Editorial – What Do We Stand For?

Last week we had an article from Barb Lehtiniemi about some of the dangers that come from changing the bylaws, as well as a letter from Colleen Doucette, the outgoing VP External about student engagement, and that got me thinking. We also received a response to Colleen’s letter from another student, where she argues that AU is a very different school and so hoping for a large student engagement, especially for a synchronous, telephone meeting, simply isn’t very likely.

Then yesterday, AUSU held its annual AGM. Barely. Even though there are nine current council members, and an additional five new councillors-elect, it was still touch and go to meet the ten-person quorum that an AGM requires, as one of the current Council was unable to attend, and only two of the five new Councillors-elect bothered to show up. (Kudos to both Julian Teterenko and Scott Jacobsen for their diligence.)

All of this got me thinking, and my thoughts are that the changes to the bylaws that AUSU is undertaking right now are extremely dangerous. Our membership engagement is extremely low at the best of times. Of the required two consultations AUSU holds for bylaw changes, they cancelled the first one because nobody had indicated they would be attending, and Barb L. was the only student to attend the second one. You can read her article to see how that went.

The issue of student engagement is vital. As Jody W. points out in her letter this week, we’re not students who roam hallways, have common classrooms, or even generally access the various group forums that are available. AUSU shut down their own forum for lack of use, apparently. But why should students bother to get engaged if they know that their voices can simply be ignored. And that is exactly what this change to the bylaws allows.

So if a student union decided to do something corrupt, how would we know? And even if we did know, what could we do about it? This is not a traditional university, so many of the normal modes of protest that students have against university administration or student government don’t exist. We can’t rationally organize a sit-in to disrupt their work, we can’t hold a visible protest that might attract media or government attention, there is virtually no way that we could stop a rogue Council, and That’s assuming we even knew that it had gone rogue. The Voice is not fully independent, as the events of last year clearly showed, and should I get to be too much of a thorn in the side of a corrupt council, it would be quite easy for them to simply get rid of me, and hence The Voice, especially if these proposed changes to the bylaws go through. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this student Council is or even would consider such a thing, or that the new council being sworn in will either. But what about the one after them? Or the one after that?

AUSU is arguing that they’re forced to do this by the PSLA, but let’s consider what would happen if AUSU did not comply. Would the government step in and require they change the bylaws to eliminate the ability of students to govern themselves? According to the backgrounder AUSU submitted today for The Voice, no. They say that the Learning Ministry has “advised AUSU that the Ministry cannot provide legal interpretation of the PSLA”, and that AUSU should simply consult legal advice. And why would the government step in? What government in their right mind would risk the kind of publicity that would come from attempting to do anything to a student union that wanted to give its members more control over the organization?

So if the government isn’t going to do anything about this, and they’ve said as much, does AUSU Council need to be in such a hurry to kowtow to the government to take control of the organization away from students?

After all, aren’t student unions generally the place where bad laws are first put to the test and change sought? When students protested in Quebec in 2012 with pots and pans, those protests weren’t in accordance with the law, but the students’ unions felt that what was involved was important enough that that didn’t matter. The government went so far as to pass an additional law specifically banning the protests around the universities, but that did not stop the protests, either.

And you know what? Eventually the students won. Tuition was frozen, the law banning protests around the universities was repealed. Would the same results have been had if the current Council of AUSU had been leading the group? Once the government said, “This is against the law,” would this Council have had the courage to press forward anyway, to win? Considering that the current government hasn’t even said the bylaws are in violation, yet AUSU is rushing to change them, I think not.

What makes this stranger is that this would be a perfect issue for AUSU to take up with the government, especially an NDP government with a Wildrose opposition, and organize some form of campaign to allow students more power to represent themselves. The opposition would support the idea based on their libertarian principles and that it gives them a new stick to hit the NDP government with, and the NDP government can quickly turn this into a win by amending the PSLA to allow students to set the bylaws of their own organizations at a properly convened general meeting ? thus catering to their generally student-friendly populist base.

Plus, this would then allow AUSU to declare a win for students over government. And what student council wouldn’t want to have that feather in its cap?

So rather than simply accepting that the PSLA requires power to be taken from the students, I’m urging all Council members to vote against this proposed bylaw change on April 14th. Let the current bylaws?bylaws that serve to encourage student engagement, that better acknowledge the unique nature of AUSU, that better address the additional risks that AUSU faces due to how our students are dispersed and decentralized?let those bylaws stand unchanged, and instead put your energies toward challenging the Alberta government on this issue, for a principle that won’t just benefit AUSU, but will benefit students across the province.

That’s my take on it, anyway.

As for the rest of the issue? It’s a pretty good one. We talk with Dr. Maiga Chang from the School of Information and Computing Sciences, have a closer look at Comp 266, and Barb L. has found an interesting tool to help you judge if a course might be right for you, because, hey, we’re all in this together, right? Plus, of course, some news, some reviews, and a bit of advice for how to get through your studies on your own two feet.

Enjoy the read!

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