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Silent student leaders

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That’s a pretty nifty move that universities have made, being transparent and open and inclusive, welcoming everyone inside the tent, giving everyone a say in how the university operates, and all the while coincidentally and surely accidentally stifling dissent.

University of Winnipeg passed its budget behind closed doors Monday night, and issued a news release, and you can read my interview with VP of finance Bill Balan here.

So, next morning, I call the students and the profs to get their reaction. I reckoned there would be some, since in a $100 million budget, U of W is leaving $4 million worth of jobs vacant, talking about restructuring and efficiencies — code for fewer people employed — pumping another $1.1 million of scarce cash into pension shortfalls, coming up somewhere with $1.5 million to turn on the lights and heat at the new science complex, and scouring the campus for opportunities to rent out space and generate revenue from the private sector.

The faculty association has yet to call back, but U of W Students Association president Lauren Bosc returned my call as a courtesy.

Bosc said she couldn’t discuss the budget, since she’s a member of the board of regents and therefore can’t reveal anything that went on behind closed doors.

That’s the same situation as U of M, where some senior executives of UMSU sit on the board of governors.

OK, how about someone else on the UWSA executive?

Um, no, said Bosc: "All the people who could speak on behalf of students are bound by confidentiality."

No one? Surely there’s someone on UWSA who isn’t on the board of regents?

They wouldn’t be privy to the information, said Bosc.

They can read the press release and my story, and then comment, I countered.

No. No one can speak on behalf of the 10,000 or so students about the budget that will determine the quality of their education.


In another events.....

Once again, I received an email one morning this week, asking for coverage of an annual event that evening. Look, it’s tough enough to get media coverage on a weekday evening, let alone in the middle of an historic flood, but you’d have at least an outside shot with some decent notice.


About time I demonstrated my naivete again......smoking has been banned on all school properties, so howcum I still see students standing right outside the front doors of their high schools, on school property, smoking and tossing their butts onto school property, during class hours?

And when I referee at a certain school which hypothetically may be the largest in the province, and I park in the lot at the back of the school next to the soccer field, I see doors propped open at the back of the school and see adults smoking on school property. What part of this ban on smoking on school property is it that I don’t understand?

And in a related topic, now that I mention soccer, it didn’t take me long to get in trouble this outdoor season.

Among my many shortcomings as a referee — this is the point where you reach for the comments button and list my failings, which you could consider as an experiment to determine if the web indeed has infinite space capacity — one of the most egregious is that, when faced with an opportunity to declare a match abandoned or forfeited over a violated regulation, I don’t just call it a day and send everyone home without playing.

Instead, I try to use common sense and try to find a way that the kids can play the game.

Last week, for instance, I went to a high school match. The home team didn’t have player ID, and didn’t have a game sheet. The visiting team didn’t have player ID, and didn’t have a teacher on the bench. Any one of the four was sufficient for me to call off the match and send everyone home disappointed, and leave it to league officials to figure out if the match was forfeited.

Instead, I told the teams to print their players’ names and numbers on a blank sheet of paper, figured that if either team was fielding a 25-year-old ringer from the men’s premier division that the opponent would spot him, and accepted the word of the visitors’ volunteer coach that a teacher would be there eventually. And the game was played.

Which brings me to my game last night, a WYSA rec game. The young women and girls are 17 or 18, many already adults, pretty much most of them driving themselves to the match. But if the coaches are men, teams are required to have an adult on the bench of the same gender as the players, or, in non-jargon, a woman.

This being the 18-year-old league, adult spectators were in short supply. There were a couple of men huddled in parkas on the spectator side, nary a bench mom in sight, though the home team had the 19-year-old daughter of the coach, who fit the criteria.

Faced with calling off the match, I proposed that she sit at centre and supervise both benches, and go onto the field should a player on either team get hurt. No one objected.

Eventually, some parents started arriving, and the visiting team soon had a bench mom.

Comes the end of the match, which the visitors won 3-0, and the coach of the losing home team orders me over to his bench, and lays down the law to me, waving in front of my nose the WYSA rules and regulations turned to the page on which it says that each team must have an adult present of the same gender as the players, and telling me that when he goes on the road that it’s his responsibility to ensure that a woman attends the match.

So now we’ll see if he gets the match forfeited to him, and if I get suspended. Meanwhile, about 30 girls and young women got to play their match.


Already getting some reaction to my recent blog about the school board by-election coming up in Winnipeg School Division. One veteran backroom strategist is considering running, and a woman contacted me about how she can organize an all-candidates’ debate.

Whoops, my attention is already wandering.....

Remember back in the winter when I was horrified but still reported breathlessly and eagerly to you that an indoor soccer team official had told me that 15-year-olds from her part of the city should not be expected to know what the word ‘civil’ means, precisely because of the part of the city in which they live?

So I’m doing a high school boys match, and they’re getting pretty mouthy, and I call a foul and a teammate bellows: "Are you serious?!?!?! Are you kidding?!?!?!" And I tell the kid who’s yapping, I hope that’s rhetorical, and he doesn’t miss a beat, says, "Oh, yes sir, that was rhetorical."

One of yours, Brian, well done.

On to still another topic.

Yet another reason why I have no future in marketing and management, I obviously don’t understand the retail industry and customer service.

Saturday evening I stopped into our favourite supermarket and went to get plants for Mother’s Day for my wife and mother-in-law.

There was still a huge range of flowers and plants, so I pick out two gorgeous potted orange lilies and take them to the florist counter to pay. One clerk takes my money, then bounces me over to her colleague, who’s handling the wrapping.

As I stand there waiting for her to grab a couple of boxes and crinkly paper, she takes a pair of clippers and starts snipping off all these beautiful orange blooms. I demand to know what she’s doing.

Surely you can see these are dehydrated, she tells me in the tone that retailers reserve for customers whom they consider to be complete morons.

I can’t see any such thing, I reply, they look beautiful, and you’re selling them that way.

She gets snippier, both with me and with the flowers, and tells me with an increasing edge to her voice that she can’t possibly find the time to stay on top of all the flowers that they have out on the floor.

Then, escalating to the tone that retailers use when they don’t care if you never set foot in their shop again, she told me that she can’t possibly sell me plants in this condition. And she says that new blooms will open in two or three days.

I told her she’s already sold them to me, that I’ve paid for them, and that she’s just supposed to be wrapping them.

And she became even angrier, and talking to me as though I’m a total imbecile — yes, you can hit the comments button to agree with her — demanded to know how I could possibly think of giving these things as gifts in the condition they’re in?

Whereupon I reached over the counter, grabbed my potted plants which still had a few surviving flowers, and left, all the while hearing her call after me to ask if I still wanted them wrapped.


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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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