It wasn’t a crowd – the University of Regina Students’ Union’s annual general meeting made quorum easily. It wasn’t engagement, either, since students on both sides of any given debate were unafraid to approach the mic.
What was missing, it seemed, was trust in URSU. And what was also missing was unity.
The Canadian Federation of Students referendum brought students into the fold in terms of engagement with their campus, but it appeared to have been incredibly divisive. Now, after an AGM along which stark lines of policy were drawn, it’s safe to say that it just marked out where those divisions were.
Some students brought placards demanding the release of the CFS referendum’s results; the referendum, held in October, has still not been resolved. URSU told students at the AGM to wait, as the matter is currently being mediated by the courts. It’s clear that some students have lost their patience, and the announcement that details couldn’t be discussed due to the court injunction didn’t help that.
Most of the students who came to express their displeasure with URSU, however, looked to be upset with the current executive on a broader level. They rallied behind motions to curb the power of the current executive, arguing that the time and resources afforded to incumbents can outstrip and help to outflank challengers. Although one of those motions was defeated, the margin was slimmer than I’m sure URSU’s supporters would have liked.
It was URSU’s supporters who made the debates really interesting. Many of them made the argument that, if students want change, they should turn out in the general election and vote. During one such exchange, student Mike Young got as far as saying “if you want change” before someone in the audience shouted, “That’s why we’re here!”
The argument that change was for elections and not the AGM could easily be taken as patronizing, and it’s tough to blame any student who attended and felt a bit looked down upon. While URSU’s executive did respond vocally to arguments – and, it should be noted, they usually included direct references to other speakers’ arguments when they did so – they also spent much of the meeting looking at their cell phones, a fact which didn’t escape the eyes of some students with Twitter access.
“Honestly, if you’re sitting on the stage, don’t text your bros,” wrote one user. “You’ve all been so disrespectful this entire time.”
A lot of students seem to feel neglected by URSU, a body that, instead of offering to negotiate and to represent students further, responded to criticisms with a thinly veiled variation on, “Why don’t you do something about it?” Many of the students who turned out to the AGM clearly don’t trust the current executive anymore, and those members of the executive planning on running for another term now have ahead of them the difficult task of rebuilding student confidence. Or – and I sincerely hope this is not the case – they may decide that they’ve lost these students’ trust altogether and, instead, rally enough support from people who do trust them that their opposition will be outnumbered.
Whatever URSU’s executives decide, they have a long, hard task ahead of them. Elections are next month. Who students will decide to trust remains to be seen.