The key lesson to be learned from the latest SFUO scandal
I write to you in the wake of the latest SFUO scandal to tickle the part of our brains concerned with righteous indignation, i.e. president Rizki Rachiq engaging in large-scale embezzlement of SFUO funds to buy himself luxury goods, including but not limited to visits to a haute-couture hair stylist in Montreal, Louis Vuitton shoes, and a $950 pair of glasses. Indeed, there can be no denying the accusations: Hadi Wess’ official police report, completed with the help of a banker at Desjardins and referencing a paper trail proving the transactions occurred, is incontrovertible. But this letter is not about Rachiq and his almost comical, Gordon-Gekkoesque display of greed. That letter doesn’t need to be written. Nobody needs to have explained to them that this is wrong, seriously, seriously wrong. No, dear editor, this letter is about you.
Not you personally, of course: you, as in, the student body, to whom I refer to in the singular because this scandal is its failure, and the committed work of a small number of individuals within it notwithstanding, it is the student body at large which is to blame for all of this.
Amidst the shock and outrage, I find multiple individuals who affirm that this time, the SFUO is done for. This time, the students will rise up. This time, people will care. And I can’t help but think back to two years ago, when deluded optimists identified twice a week something that Donald Trump had done which would sabotage his presidential run, oblivious to what was really going on and what it signified for all of us. So I have to ask: what’s changed this time? How is this in any essential way different from the fireworks scandal, the salary increase scandal, the bankruptcy scandal, the La Rotonde infiltration scandal? In a healthy democracy composed of informed and concerned students, any single one of these scandals would have been enough to send all involved flying out the door. Instead, we got to watch as Rizki Rachiq ascended from vice-president finance to president over the course of two years during a period of financial irresponsibility and ineptitude which would have made Herbert Hoover blush. Well, I guess at least now we know why the SFUO was in dire straits.
Sadly, the SFUO is not a democratic organization. No, its model of government is apatheocracy: thousands upon thousands of students walking around like the three wise monkeys, basking in the hip, cynical transcendence of political concern as their money continues to be wasted, mismanaged, and now, simply stolen. There is no need, in 2018, to make explicit the analogues here to real-world political events—but those analogues are there, and they should be deeply concerning to anyone who is a student of history and paying attention to what’s going on in the world. The saga of the SFUO is a microcosm for larger events, the display of apathy at worst and slacktivism at best by the student body an excellent explanation for understanding how we got to where we are today, both within and beyond the campus.
I graduated from the University of Ottawa last May. This is no longer my problem. Getting angry about this is just an old habit of mine, this letter an exercise in catharsis. In all likelihood the indignation will subside in the coming weeks and I will forget about all of this and settle back into my docile routine, as I always do. But let me tell you what’s in the cards for the future of the SFUO. This latest scandal, which occurred conveniently in the summer, will do little—if anything at all—to swing the distribution of the vote in your elections, which boast an embarrassing voter turnout of 15% (on a good year). Make no mistake; the lingering smell of voter fraud in the air is not to blame. It is the fault of the apatheocracy.
In the event that I happen to be wrong, and United is voted out, the charge will be led in all likelihood by the campus’ right-wing elements, opportunists who will exploit the anger of the student body in order to get themselves elected on a platform which will plaster up “Vote Against United” like a headliner for a music festival, revealing the supporting acts—the most probable outcome being massive funding cuts for progressive student services and a general desire to dismantle the SFUO rooted in anti-union sentiment—when it’s too late. If this happens, we cannot blame the right wing for the dismantling. It is the fault of the apatheocracy.
When either of these two options come to pass, and you face another election the following year, there will probably be no scandal to make political involvement on campus sexy, the conduct of Rachiq being largely forgotten in a wave of graduating seniors, oblivious freshmen, and the others who remained at the university but rode out the wave of anger. The latest line-up of crooked kleptocrats will leap at the opportunity to get their hands on literal millions of dollars with little to no oversight, a second Sack of Rome led by the Alaric to Rachiq’s Brennus of the Sinones. In a rosier picture, if you’re lucky, you will instead be given the standard fare of ideological crusaders who use their position to play government and bolster their budding political careers, their administration bombarded with scandals which are the paragons of Hanlon’s razor, i.e. “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” This exploitation of public office is not the fault of greed or incompetence. It is the fault of the apatheocracy.
This cycle will repeat itself again and again, semester after semester, year after year. And you lazy, all-too-comfortable enablers won’t do a thing about it.
I dare you to prove me wrong.