2011 Open Letter to the CFES Officers

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On February 18th, 2011, the Engineering Societies of McGill University, Queen's University, and the University of Toronto sent an open letter to the CFES Officers stating a number of grievances with the direction, or lack thereof, of the CFES. In particular, the letter expresses concerns over the CFES's lack of lobbying efforts, expense-paid trips to Europe for CFES Officers, and the hosting of CFES Congress 2012 in Whitehorse, Yukon, which they state will make the conference unnecessarily expensive. The three schools threaten to discontinue the payment of fees to the CFES. The CFES sent a letter in response on March 2nd, 2011.

The original letter, including a French translation, can be found here. The response, including a French translation, can be found here.

Letter

Dear Rob Stalker, CFES President, and members of the Board of Directors,

We, the collective Engineering Societies of McGill, Queen’s, and the University of Toronto wish to make a formal statement of grievance with the Board of Directors and National Executive of the Canadian Federation of Engineering Students (CFES) regarding their management and leadership of the Federation.

It is in our opinions and those of our constituents that the CFES as a whole has failed to live up to its mandate and has been of little service to Canadian undergraduate engineering students.

The lack of leadership on the part of the Executive has caused major embarrassing decisions to occur repeatedly over the past two years. Most notably we hold the Executive directly responsible over the decision to hold the next CFES Congress in the Yukon. The cost of sending delegates to such a remote location will make the conference unaffordable for some schools and significantly deter others from sending more than a couple of delegates. Although we do recognize that this decision was made at CFES Plenary, it is important to note that the executive made no effort to steer the organization away from such a careless action.

This is not the first instance of a lack of leadership from the executive.

However, this is a prime example of the type of inaction that has continuously taken place by the Executive. This inaction has in turn seriously damaged the reputation of the CFES and confidence in it within our Engineering Societies and student bodies.

Beyond poor leadership, our Engineering Societies also have witnessed a poor choice of priorities. The CFES has continuously misappropriated its funds on costly and wasteful endeavors. Our societies in particular question the worth of repeatedly sending Officers on expense paid “fact finding” vacations to Europe and New Zealand. To date we have not seen any tangible results for our societies from these trips.

The CFES also shows an inability and lack of interest in performing lobbying efforts on the provincial or federal political level, or at the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) or National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science (NCDEAS). Effectively, due to inaction, we are now paying a body to embargo our own Engineering Societies from contacting the NCDEAS as it is only the CFES that has access to the Council.

It is clear to us that the senior leadership of the CFES does not understand the true purpose of the Federation and is unwilling to alter its trajectory.

Unless significant actions are taken within the next year, we will be forced to re-evaluate our commitment to the CFES for the sake of our students. This will include sending few, if any, delegates to CFES Congress and starting the formal process of leaving the CFES. Additionally, we are prepared to organize our own benchmarking seminar in the Montreal - Toronto corridor to make up for the opportunities lost at CFES Congress.

We hope that we will not be forced into taking such action, but in order to avoid this we need to see real efforts being made to change, rather than continuing business as usual. One action which we would find beneficial would be to cancel future fact finding trips and use the fund to offset the travel costs of delegates to the Yukon.

As three of the largest engineering societies in Canada we are committed to the continuing mutual success of engineering students across the country. We hope that in raising this issue now we can avert disaster and build a CFES we can all be proud of.


Sincerely,


Daniel Keresteci
President, Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill University
president@mcgilleus.ca


Victoria Pleavin
President, Engineering Society of Queen’s University
president@engsoc.queensu.ca


Kevin P. Siu
President, University of Toronto Engineering Society
president@skule.ca

CFES's Response

Dear Members of the Canadian Federation Of Engineering Students,

This letter is written to address the concerns brought forward by the Engineering Undergraduate Society of McGill University, the Engineering Society of Queen’s University and the University of Toronto Engineering Society presented in an open letter sent over the CFES-link on February 18th, 2011.

As stated in the initial letter, the decision to hold Congress 2012 in the Yukon was made fairly and democratically by you, the members, at Congress 2010 and ratified in a unanimous decision at plenary. We the National Executive, expect you to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization and don’t feel that it is our role to influence your vote. Nor do we feel it is our role to go against decisions that are made democratically by you. We do think it is our role to ensure that proper information is available so that you can make a strong, well-informed choice. All of you, the members, were given the opportunity to ask questions about the bids and time to discuss the merits of the bids within your delegations and with each other, before making your decision on how to vote.

The organizing committee of Yukon 2012 is working, and will continue to work, to make Congress as accessible as possible to members and understand that travel costs are of great concern to many of you. Different options to reduce costs are being explored, including subsidizing delegate travel expenses, arranging group discounts on airfare and offering tiered delegate fees.The organizing committee, along with the CFES officer team, also continue to work to ensure the event lives up to the high standard set for CFES Congress.

