Op-Ed

Photo: Marta Kierkus.

GAs provide a much needed chance for student engagement

Most of the time, it’s quite difficult not to be cynical about our student federation. The General Assemblies (GA) held by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) alone tend to raise doubts as to the SFUO’s efficacy, as they have seen consistently low turnout and failed to meet quorum on each occasion.

It is unsurprising that barely 40 people showed up to the last GA, as it was scheduled on a Saturday morning and no motions were submitted. Despite the lack of promotion, the terrible scheduling and the SFUO’s reluctance to adapt with student needs, we should still take the GAs seriously.

As students at this institution, we should be involved in the GAs because they’re our best shot at taking back control of our student union. We need that control.

While tuition fees keep rising, making it harder for us to buy food and pay rent without drowning in debt, the SFUO takes millions of dollars of students’ money each year and spends it on campaigns that have varying levels of visibility and success, services, salaries and more.

In the last Board of Administration meeting, a disciplinary committee presented a report in which they found evidence “that some SFUO employees had been mistreated and used as pawns in the disagreements of others.” Why is this acceptable?

Not to mention that we have such a low rate of student engagement, with the most recent SFUO general elections garnering a humiliatingly pitiful turnout of 7.8 per cent, according to the SFUO.

With these shortcomings in mind, students should think about the GA as an opportunity to drive the SFUO to be the best and most innovative student union in Canada. The GAs are a great chance to show the university administration and the SFUO that students actually care about their money and the policies issued that affect students. If 400 students can’t even show up to something as important as the GA, why should the administration take our issues seriously?

Unfortunately, the trend doesn’t match this sentiment. Attendance at the GAs has dropped from over 300 in its first installment, to 100 in the second round, to less than 50 at the most recent event. The GA is on the verge of becoming just another photo-op, where the SFUO can pat itself on the back and perpetuate the illusion of a student democracy.

Now would be a good time to embrace the GA, and to stand up for ourselves. We have this chance to get real solutions for the real problems that we face on a day-to-day basis. We have this chance and, before it’s too late, we should use it. If the GA fails, we as a student body will be the only ones that suffer.

The GA is the only significant reform the SFUO has made in years—with so much at stake, we shouldn’t let it go to waste.

The next general assembly will be held on March 15 at 6 p.m. in the Marion Auditorium.