A picture is worth a thousand words. The scene before us on Saturday was worth a million. Five times holding General Assemblies (GA). Five times failing to reach quorum. All is not five-by-five at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa. I was a member of the GA outreach committee—the committee that failed.
At the GA on Nov. 12, the SFUO executive regurgitated the same old excuses for the failure to reach quorum. Students were once again told that students are apathetic, that promoting the GA is hard, that it’s not the exec’s responsibility to promote the GA.
As someone who worked with the exec on the GA Outreach Committee, I can say that these tired excuses are laughably far from the truth. On the committee, the exec promised to help set up videos to promote the GA. We never heard back. They promised posters. We never heard back. They promised free food. We never saw that. They promised emails—to clubs, to fed bodies, to students. We never really got that. With their help, we were able to be a disorganized committee that talked a lot, but barely did anything.
Now, it is true that there was promotion done for the GA. That wasn’t the SFUO’s work however, but the work of Student Voices-uOttawa, an independent student group of which I am a part. We spent considerable amounts of our money on GA promotion—including posters, flyers, and Facebook ads. We reached out to dozens of clubs and every single fed body on campus. As a small group of full-time students, we did much more than the GA outreach committee to promote this GA.
As a member of the Board of Administration (BOA), I also pushed to improve the GA–notably by introducing a motion that would have allowed the GA motions to be debated even if the GA failed to reach quorum. That motion failed, as all but one of the exec voted against it. And hence, students will not have a direct say on the 10 important motions brought to this GA. Is it surprising that several students came to me after the GA saying they felt they wasted an afternoon by coming?
As a federation, we need to take responsibility for our failure. That responsibility starts by clearly admitting that we did fail. It’s not enough to put on a smile and offer some platitudes about the situation not being ideal. We also need to practice transparency and accountability to a far greater extent—and not just preach them. But most of all, we need to demonstrate a real commitment to change—to building a better SFUO.
It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That is unfortunately where we lie now, stuck in the stagnation of our status quo. The SFUO calls us to behold its works, blind to the empty expanses of the desert that separates it from the reality of students. The status quo isn’t working for students, and we desperately need radical reform—a democratic students’ revolution of sorts.
This is why I am resigning from the GA Outreach Committee—to make it clear that I accept my part of the responsibility for this failure, and to show that the SFUO must change. This is also why I will continue to sit on the BOA—to keep up the fight for students and for a better SFUO.
No matter how lost, how distant the SFUO may be, it is still worth saving. The GA can still be there for students. The long road to quorum can still be walked.
—Nicholas Robinson, BOA Faculty of Sciences representative and third-year physics student at the U of O.