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The state of the Union

author: victor oriola | contributor


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EIC”s note: The author of this piece is a current employee of URSU 

 

Student government exists in a unique ecosystem. It doesn’t have a lot of money pouring into it, so grassroots activists and revolutionary ideas are not uncommon. However, the short tenures and changing circumstances mean most student bodies are only ever one or two incidents away from a crisis. It might be hyperbole to say that our dear URSU is in a crisis, but if not a crisis, then what? 

URSU has been faced with setback upon setback. The impromptu resignation of the president just as the semester commenced surely threw a wrench into the agenda that would have been laid out for this academic year. The by-elections to fill this vacant role didn’t succeed in remedying the situation, either.  

For the third consecutive election cycle, the results of the by-election have been controversial. These controversies allow for the conspiracy theorists amongst us to speculate as to what schemes the supposed sinister puppet masters behind the scenes are concocting. Constant instability when it comes to electing new officials impugns the integrity of our voting process and this could make the calling of public service unattractive to qualified candidates. The abrupt resignation of the VP external completes the trifecta of unfortunate events that have rocked the organization. It is incredibly difficult to plan months in advance when you’re unsure if the people you’re planning with will be there next week. That the organization continues to run with some semblance of coherence is testament to the honest and diligent work that the competent career staff put in daily.  

Unfortunately, there are real-world consequences of the constant changeover. For one, the URSU pantry has floundered this semester. Whilst it is unfair to attach this to the actions or inactions of any one person, the pantry is an initiative that could have benefited greatly from the close attentions of one or more executives. This is not to disparage the good work that the executives put in, but disequilibrium is not a good environment to produce good results.  

URSU, unlike a federal government, doesn’t have a Congress. The members of the board (despite their best efforts) are limited in their ability to oversee the activities of the executives. Perhaps this is a result of the sparse number of candidates running for board positions, frequently resulting in one too many positions being left vacant. Students can only vote for candidates who are on the ballot, but if there are no candidates for whom the students can vote, the power of the vote is to some extent nullified. 

Fortunately, there is more in our collective arsenal as the electorate than the powers we exercise at the ballot box – or in our case, the Self-Service portal. We have the AGM. This is not to suggest that the AGM is a miracle solution to all the shortcomings of our electoral process. Our AGM, in its current format, is bedeviled by problems of its own. Too often, the agenda can be hijacked by one or two people and used as a venue for political grandstanding, as we witnessed in the most recent one. It is not uncommon to have an AGM turn into an arena of verbal pugilism where people take shots at each other instead of debating the matter at hand on its merits. 

Despite all of these flaws, our AGM is essential to ensure that our democratic process works as it was intended. The executives, the members of the board, and the career staff of URSU work at the pleasure of the students. The AGM is the platform with which students can voice their displeasure or approval directly to the powers that be. It allows our students the opportunity to occupy the driving seat and bring about action in any issue that concerns them. For instance, the issue of URSU’s relationship with the CFS has been addressed in consecutive AGMs and decisive actions have been put in place that would not have happened otherwise.  

The dust is yet to settle from the almighty confrontations that graced this year’s AGM. Restrictions on executive tenure and new accountability measures are just a few of the motions that could potentially change the landscape of URSU for years to come, or at the very least, until the next AGM.  

As with any significant issue, there is staunch opposition and support on almost every point raised at the AGM. Disagreement is not inherently bad. In fact, it is often a sign of a healthy democracy. Disagreement is evidence that, in our student body, we have independent thinkers who are passionate about their opinions and are willing to defend their opinions. An abundance of independent thinkers allows us to have a marketplace of ideas, where we are constantly assessing various ideas and solutions. The continued existence of a marketplace of ideas is essential to the functioning of our union.  

Every additional voice that contributes to the conversation enriches public discourse. This year saw the addition of new voices and new faces to the public conversation, signaling perhaps that a new wave of interested participants are about to assert their influence on proceedings just as the old guard is gradually being phased out. 

Even though the names and faces of the major players are likely to be different come next year, I hope that the nature and the spirit of the AGM remains unchanged. Only the ideas that are able to withstand the attrition in this unique gladiatorial setting are deserving of a thumbs up from the students who hold court annually at the AGM. 

The State of The Union…will be determined at its next AGM.

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