paranoid,” was the reason Falconer gave for the closed meetings. Falconer said they rationalize the need for the closed meetings as a way to prevent decision making from going underground and the distortion of the press. However, he knows these reasons are not valid because the University of Manitoba has open Senate meetings, that receive good news coverage.

Both Falconer and Robertson, because of the above reasons, feel students should boycott the Task Force. Falconer said the boycott would be effective if it was coupled with student boycott of the Senate and the Board of Regents. Also, the students would have to go to the public with their grievances.

Robertson said by boycotting the Task Force “maybe we’re not getting the information the committee could provide but by the same token we’re protesting the fact…that students are continually forgotten at this University.”


To read earlier posts in this blog, go to

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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester. To read the first few pages and/or buy this book go to or purchase it from me, the author. My other books are Dreams & TrickstersWomen Rights/Writes and Friends I Never Knew.


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