Student politicans capitalize on apathy

By Ruth Davenport

Put your ear close to the ground and you may hear the sound of student dollars being misspent in the name of student apathy.

Last week, members of the Students’ Legislative Council passed a motion–unanimously–to pay each of the newly elected executives up to $500 as "remuneration" for time dedicated to training in their respective positions.

This little manoeuvre was justified by suggestions that the extra money would "attach a certain level of importance" to the training process. In addition, incoming executives must take unpaid hours away from their paid part-time jobs to train adequately, so the money was claimed to be compensation for financial strain during the transition period.

My opinion has pendulumed between objections on principle–$500 shouldn’t hold any more importance than an obligation to 22,000 students (is that what "elected responsibility" is worth?)–and acknowledgement of the practical difficulties of the situation. What bothers me most, and has resulted in my firm and strenuous objection, is the complacency with which this decision was made and the equal complacency with which the decision was accepted.

This campus may have the enthusiasm of a banana plant, but I will never accept that student apathy is any excuse for the same attitude on the part of a student government. The SLC is not a body of people who have the luxury of making decisions uncritically. Regardless of how lazy the student body is and regardless of how little concern they show, the elected student government should always be critical–not complacent–of their actions. Particularly where the dispensation of student money is concerned, the questions that need to be asked, and then answered are: "Is this best?" and "Could it be better?"

I know that the five exec-elect are not people motivated by money, but I will be saddened and disillusioned if I see them accept this remuneration without demanding an exploration of other ways to make the executive turnaround less "disastrous" for all parties involved. It’s precisely these kinds of actions that lend validity to cynical perceptions of student officials as perfidious, money-grubbing, corporate-minded tyrants content to get fat off the funds of the starving students they purport to represent.

Whether elected by five or 50 per cent of eligible voters, I caution the new executives not to lose sight of their obligation to the job they were elected–not hired–to do. If they’ll accept $500 of student money to line their pockets because it’s easy and no one’s really going to notice, I’d ask them to consider a) their motives for being in office and b) how many of us who retain faith in student government will be forced to join the Shouting Little Men every week in condemning the hypocrisy of the SU. I implore–no, I defy–the five executives to not keep their remuneration but to donate it back to a student service on campus as proof that student concerns are always first on their agendas.

Voter turnout shouldn’t be a criterion to determine the level of commitment, or lack thereof, given to an elected position and I’d caution the exec-elect not to subscribe to this fallacy. I know their jobs aren’t easy and are rarely appreciated by the electorate, but I sincerely hope that this under-appreciation will never mean that the "student interests" the SU claims to represent will include cynicism or apathy.

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