I have to say that I am impressed with this editorial. I see no fault with UMSU standing up against Administration on the U1O issue, and I disagree with the Toban Editor-in-Chief on that. I do disagree with the UMSU Tuition Policy (freeze for now, then eventually free tuition), I do however fully support UMSU’s efforts publicly. Once the debate is done, students must unite beyond a position. That is the reason that I disagree but work to further the goals of UMSU.
Enough of me, to the good editorial:
Standing up for UMSU . . . sort of
written by: Carson Jerema
Standing up to the U of M administration is something that the UMSU executive prides itself very highly on, but as the spat over participation in University 1 orientation illustrates, the union has less of a voice than it might like to think.
Since University 1 was established, it has been the convention that along with the U of M president Emöke Szathmáry, the UMSU president would also get the opportunity to address incoming University 1 students at the official welcoming ceremony. This year that did not happen. The change to the structure of orientation precipitated a squabble that in the end was indicative of the negative relations between UMSU and the university, and neither side is blameless.
U1 apparently offered UMSU a number of less high-profile ways they could address students, such as sharing the stage with faculty deans as opposed to having the stage to themselves in the same way as Szathmáry — an offer UMSU rejected. UMSU wants to integrate U1 orientation with their own welcome back and gain a greater role for the union, which is likely why they rejected a reduced role.
Whatever UMSU wants, it does not stand to reason that they should be entitled to any involvement in U1 whatsoever. The U1 orientation is supposed to introduce students to academics, as contrasted with UMSU orientation, which is supposed to introduce students to student life and contribute to the building of new friendships with live music, beer bashes and pancakes.
That said, University 1 (and, more broadly, the administration) was wrong to change the convention. Allowing the UMSU president an opportunity to speak to incoming students, while not intrinsically necessary, is beneficial as it is an attempt to give new students a broader introduction to the university — to help illustrate that school is not only about books and exams, and that students do have a chance to take part in university governance.
While U1 did offer a participatory role to UMSU, the proposed reduction of involvement, appears to have had more to do with diminishing the role of the current UMSU — with a reputation for being critical of the administration — rather than UMSU in and of itself. And to be fair, UMSU could have accepted U1’s proposal instead of rejecting it outright, even though they did not get everything they wanted.
UMSU began taking a more confrontational approach toward the admin when Amanda Aziz was elected president in 2004. This trend has continued and is likely to continue under current president Garry Sran. They stage protest after protest, crying blue murder every time the administration hints at raising fees, and Szathmáry is often portrayed as some ogre crushing the bones of helpless and oppressed students.
When addressing students at previous U1 orientations, Aziz engaged the neophyte students in chants along the lines of “education is a right . . . we will not give up the fight,” or something equally uninspired. According to U1 director Christine Blais, UMSU made derogatory comments directed at the administration during Parents’ Day in March. More recently, in an article published in the Winnipeg Free Press in August, Sran along with Graduate Students’ Association president Meghan Gallant and CUPE 3909 president Dorothy Wigmore, attacked Szathmáry and other administrators for being paid too much.
It is becoming clear that UMSU’s proud (some would say immature) confrontation with the administration has backfired as the university has been increasingly dismissive of the union, with the controversy over U1 orientation being only the latest example.
Another example was the selection of the student representative to the Board of Governors finance committee. While it is not required that this student representative be from UMSU, there is a long-standing convention that it be the union president. This year Sran was shut out from that role. This is unfortunate.
It does not take much conjecture to see that reducing UMSU’s role in university governance and in U1 orientation is quite obviously politically motivated. This is the administration’s response to UMSU’s persistent criticism, and frankly the union is right to complain.
Yes UMSU can be a nuisance. Their preoccupation with the tuition freeze probably contributes to the apathetic climate that U of M students are notorious for. Many, if not most, students feel unaffected by marginal fee increases. In the absence of a serious effort by UMSU to bring to light issues that would be of more relevance to students or actually doing more to contribute to the student community, many students are comfortable in the blissful ignorance of going to and from class without paying a wink to campus politics.
But the administration, by working to dismiss (some would say silence) the union, is setting a questionable precedent, one in which consultation with the union is permitted or not based on the politics of student representatives in any given year. It is unproductive and will do little to encourage student leaders to stop their well-worn tactic of demonizing administrators.
Perhaps this is how both parties want it. Working to shut out UMSU, even in a piecemeal way, removes a headache from the administration and at the same time continues to give the union an enemy against which they can rally whatever supporters they have.