ON SUNDAY, THE Board of Administration (BOA) voted to dissolve the Student Arbitration Committee (SAC) and replace it with the Constitutional Committee, which will be made up of Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) executives and BOA members.
Before its demise, the SAC consisted of nine students: Two in common law, two in civil law, one in administration, and four from other faculties. The students who filled the SAC were recommended by the president of the SFUO, the chairperson of the BOA, and the chief arbitration officer, and these appointments were subsequently ratified by the BOA.
The SAC served as an independent, unbiased body tasked with the interpretation of the bylaws, policies, and resolutions of the federation; determination of the constitutionality of these documents; imposition of sanctions on members of the federation and its groups; and ruling on disputes involving the federation. The SAC, more or less, oversaw the work of the SFUO and BOA, and in doing so, one of the most valuable qualities of this committee was its independence from the bodies it advised.
But the foundation of the SAC’s autonomy is the reason it’s been deemed undemocratic by the BOA: It was made up of appointed individuals rather than those chosen through an electoral process. And so, as of Sept. 18, the Constitutional Committee—which will consist of five SFUO directors and two alternatives in the case of a conflict of interest—became responsible for arbitrating disputes and interpreting the rules that govern our student federation.
Perhaps allowing unelected students to make important decisions without the consent of the student body is undemocratic; however, if the election of BOA members implies the student body has faith in the ability of those members to represent their interests, then it stands to reason students trust their ability to ratify the appointments made by the SAC and to challenge them when necessary—right?
I mean, that’s the principle behind representative government after all, and while it may not be perfectly democratic, it is more legitimate than allowing a governing body to act as a check on the decisions it makes. This decision is analogous to eliminating the Supreme Court of Canada in favour of members of parliament acting as the country’s highest court of appeal.
What if a problem arises within the SFUO or BOA itself? How will issues be investigated, mediated, and regulated? It would be difficult to trust the Constitutional Committee with this task, especially if making one decision instead of another is in the best interest of the board or the executive. There’s a reason those responsible for interpreting the law aren’t elected, and there’s something to be said for apolitical arbiters of the laws made by partisan lawmakers.
The SAC is not without its problems. For the past three years, the committee has not been filled. Whether it’s been because of a lack of applicants or irresponsibility on the part of the hiring committee, this body has ceased to exist—even when students have needed it the most.
But broken or not, the committee is governed by the right idea: Impartiality of its members—members who have no vested interest in the outcome of a decision because it does not directly affect them. Can the same be said of the Constitutional Committee, where members would be expected to thoroughly investigate and rule on issues when their fellow directors are involved?
This concern is exacerbated by the rapid realization that the BOA is filled with like-minded individuals this year. Although great minds think alike, it’s diversity of opinions that allows for intellectual discussion and change where necessary. And when a motion such as this one passes 29 to one with the debate limited to its wording, it is obvious diversity of opinion is lacking on the BOA.
Students need to realize the dissolution of the SAC means that if an issue arises with the SFUO or the BOA, they now have no impartial and unbiased body through which they can launch a formal complaint. These bodies, though democratically elected, just voted to become their own judge and jury in cases where they may be the defendants—and out of 35,000 students at the university, only one attempted to stand in the way.
If students don’t demand accountability, nobody will. If this issue is not brought to light, then this significant change will go unnoticed. Opting to eliminate the SAC over addressing its weaknesses will only cause more problems in the long run, and it’s time students realized this and took action.