Despite all the craziness that’s happened lately, the Fulcrum still believes that a General Assembly (GA) motion to abolish the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa’s (SFUO) Board of Administration (BOA) is not a sustainable solution to the SFUO’s long-term problems. However, through our work with the student body we have observed a clear desire for change in the mechanisms by which we hold our federation accountable.
While it’s understandable to want to get rid of a body that’s been at the centre of so many controversies as of late, abolishing the BOA won’t get us anywhere. Now that GAs don’t have any binding powers on our student executive, destroying the board would leave the SFUO unable to function. But that doesn’t mean that radical change to how our student government works can’t happen, we just need to propose solutions.
With that in mind, we took the opportunity to speak with editors of student newspapers across the country to get their take on their student federation’s structure, and perhaps bring some new ideas to the table in an effort to sustainably re-structure the SFUO.
University of Western Ontario’s University Student Council (USC)
At the UWO, the USC executives are not just overseen by a board similar to our BOA, but a second governing body called the Council. The roles are distinct in that the Board of Directors handles the financial elements of the student federation, whereas the Council, a student-elected body, represents all faculties and affiliated campuses and deals with the political aspects of the organization.
The executive itself is composed of the president, vice-president, student programs officer, communications officer, and secretary-treasurer.
Members of the Board of Directors are hired by the existing board, and ratified by the council, effectively maintaining student control over all governing bodies of the federation. The board is not affiliated in any way with the university.
Hamza Tariq, editor-in-chief at the Western Gazette, says that having the two governing bodies in place keeps the federation’s executives more accountable to the student body.
“If the executive decided to go off the deep end with a political stance, council could vote against it. On the other hand, the board will step in (if) they are about to do something very financially irresponsible,” said Tariq.
The USC also passed an executive accountability policy that details the performance expectations of the executive, and sets out the specific disciplinary actions required for a breach in the executive obligations.
After talking with Tariq and reviewing the USC structure and policies, there are numerous take aways for the SFUO if they want to meet students’ demands for change.
First of all, the SFUO could institute a body specifically designed to deal with the financial well-being of the federation. Since they have been engaging in austerity measures this year by cutting student services, defunding clubs, and slashing the social events budget, it’s clear that finances are a weak point for the SFUO. A Board of Directors, whose sole purpose is to steer the federation to financial security, seems like a practical way for the SFUO to get back on track.
Failing that (establishing a second body is, admittedly, a lot of work) creating a policy to outline acceptable and unacceptable executive actions, with corresponding disciplinary actions included, would be a major step in winning back the trust of students. After former comptroller general Tanner Tallon revealed scandal after scandal, involving increased taxi usage, excessive Pivik discounts, and hotel room expenses, many students lost trust in the SFUO executives to conduct themselves in a financially responsible way.
An executive accountability policy will not force executives to act responsibly, but it will at the very least set out the necessary guidelines for the BOA to apply a consistent and fair disciplinary action. Arguably, executive behaviour constitutes the reputation of the SFUO. If the BOA were to hold executives accountable with a policy like this, students might start to believe in the effectiveness of this board once more.
University of Manitoba’s University of Manitoba Student Union (UMSU)
According to Craig Adolphe, editor-in-chief at the Manitoban, in many ways, the UMSU functions in a similar way to the SFUO. There is a central governing board similar to the SFUO’s BOA, with executives that handle much of the federation’s day-to-day functions.
The makeup of the board is slightly different, and includes more “community representatives” in addition to board members who represent specific faculties. These community representatives include an international student rep, a women’s student rep, an LGBTQ+ rep, a students with disabilities rep, and an Aboriginal student rep.
The BOA has shown an inclination to move in that direction, with motions to include a seat for international students. However, this motion fails to acknowledge that there are many other groups of students on campus that might require extra representation—Indigenous students, or students with disabilities, for example.
While far wider reforms may be needed, adding more community representatives is one easy step the SFUO can take to introduce new voices and head future problems off at the pass.
Not to mention that with a federation of over 40,000 students, and the current 25 faculty seats on the BOA, adding 10 extra faculty seats to the BOA would bring down the student-to-representative ratio to about 1,000 students per faculty representative. This, in turn, would allow students more opportunities to engage with their student reps.
After all, students are not a homogenous group, and the structure of the faculty representation should acknowledge that. Having community reps similar to those at the University of Manitoba would add to the board member count, increasing opportunity for student engagement, as well as engaging a more diverse profile of students on campus.