The CFES executive and Board of Directors continually examine and evaluate the CFES budget and expenditures. This budget is followed by the entire CFES officer team. If any of you ever have any concerns or questions about the budget or any of our expenses, please speak to your regional ambassador or any member of the executive.

In regards to specifically questioning the international portfolio, some points need to be clarified. Significant funding is needed for our officers to travel to our seasonal team meetings, Congress, President’s Meeting and any additional events included in their portfolio or special opportunities that arise throughout the year. The vast majority of this funding is provided graciously by the officers’ deans and faculty, to whom funding requests are made each year. CFES provides some funding to officers who are unable to secure all of their expenses from their dean or other sources. Currently the CFES has an officer travel pool available to all CFES Officers, and a specific international pool for the International Relations Commissioner whose costs are substantially higher than the other officers. These pools are only used when required and if any amount is left over, it is redistributed to other CFES activities. So while the CFES does pay for some of the International Relations Commissioner’s travel, the overwhelming portion comes from other sources.

We do recognize that more can be done in terms of promoting the international activities in which CFES participates. As per motion 43-CFES-14, passed at Congress 2011, detailed reports will be written by any person representing CFES at an international event. These reports will be made available to all of you. We will be making a best effort to make this motion retroactive by gathering and expanding reports from past events.

As to the benefits of the international portfolio, in addition to providing Canadian students the opportunity to participate in events overseas and engineering societies with a larger network, ideas from our partners are continually being implemented on the CFES level. Complementary Education Courses, a program provided by the CFES since 2003, started as an idea taken from BEST. While this program has been in decline in recent years, those persons who have attended a course can testify to its value and best effort is being taken to revitalize this initiative. The CFES Training Program, another idea taken from BEST & bonding, is in its infancy. A small-scale training event was run at Congress 2011 and we received a lot of positive feedback about the initiative. This positive feedback led to your support of the first full-scale training event happening in parallel with Congress 2012. The International Engineering Competition (IEC) was a project aiming to provide a competition level after the Canadian Engineering Competition (CEC). Spanning all of our official partners, the project has been a topic of discussion for several years. While this idea has yet to come to fruition, we believe that it is still a good idea and all organizations continue to strive to bring their competitions to a level where IEC would be possible.

As for whether these items are costly and wasteful endeavors, this is something the National Executive disagrees with strongly, and we believe many of our members would echo this statement. CE Courses have proven results, the CFES Training Program is full of energy and promise and IEC is something we plan on revisiting at a better time. These initiatives are anything but wasteful, and further the core vision of the CFES - that of empowering Canadian engineering students to become unparalleled professionals in their field. While the funds invested in IEC have yet to pay off, and past cancelled programs such as CFES Cafe did not repay their investments, the members decided that these programs were potentially great additions to the CFES and were willing to put the money behind them. If we as an organization are not willing to take risks and explore new opportunities we will become stagnant and wither. While not all opportunities pan out, the potential to bring new value to our students is a cause worth pursuing.

To speak to the statement that the CFES should be making efforts in lobbying, we would like to note that this is outside of our current mandate. If you examine the mission of the CFES, one of our three pillars is providing representation on issues relevant to Canadian engineering students. While representation can be connected to lobbying, they are two distinct and different things. We represent the opinions of students to organizations such as the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) and the Canadian Engineering Leadership Forum (CELF) and are consulted in various ways on specific student related topics. We do not currently lobby any body as this would represent a significant shift in our direction and policy, and something that we as the National Executive would not feel comfortable doing without the explicit instruction of the members, as well as significant planning and resources. If this is something that you, the members, are interested in discussing and potentially pursuing, then we are more than happy to have that discussion. Other than the opinion expressed in the "Open Letter To CFES" this has not been brought to our attention and a review of minutes from recent past events highlight that lobbying is not something that you would like to see the CFES pursuing.

The statement that the CFES is the only body with access to the National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science or similar bodies is unfounded. While we certainly have regular contact with these groups, we by no means run a monopoly on their time or lines of communication. As always, if a student has a question about one of these organizations we try to answer it to the best of our ability, but we don’t hesitate to direct them to the source or offer to contact the organization on their behalf.

As an overall note, the CFES is always open to your questions, comments and input. We are a member driven organization and without your enthusiasm, motivation and support we would not be where we are today. The CFES is not a faroff organization closed to your feedback and opinions, we’re fellow engineering students dedicated to continually taking the Federation to a higher level. The CFES is open and available to you and we readily encourage discussion on our direction to ensure that we are serving you to the best of our abilities.


Sincerely,


Rob Stalker
2010-2011 President


Nicolas Blanchet
2011-2012 President


Charlsie Searle
2010-2011 VP Services and Development