If URSU wants relevance, it needs to get out of its offices.
As URSU elections go, so do calls for explanations as to why URSU is relevant to students. Just two weeks ago, I met a friend of mine near Riddell and he asked me why all these posters were springing up around campus. When I told him that there was an URSU election campaign going on, he expressed the by-now stereotypical U of R student reaction of being surprised that there was an election going on. Indeed, I predict that student turnout will remain as low as ever for this election; maybe the effect of Devon Peters will boost turnout. However, I believe that there is a course of action that a new URSU executive could take that would restore relevance in the organization. Put simply, the University of Regina Students’ Union should perhaps start acting more like an actual union for students.
When thinking about URSU, I am sometimes surprised they use the word ‘union’ to describe themselves. When people hear this word, they automatically associate it with strikes, labour disputes and wage bargaining. When was the last time URSU did any of that? I am not suggesting that they actually do that (it is difficult to conceive what a student strike would look like), but I will point out that URSU seems very apathetic for an organization that is meant to defend student rights. Students pass through the halls of the Classroom and Education Buildings without being aware why they need an organization to defend their interests. They probably don’t consider being a student as essential to their interests; it’s all about doing your time and then getting a job or moving on to grad school. As I said before, the U of R is in some ways an extension of the Regina high school system. This translates to viewing student governance at the U of R as unimportant, much like a high school Student Leadership Council (SLC) is.
Personally, I feel that URSU could solve their apathy problems by simply renaming themselves the U of R Student Council and acting just like a SLC. This would absolve them of most of the burdens of staying relevant. However, I do not want this; I want an URSU that remains relevant in the eyes of students. The main problem is, though, that students won’t appreciate the importance of URSU until they need it. The hallmark of a decent system is when people aren’t aware that it is working: see the post-WWII welfare state as an example. There are a lot of things wrong with the U of R, but on the whole, students don’t seem concerned with them. This in turn gives URSU less of an incentive to rock the boat by criticizing the administration. Therefore, I feel that the best thing the next URSU executive can do is to make more of an effort to hear from students. The best model I can think of would be the university library’s pop-up librarian, where library staff just set up at random places in the University and help students know who they are and what services they offer. It’s not enough to just do a Welcome Week; it will require constant practice to do this.
Honestly, I’m in my last year here at the U of R. In all this time, I have only gone to URSU to get monthly bus passes and/or use some of their office equipment. I can say that URSU has helped me maintain a somewhat normal life here at the U of R. Yet, I know that this doesn’t apply to everyone. I wonder if URSU could have pressured the University administration to do more about, say, the plagiarizing Engineering profs who got away with nothing but a fee. And to incumbent President Devon Peters, the fact that you limited the rate of tuition increases doesn’t change the fact that students saw their tuition rise. URSU seems more like a management organization than a body dedicated to representing students.
If its members want students to take more of an interest in them, they should take more of an interest in students.
Editor’s Note: The time passed since the conversation with said friends has been changed from the print version to reflect the passage of time since the conversation happened.