To get good insightful answers, how the question is framed matters. I missed an opportunity on Thursday
The recent SFSS situation at Simon Fraser University marks a new era of student governance. Not only at SFSS, but across all of Canada.
What do I mean?
I mean that this is the first true example of a students’ union being held to account by students in a meaningful way since, well, I do not know but it has probably been awhile.
Why does it matter?
It matters because students easily pay over one hundred million dollars into students’ unions each year. For the kind of money that students’ union have, they have little accountability to go with it. This is primarily because so many student union executive are cliques of friends, they are only short-term, students’ tend to be secretive, and it is hard for someone to try to hold them accountable. Basically, Student Union fees are one of the larger expenses for students especially when a student has to pay into a Health and/or Dental plan.
(aside: there is an interesting discussion about the CFS run Health Plan which is the largest student health plan in Canada in the comments thread of a StudentUnion.ca post here: http://www.studentunion.ca/2006/09/update-on-sfu-health-plan-politics.html#comments) (aside two: No one knows how much profit the MSU Dental Plan made for the private company that runs it, but it is likely very high. The MSU has stated that it is not in the best interests of students to have a dental office on campus…… ummmm… cause we may use our dental plan decreasing profits for the private company that won the gift-laced bid for the contract?)
One of the common things that occurs at Students’ Union especially B.C. is that a slate will run together, win the Executive positions, and then begin to fire staff who are not aligned to their political view or are not blinded into a “political party”. Most often this means they are not CFS-friendly staff. Normally, these firings are dirty and occur during the summer. Since the Executives have this power, it is legal. It is done quickly and even if there is a bit of outrage about it, it quickly subsides. This is primarily because there is no vehicle of communication to let people know what is going on.
What has changed?
When the CFS-friendly SFSS Executive decided to remove a staff member who worked with graduate students, they did so right at the beginning of August. This is a time when student newspapers are not normally publishing, students are off-campus, and things can occur “quietly”. The difference today is that there are blogs. Blogs can be viewed and read anywhere there is Internet. This means that all it takes is one person to expose what is happening and it is known. Blogs allow for comments in most cases, meaning people can communicate there feeling on the issue. No longer can Students’ Unions ignore their membership. When the SFSS Executive fired a staff member, people asked why. There is no answer. Then people figured out it was likely because Graduate Students choose their own health plan provider and this was not the CFS provider. The staff member in question was implementing the will of graduate students. The SFSS President was clearly on the record not likely the decision of health plan provider by the Graduate Students.
Quickly, an established blog wrote of the situation.
StudentUnion.ca was this established blog and it wrote the following: Great Moments in Human Resources Management
This blog linked to articles in the student newspaper at SFU: The Peak
Next, two blogs showed up on the internet: SFU Democracy Now! and SFU Students for Democracy. These blogs allowed students to communicate with each other, share information, and investigate what was occuring. These blogs also kept track of events happening on campus such as faculty association meetings and statements by the SFSS Executive. As more information came out, it was clear that a huge abuse of power had occured. Students were able to know all this because of the internet.
SFU Democracy Now! became and remains the leading site for information on what is occuring at SFU with the SFSS. Soon after a new site appeared from a group called Students for a Democratic University. They were leading a petition to impeach the SFSS Executive members responsible for the sacking of a staff member and all that had happened. This meant that students were informed enough to take action. All this succeeded in getting a petition signed and delivered. The Executive ignored the petition. Students decided that the SFSS Forum would be the method to demand a Special General Meeting. The Executive cancelled that meeting. Students meant anyway.
All this would not have happened had it not been for blogs. Here are a few other blog posting on this issue:
- Feeling Scared… on Lydearlook!! blog
- Gotta Love the Spotlight When it Burns and You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar… on Tisk Tisk Miss Menzies
- You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry on Distracted by Shiny Objects: The megalomaniacal rantings of Noah Adams
- Hundun on LiveJournal
All that from a quick search.
In short, the Internet allows for student to inform other students of poor practices at their student unions. It allows them to organize and attempt to force democracy and accountability to truly exist in their Students’ Unions. Now we will see if they succeed. I think they will!
(As an aside, I was just reminded of something. You get what you pay for. I bought a replacement A/C Adapter online from E-Bay a few weeks ago. It took forever to arrive. Anyway, it was cheap $30 compared to $130 for a replacement A/C Adapter at Future Shop. I thought great, I am saving $100 bucks. Anyway, it just caught fire while I was writing this post. No worries, I realized that I had a problem when my laptop was no longer getting power and there was a flash in the corner of my eye. I unplugged the damn thing and was left with melted plastic. Thankfully, it did not damage anything else. More luckily, I was not at home where it would have been on my carpet and could have been plugged in while I was sleeping. First thing in the morning, I have to go get myself a new A/C Adapter at Future Shop. I have had the kind the sell at Future Shop, they are safe. I lost my last one (left it plugged in at school when I went home one night))