Alastair Starke/the Gauntlet

Finding fault with the union

Questioning the authority of the SU

Publication YearIssue Date 

If the Students' Union was a driver, it would be the type that just got its licence, and was put behind the wheel of a $17 million car equipped with a strong radar detector, so that no matter how reckless it became, little would be done to stop it. It just reached the age where it can go buy alcohol and few rules of the road exist. At some point down the road, things got out of control. The truth is the SU is a bigger version of the student governments of high school: they have the same lack of power, but an increased ability to flaunt it.

There are two parts to the SU. The first is the business side of things, which is responsible for MacEwan Hall events, Bound & Copied, the Den and the Black Lounge. The other side is the political representation of the undergraduate community. They hold what amounts to a well-funded popularity contest every year in an attempt to convince us to pick someone that will make the same choices as any of the other candidates. While the two bars might do better being subject to competition, it is the governance side I take issue with.

The campaign strategies alluded to previously are half regurgitated claims for sustainability-- grassroots strategies, blah, blah, blah-- and half the embrace of ambiguity that would put Obama's bailout package to shame. While the candidates are honest enough, these strategies reveal how little change can be wrought at their hands.

I want lower tuition fees. Finding a student that disagrees is like finding a beautiful building on campus. Because such students are lacking, it seems an extravagant tautology to have a board that relays that message to university administration. Similarly, the decision to remove credit card as a choice for tuition payments went ahead because nothing could be done to stop it. It probably wasn't all that bad-- I pay less interest to the university than I do Visa, but the SU did nothing to help.

Bargaining power is absent because as soon as students enter their first year, they are likely to remain for the duration of the degree because of the lack of encouragement to transfer. This is what we would expect to find, as the university as a business doesn't get paid when students leave. Any leverage we have is with our feet: show up or take the trouble of leaving. Any other means to enact change falls on deaf ears.

Worst of all, there are too many things students are not being consulted on. The two-page spread the SU ran in the Gauntlet last week of the survey they conducted last year fails to present the results to the question, "Do you think the SU is doing a good job?" They likely didn't ask, but if they did this year, it's guaranteed the results would not be good for their image. The entire undergraduate community is suffering from a union that thinks it's a government, but doesn't care what the constituents think.

The survey also lacked the question, "Do you think the SU should become the moral authority on campus?" Not once did we ask for someone else to decide what is right or wrong for us to see, nor was permission given to censor what opinions should be aired. It is a remarkable irony that the SU banned a pro-choice group, but assumes its own right to life on every other matter.





Of course the SU is the moral authority on campus. Student politicians know a lot more than non-student-politicians. If they didn't, the 10% of students who showed up to vote wouldn't have voted for them.

In tandem with moral superiority, SU politicians also have something regular people don't have: a job. Combined with their light (if any) course load, this gives the exec copious amounts of free time. Lately, it has been used to collect taxes from all undergrads without any real representation while delegating piousness to the feeble and backwards thinking undergrads on campus that dare challenge UC admin and/or the SU. Sounds a lot like the relationship between the British Empire and her colonies, yeah?

Concomitantly, if elected officials ever held a real job, they would value a dollar to the point that fifteen of them wouldn't vote UNANIMOUSLY to funnel tuition money into a 5 hour party, despite the viable alternative of charging cover. If most elected officials in the SU paid their own tuition, SU capital and fiscal prudence would mean something. Heck, they may actually do something about tuition! But of course, EOs are rich kids, and I haven't met a rich kid that doesn't like to put on a great party for all her pals. Oh, and did I mention that this 5 hour party doesn't have a firm location yet? Yet another fine example of our executive's asinine decision making "ability".

In the real world, the Union is a organization rooted in protest; a group which remonstrates for the marginalized, even if that group goes against the ideology of the exec. In the world of the UC SU, "Union" is just a word on the business card an exec hands out in the first stage of securing a reference letter from admin.

But don't get too worked up! Remember, even student politicians need reference letters. There's no easier way than to achieve this than to waste a year earning salary (off the backs of undergraduates, of course) to do nothing but schmooze with admin.

Another year, more med school applications, more misrepresentation.

I agree with the claim that our SU simply lacks the power and executive ability to challenge the Administration in any way (except perhaps for a few tokens like BSD planning etc).

The SU's biggest failure is widely known-- that of the inability to do anything about rising tuition costs. And sure, we cannot blame our 'government' entirely as the percentage of the student body that actually votes is laughable. It must be difficult to rally campus-wide support for a goal with such an apathetic population. On the other hand, such lack of visible support for the SU should not be an excuse for waning power and a growing insignificance. After all, the SU is still a legitimately elected body with the mandate of representing our interests in the governance of our school. The fact that they need us at every corner shouting our support in the form of rallies and banners in order to institute any meaningful change is a testament to their ineffectiveness as an executive body. They should be acting on my behalf as that is what they were created to do. And lastly, why should the Administration give us equal powers? That would make things incredibly difficult for them in the running of this business of a school.