Opinion

Attendance woes on council a failure in student representation

Most U of A students can acknowledge that the most disappointing part about our student politics is the general sense of apathy towards it that repeats itself year after year.

But regardless of how engaged the average student is with the minutiae of each individual council meeting, every student should expect to be represented on council by a dedicated student politician.

This is why the most disappointing aspect of students’ council meetings this year has been the dreadful attendance record of some councillors, exemplifying a lack of engagement in the materials council should be debating, resulting in a failure of proper student representation.

Last week, at the Jan. 20 council meeting at Campus Saint-Jean, a topic for discussion late in the agenda revolved around proposing a plebiscite question for council to gauge student opinion on renewing the single-source cold beverage agreement with Coca-Cola. This sounds like a pretty dry issue, but it’s necessary for Students’ Council to review such a question and ensure what it’s asking is fair and neutral.

Unfortunately, the attendance for this council meeting was sparser than usual in the first place, and once the clock struck 9 p.m., enough councillors left the meeting for the meeting to lose quorum — 17 councillors must be present for these meetings to continue — abruptly ending any discussion on the plebiscite.

Students’ council recovered by scheduling a last-minute meeting for Tuesday night to ensure they came to a decision on the plebiscite before the end of the month, but they shouldn’t have had to do this. The matter should have concluded the week before.

Councillors aren’t paid to attend these meetings, or actually given much in the way of benefits at all, really. It can be a thankless, at times discouraging, volunteer position, but every position on council is a necessary one that requires a dedicated representative in its role. This level of representation has to be taken more seriously than a decision to walk out of a meeting before every point of the agenda has been properly addressed. Barring anything short of a personal emergency, if the councillors don’t care about their own meetings, it sends a terrible message to the rest of campus.

Tests will come up and assignments will be due the morning after council meetings — conflicts will happen. But a truly dedicated student politician will find someone to proxy in their place and ensure their faculty is represented. A failure to do so is just one point on an incredibly long list of reasons the majority of campus remains continuously apathetic towards council discussions.

If council members can’t even be bothered to stick these meetings out until the end, how could they expect any student to be engaged in the decisions they’re making? Those decisions aren’t even important enough to sit through another hour, which gives the impression they’re not important enough for the average student to find out about the next day.

Specifically, the students in the Native Studies, Pharmacy and Physical Education faculties should be outraged, if not embarrassed at the records of their councillors. The lone representatives from the Pharmacy and Phys. Ed. faculties each have attended less than half of council meetings this year. Meanwhile, the lone Native Studies representative has attended less than 40 per cent of council meetings this year.

A student councillor not showing up to these meetings indicates a lack of representation and a lack of any voice for an entire faculty of students. More should be expected from our councillors. It’s a shame this campus isn’t more engaged in student politics to single out the worst culprits of these low attendance marks, and call them out to perform better.

The council oath at the University of Alberta includes the line “I will take the job seriously or not take the job at all.” It’s about time all of the U of A’s students’ council takes heed of these words and lives up to them.

3 Comments

  1. Back in my day leaving at 11:30 pm was maybe acceptable if you had to… but still ONLY if there would be quorum without you!

  2. It’s just as embarrassing when the half of council that is actually in attendance is scrolling through Facebook and paying no attention to the meeting at hand. That was my biggest issue with council.

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