Joey Coleman: CFS and UMSU Form Front Organization in Possible University of Manitoba Engineering Society Referendum

CFS and UMSU Form Front Organization in Possible University of Manitoba Engineering Society Referendum

I received a tip tonight from a source that the Canadian Federation of Students and the University of Manitoba Students’ Union have created a front known as “Engineers Against Tuition Hikes” to represent their interests in a debate that is currently occurring in the University of Manitoba Engineering Society.

The UMES is considering holding a referendum to look at increasing their tuition.  The increase is meant to bring the UManitoba Engineering Program closer to Canadian Standards.  The proposed increase has widespread support within Engineering and is expected to overwhelmingly pass.

The problems facing Engineers at UManitoba was recently been written about in the Globe and Mail in an article entitled: Cut-rate tuition equals cut-rate education:

At the University of Manitoba, there’s a splendid brand-new building with a soaring, light-filled atrium for the engineering and computer students. The Premier likes to brag about it as a sign of Manitoba’s impressive high-tech future. There’s a building boom in Manitoba, to say nothing of Alberta, and engineering grads are in hot demand.

There’s just one problem. After years of modest operating funding and provincially imposed tuition freezes, the university can barely keep the doors open. The computers in the brand-new building are ancient. Faculty salaries are uncompetitive, and the place is understaffed. Nearly half of the elective courses have been cancelled. Teaching assistants are so overloaded, they sometimes mark only every fifth answer on students’ assignments. Some people even fear the engineering school could lose its professional accreditation. “It’s literally crisis mode,” engineering professor James Blatz told the Winnipeg Free Press.

Nobody would argue that higher tuition alone can fatten up our starving universities. They desperately need more government investment, too. But Manitoba’s engineering students are absolutely right. Cut-rate tuition is a rotten deal if all it buys you is a cut-rate education. Time to pay up, even though it hurts.

This brings this post to the group “Engineers Against Tuition Hikes” is supposedly a grassroots movement consisting of Engineering Students who are opposed to increasing tuition.

So, what we have is a Engineering Society Referendum that is completely independent of UMSU or the CFS.  “Engineers Against Tuition Hikes” is claiming that it is a grassroots movement of Engineers.  They even have themselves a website: www.eathikes.ca.  A source tipped me off that all is not as it seems.  The website is registered by UMSU and hosted by the CFS!  There are no Engineers involved in this website according to its online record at CIRA:

Rachel Gottiff is the VP External of UMSU, a music student, and the Manitoba Representative for the CFS.  (Disclaimer: Rachel and I are friends from my days at UMSU.  I really do not like to criticize her but politics and friendship are separate)

So, here we have outside interference in a non-UMSU referendum.  This has occurred before.

Back in 2001. the Graduate Students’ Association (considered to a be faculty council {at the time} exactly the same as the UMES) was considering joining the CFS.  They were having a referendum on membership.  The referendum was run by the GSA.  The Toban has plenty of coverage of the referendum and the mudslinging politics.  This quote jumps out:

“This is a referendum that is independent of UMSU,”said GSA Executive-at-Large Krishna Lalbiharie. “It’s a graduate student referendum that an undergraduate union is attempting to stymie.”

Lalbiharie says he’s also upset because the UMSU executive didn’t approach the union’s council for approval before sending the mail.

“By what means and whose authority has Steven Fletcher sought in terms of the money that has been spent on delivering the information?”asked Lalbiharie. “It certainly wasn’t something that was approved through a motion of UMSU Council.”

What we have here is a referendum independent of UMSU.  We have UMSU spending money and interfering.  At the time, the Internet was still a bit of a novelty, so a mass mail-out was used.  This would result in litigation (without any the CFS being a direct party to it) and lots of huffing and puffing from the pro-CFS side about how UMSU should mind its own business.  The person making the quote here, Krishna Lalbiharie, became the CFS Manitoba Representative for the 2001 – 2002 term.  This information is found in a rather interesting article “University of Manitoba student newspaper apologizes for plagiarism of WSWS articles” in which Mr. Lalbiharie was caught for plagiarizing many articles from the WSWS and the Green Left Weekly. Mr. Lalbiharie also ran in the 2001 UMSU Election to replace Fletcher as President, despite calling for GSA separation from UMSU.  Interesting, according to this Toban Opinion Column, Lalbiharie was a PAID CFS staffer prior to the GSA joining CFS:

Take, for example, the time just a few weeks ago when the CFS booked a table in University Centre to campaign in favour of a “yes” CFS vote. Instead of waiting until the time reserved for groups like the CFS, they saw fit to misrepresent themselves by booking the space on behalf of a sorority.

A few days later, CFS-paid employee and GSA executive member Krishna Lalbiharie got word that UMSU staff and executive members were working on a mailer in support of CASA that urged graduate students to vote “no” in the referendum. Lalbiharie showed up at one of the UMSU-owned businesses, demanding copies of what the staff were working on, and insisting that he had been instructed by legal counsel to take photographs of UMSU staff. Lalbiharie went on to advise the staff that there could be legal consequences for anyone who participated in the “No CFS” campaign.

In short, the CFS is all against outside student associations involving themselves in student referendums unless that organization is them.  It is hypocritical.  This doublespeak is one of the main reasons that I do not support the CFS.   I believe in student democracy at all times, not just when it is to my personal interests.

Shame on UMSU and the CFS for their hypocritical actions!

How is that going to play out?  I can tell you this, UMSU has made a huge mistake by targeting the Engineering Society.  Can we say student revolt?  The UMSU President is facing a yes/no vote for another term, will this affect it?  UMSU has removed polling stations from Engineering making it difficult for students to vote in this faculty.  Will this be the final straw for the Engineers?  There has been a lot of simmering discontentment
with UMSU in Engineering since the CFS took away t
heir polling station in their referendum.

I have i
t on good source that tomorrow’s Toban is going to further raise questions about the current state of UMSU.

My take:  I believe this is a very dangerous precedence.  The greatest strength of UMSU and the reason I brag about it all the time is the strength of the faculty councils.  The faculty representatives on UMSU Council truly represent their faculties, instead of representing UMSU to their faculities.  I have been informed that this has recently been changing.  This concerns me, a student union is supposed to be grassroots and bottom-up.  Not top-down.  The actions of UMSU in this case are top-down.  Is UMSU’s CFS membership changing its structure?  CFS is a very top-down organization, UMSU was at one point to.  Under the rein of Fletcher it was top-down.  Amanda Aziz did an amazing job in her term as UMSU President in fixing this and restoring democracy in UMSU.  I am afraid that it appears this is all being reversed and the Fletcher years are returning.

UPDATE: I have been informed by a source that there is a rumoured plan to crash the UMES Council Meeting tonight in a massive protest to stop the meeting from proceeding.  I added the word rumoured as I do not believe this one.  It will be an interesting meeting for sure.  The agenda is available here: http://umes.mb.ca/downloads/news/15-07R%20agenda.p…