Did you know that the Students’ Union voted to increase our mandatory membership fees over the next three years? Well neither did I — that is, until last Tuesday, the same day the SU was voting on the matter.
SU membership fees currently cost $39.05 per semester and upon recommendation of the Finance Committee, fees are to reach $48.80 per semester by fall 2018. The increase is meant to cover an operational budget shortfall, which would result from the provincial government’s proposed $15 minimum wage. We know that the SU provides phenomenal services, many of which are vital to student mental health and wellbeing. If increasing membership fees is our only option to sustaining these valuable services in light of an increased minimum wage, so be it. It’s not the increase I’m opposed to — it’s the lack of consultation with students regarding a decision directly impacting their bank accounts that boggles me.
It’s not my intention to discredit the hard work of our SU. In fact, I should preface this by saying I believe President Khinda and her executives are among the most hardworking and effective leaders in student governance. They have accomplished a great deal during their term and our campus community is no doubt better off as a result of their thoughtful and compassionate leadership.
However, there’s only so much that the five SU executives can be expected to carry on their shoulders. At some point we have to look to the 32 Faculty Councillors to hold up their end of the bargain. And, in this case, that end of the bargain is a responsibility to consult with students they represent. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, especially when we’re talking about increasing fees.
You can imagine my shock then as I began to realize our Councillors were previously aware that this increase was coming down the pipe, yet hardly any efforts had been made to consult with the student body. Some Councillors suggested they were made aware of the increase at the preceding SU meeting one week prior, while others noted the conceptualization of the proposal was tossed around as early as the fall. Either way, there was time for Councillors to consult with the students who they represent — the very same students whose wallets will become a little lighter as a result of Tuesday’s vote.
Instead, the majority of Councillors decided to push through the increase in what was described by some as the most contentious meeting of their term on Council. When asked if they saw any value in pausing the process to consult with students or engage their opinion through a referendum, the argument was made that Councillors had been elected to represent the student voice and make these decisions on their behalf.
It was at this point that I became extremely perplexed. Yes, Councillors are elected to represent the thoughts and opinions of the students within their respective faculties. I couldn’t agree more. Nonetheless, in order to represent, you actually need to talk to students and solicit their feedback. From what I could tell, very few Councillors had done this.
How can those Councillors who voted in favour of increasing fees suggest that they have the license to do so when they haven’t even talked to a broad spectrum of students about the issue? Surely they could appreciate that such a decision impacting student wallets would attract a diverse set of opinions.
This all made me wonder whether the lack of consultation was a one-off situation. Perhaps our Councillors were faced with competing demands on their time and unable to consult to the extent worthy of their positions. If that’s the case, I get it. Life happens. We’ve all been there.
What I hope this isn’t indicative of, however, is a trend where our Councillors are elected to office and forget that it is the student voice they are representing — not their own.
To help answer this, ask yourself, have your heard from your SU Councillors lately?