Loose Cannon: A student union is as a student union does

Thursday, February 11, 2010

  • The deadline
for nominations in the CSA General Election is this Friday. Let’s have the debate over the future of the CSA

    The deadline for nominations in the CSA General Election is this Friday. Let’s have the debate over the future of the CSA

Written by Greg Beneteau

This Valentine’s Day, send a little love to the Central Students’ Association Executive. They need it.

Following an outcry over the elimination of preferential hiring for marginalized groups, the CSA Exec is again under fire, this time over a proposal to merge the CSA-operated Human Rights Office with its Legal and Legal Resource Rooms to form a new Student Help and Advocacy Centre (SHAC).

By the time this article publishes the proposal will have already been debated at Wednesday’s Board of Directors Meeting, which promises to be one of the longest and most well-attended meetings of the year. (Update: both motions were tabled until the March 10th meeting).

I’m all in favour of castigating politicians for bone-headed moves, and there’s plenty of blame to go around in this fiasco. In the case of Employment Equity, it’s apparent that groups representing marginalized student on campus were not informed that a change was in the works.

Human Resources & Operations Commissioner Josh Gaber, who proposed the change, defended the process by saying the CSA had consulted extensively with the University’s Human Rights and Equity Office.

The HREO, in turn, pointed out that the current policy – awarding jobs to self-identified applicants from marginalized groups if they scored within the top five per cent of job interviews – was nothing more than wrong-headed affirmative action that conferred special status upon certain people, rather than eliminating barriers to equal opportunity.

But if change was needed, fair warning could have been given. For groups that have historically faced discrimination in employment, doing away with the current policy without giving them a voice in the process added insult added to injury.

And the new policy of tracking whether marginalized people are applying for jobs offers no revised strategy for achieving actual Employment Equity, such as doing outreach to marginalized groups.

Some changes were introduced so quickly, they outpaced the very people who proposed them. How else to explain the fact that Academic Affairs Commissioner Nathan Lachowsky and External Affairs Commissioner Momina Mir, authors of the SHAC proposal, have tabled the motion at the same meeting that the Human Rights Office staff gets a chance to respond to it?

Some CSA staff affected by the SHAC proposal had no idea there was anything amiss until last week’s article in The Ontarion – this despite the fact the CSA has a Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner responsible for keeping an open dialogue with the outside world.

That being said, I think the motions should be opposed on the grounds that they were poorly planned and executed, not because the Executive are attempting to destroy progressive student politics as we know it. Others aren’t so sure, and a pamphlet circulating around campus is warning that the leaders of the CSA have “advanced ‘initiatives’ that are regressive and at odds with what student unions are supposed to be doing.”

Reading the “CSA? WTF?” pamphlet, you might get the impression the anonymous authors struggled to fill two whole pages’ worth of grievances against their supposedly tyrannical student overlords.

Charges in the pamphlet range from the inane (the new full-time Policy and Elections job was filled by a non-student) to the false (The CSA doesn’t report its budget surpluses; the CSA’s old hiring policy was “in line” with the federal Employment Equity Act) to the nonsensical (changing executive titles is an attempt at “personal advancement).

It accused this year’s executive of dropping the ball on supporting tuition initiatives like the Canadian Federation of Students “Drop Fees” campaign. In fact, student activism and support for the CFS on this campus has been on life support for several years. It takes more than one generation of leaders to cause the kind of apathetic attitude seen by most students, let alone fix it.

But let’s take their allegations at face value. If it’s true that the CSA Executive is made up of bloodsucking careerists whose primary goal is climbing the corporate ladder, then those naysayers need to step up and offer a different direction for the organization. And while they’re at it they’ll also need to replace the CSA Board, who voted in favour of scrapping Employment Equity.

As luck would have it, the deadline for nominations in the CSA General Election is this Friday. Let’s have this debate in a public forum so that students can decide what direction the CSA should take. As Forest Gump would say: A student union is as a student union does.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question.

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