Fellow students, we’ve just been gangbanged Editorial
by Mark Cluett
Many have accused this writer of being anti-MUNSU – that would be the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union, the elected group of students who represent you when it comes to matters at this university. However, that is just simply untrue.
The problem is the fine line, and the increasing blur between the student union and the local faction of the CFS, the Canadian Federation of Students.
The CFS is one of the largest student organizations in Canada, “representing” students and their unions on a national scale for more than 25 years. They lobby for affordable tuition fees and higher quality education, or in the cases where tuition fees are reasonable, the complete abolishment of tuition fees.
We pay fees to each organization, but what do we get?
For the $38 you pay to MUNSU each term, you actually get quite a bit. MUNSU operates services like the Attic (post office) the Copy Centre, the Breezeway (as much as everyone complains about it, they still go there), a student planner, meeting space on campus, funding for student groups and projects, organization of winter carnival, CHMR, the paltry salaries of your elected representatives, and student representation when it comes to academic and legal matters like tenants rights. And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, they pay some funds to the national wing of the CFS as well.
For the $3 you pay to the provincial CFS you pay for useless rhetoric and the salaries of provincial CFS employees; salaries that you, as a university student, won’t see the likes of any time soon. But this year, MUNSU also gave you an extra special valentine. Last Wednesday, Feb. 14, at their weekly council meeting, the union voted to remove the position of president from the council’s structure. This was moved by current MUNSU President Katherine Giroux-Bougard – who also happens to be the incoming provincial chair of the CFS.
This motion was brought up late in the year, when there was little time to really debate it before MUNSU elections started, at a meeting that dragged on for four hours to ensure anyone that might have voted or spoke against it was drained and discouraged, and left.
Giroux-Bougard said in last week’s issue of the Muse: “[They] found that the president didn’t really have much of a job description to be honest, and [she], as president, [had] found that you’re kind of stepping on other people’s jobs while trying to do your job.”
Tell that to Les MacFadden or Cletus Flaherty, two student union presidents from the past three years, who despite “not much of a job description” managed to lead the union through tough times and strengthen it, instead of stepping on the toes of others. Like Stephanie Power said last week, we should examine and revise the job description instead of brashly eliminating the job.
The president provides strong direction for the union, strong direction that, next year, will be gone, as MUNSU makes the transition from a voice for Memorial’s students, lobbying for causes that affect them, to another rhetoric-spewing arm of the CFS, pushing for tuition cuts that aren’t needed on this campus when other more prevalent issues (student housing, academic disputes) are in need of attention.
It is rare that you see someone write about the CFS, and for many reasons. They are a particularly litigious organization, suing not only those who dare write about them, but also student unions that dare try to leave. Atlantic university student unions like the University of Prince Edward Island Students’ Union, and the Acadia Students’ Union are currently engaged in lawsuits trying to leave the CFS, and that’s just on this side of the country. (For more information about similar situations, visit www.studentunion.ca.)
Another deterrent to writing about the CFS, at least in this province, is the guarantee of a bloated letter from CFS provincial chair Jessica Magalios, heaving the virtues of the organization while simultaneously ignoring any of the points that were brought up in the first place.
My personal favourite piece of letter fodder is when Magalios claims that the CFS’s hard work is what brought a tuition freeze to the students of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Is this the same tuition freeze that happened in 2005? The same year that the CFS decided not to organize a Day of Action and left it to MUNSU representatives (like that “useless” president Les MacFadden)? The same year the provincial government released their White Paper on Education? The same year that Magalios didn’t show up for what was probably the most important government announcement of her career as CFS provincial chair, because she was on vacation? Yeah, I think it was that year.
And the sad part is this discourages anyone from telling both sides of the CFS story. Like the fact that many CFS national staff have not been students for years, are much older then the age of an average student, and just don’t accurately represent the student body they are hired to represent. Take for instance Philip Link, who has been involved with the CFS since the late 1980s. Link was national director of the CFS in 1990 and stayed with the organization for years beyond that as executive director of services, despite not being a student, despite having been charged and convicted of assault, and despite the fact that Link had a reputation for destroying thousands of student newspapers that disagreed with or questioned the CFS.
And sadly, this is just one story. With the elimination of the president, MUNSU will undoubtedly look elsewhere for leadership in times of turmoil. Unfortunately, when they look for a fellow student, they will instead get someone with the interests of a national organization that forgot it had student in its name a long time ago.
Online: The Muse Online