By: Yukon Damov
Don’t let anybody tell you campus politics is not about personality or petty and internecine squabbles — by now, you should be able to beat them to the punchline.
You can also tell them it makes for meaningful drama. That, yes, it can appear small-minded. And, yes, what is there to show for it all? The drama’s actors are continually learning their parts, waiting for their cues and improvising — on a small stage and for a small audience.
Yet all of it is not without its merit or relevance to students.
This year’s elections for UTSU Executive positions find the Team Renew slate running unopposed. The reasons the almost-rans didn’t run has much to do with what has been going on all year — electoral reform and (for short-hand, not the sake of spreading misinformation) defederation (the union’s not a federation, etc).
It began in November with the first General Meeting. Usually, there is only one GM per year. It was an unusually well-attended meeting. The lineup to get in curved around two corners of hallway; some people were waiting for more than an hour for entry.
Depending on who you ask, due to miscommunication or a technicality or wrongdoing, Trinity co-head Sam Greene’s item for election reform was not on the agenda. Greene made a speech at the meeting denouncing the whole agenda-creation process as “unfair, un-transparent, and undemocratic.” The meeting ended shortly afterward as the agenda was rejected by membership. No business was conducted; uncertainty ensued.
During the second General Meeting, at the point when members were debating electoral reform, it was noticed that quorum was not met, as the UTM students had left. The meeting was adjourned.
Next Tuesday and next meeting — all about electoral reform. Students voted to pass the motion; students left.
Unfortunately, the meeting’s approval of electoral reform could not be implemented in time for this year’s elections. The UTSU Electoral and Referenda Committee had already met, and the Board of Directors — who have final say over election procedures and take direction from the ERC, not the meeting’s vote — was scheduled to meet on Wednesday. Sufficient electoral reform would not be implemented in time to satisfy UTSU opposition.
By Sunday, EngSoc, St. Mike’s, and Trinity College were preparing to leave the union. Paulina Bogdanova, Trinity co-head, told the newspaper that UTSU president Shaun Shepherd’s absence at the Board of Directors meeting was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had said he would come and speak in favour of electoral reform. Shepherd responded that he — “Nobody will believe me”— had thrown out his back while grocery shopping two days before the meeting, and was thus unable to attend. He also had some family matters to attend to that day — namely, an immediate relative who had “almost lost a finger.”
Electoral reform aside, the disgruntled division heads argued that they had had enough of UTSU bullshit and that they could provide the same services (dental and health insurance being the important one), at the same or lower cost to students.
Bogdanova was approached to be a part of the almost-slate for this election; Pierre Harfouche, an executive at the Engineering Society, and Mike Cowan, president of the St. Michael’s College Students’ Union, were also a part of that almost-slate. They chose to stay true to the idea of defederation.
Aimee Quenneville — another part of that slate, from University College — argued that under the current election system she would have no chance against the incumbents, lacking “the manpower or the time as full-time students to go to UTM to campaign for ourselves. We don’t have professional photographers [to be able] to put up the beautiful posters that the incumbents have.”
Strikingly, the execs are all fiercely and genuinely passionate about their position. But if not for campus media finding legs in this story (and bashing our readers over the heads with it), the entire conversation would have taken place in an echo chamber of about two dozen people.
Do these petty squabbles and internecine conflicts merit media attention? They do, if for nothing else than to focus attention on the student union, to highlight questions as to its purpose, its relevance and effectiveness.
The question of the union’s relevance and effectiveness gets lost in the toxic atmosphere of campus politics, where the high-minded talk of dialogue, openness and transparency seem to implode in a cloud of divisive “he said, she said” accusations and counter-accusations.
It’s been a spirited battle this year and the union has something to show for it. Munib Sajjad’s (UTSU VP University Affairs, current UTSU Presidential candidate) work to uncover illegal ancillary fees students pay to the university is the strongest indication of the union’s relevance, considering the union’s job is to serve students’ interests by making university more affordable.
At the same time, the union is on the brink of something unpredictable: an executive slate elected in an unopposed election (minus Sana Ali, former candidate for VP external) plus roughly half the union’s membership gone = who knows?
Moreover, who cares? We as students have a responsibility at this critical juncture to be involved with the processes of defederation and to understand its consequences, not only for the divisions, but for the union and our fellow students who will remain in the union.
Meanwhile, enjoy the show.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/news/lets-talk-campus-politics/.