The 2016-17 year has been an annus horribilis for the SFUO: multiple U-Pass scandals, executives suing and bullying each other, an utter lack of transparency, stripping back most of the GA’s powers without warning, repeatedly violating the constitution, open attacks on the freedom of the press, brutal austerity paired with prolific exec benefits, irregular elections, and the list goes on and on.
The response to the last GA is typical: after it reached quorum for the first time and overturned a massive exec salary hike, the exec chose to belittle the students who showed up, stripped the GA of the few powers it had left, and asked the BOA for an another pay raise.
The SFUO is becoming a corrupt and authoritarian student government. Power is being centralized in the hands of the executive, checks and balances are weakened and close to non-existent, while transparency and the rule of law are shunted aside in the name of the best interests of the federation. Proposed reform and protest that isn’t approved by those at the top of the SFUO is shot down or scorned, while those same ones at the top treat students with patronizing disdain, and then enrich themselves from the public purse.
The SFUO is also becoming a failing student government. Most students spend most of their university lives outside of the little U of O bubble, with the SFUO floating disconnectedly in the distance having little impact in their lives, except for the over $3,000 that it will cost each student by the time they graduate. The SFUO is also failing to have any significant presence in the big issues that students and campus face today, and is losing itself internally in its bureaucracy and poisonous work atmosphere.
It’s long past time to say it clearly and loudly: the SFUO needs radical reform, and it needs it now. Without a democratic students’ revolution of sorts, the SFUO risks slipping into a toxic, expensive, unsalvageable, stagnant irrelevancy. The SFUO is broken, but it is still worth saving, and it needs saving. The alternative is unambiguously bad for all of us in this university community.
That reform needs to throw open the doors to the SFUO, prioritize empowering individual students, and should be based on values of democracy, transparency, and student culture. Above all, that reform needs to be real and solid, not just vague rhetoric. Some of the most important reforms are:
- Widespread electoral reform, including online voting, the single transferable vote system, and a “None of the above” option on ballots.
- The creation of the Student Court, as the independent judicial body of the federation.
- The creation of a Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) Review Committee, a big push for CFS reform (such as directly electing Annual Meeting delegates), and a referendum on CFS membership.
- The creation of a Student Centre Renewal Committee, to begin planning a new student centre for campus.
- The creation of a Transparency Review Committee to fix the federation’s lack of transparency and to ensure much greater preservation and access to information.
- A digital federation fit for the 21st century, including a new website, much better use of social media, and e-petitions.
- A clubs system that works, including restoring club funding, much more club support, and a Clubs’ Council.
- A seventh exec position—a VP Student Affairs to manage clubs and services.
- Strengthening our democratic institutions, including expanding the BOA and giving it a more active role, and reinstating the GA as the highest legislative body.
It’s also time for the SFUO to look into moving beyond incorporation and the corresponding corporatisation of the student movement, and should start fighting for provincial legislation on student governance—an Ontario Student Government Act.
In 1965, Jock Turcot said that “unity we shall find in our common goals and interests, as students first, as citizens second, and as human beings of the world.”
Never has unity seemed more distant than it is today. And that, more than anything, is the story of the SFUO to date: the loss of vision and of potential. That potential is not lost permanently though, it’s just a matter of finding it once more. Then perhaps the SFUO can finally find the unity, the pride and the spirit that students need.
—Nicholas Robinson, third-year physics student at the U of O