Rumbles from the boardroom

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University of Regina Students’ Union board of directors takes on Canadian Federation of Students

John Cameron
Editor-in-Chief

“UPDATE: It’s official, URSU has declared they are against continued membership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).”

That tweet, posted to the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) Twitter feed after URSU’s Oct. 13 board of directors meeting, might come as a surprise to some readers. URSU president Kyle Addison told the Carillon in an interview in the Sept. 16 issue that “to be accountable to our constituents … I want to find out what they think before I take an official position with my presidential position on that.”

When officially announcing their position, however, URSU was careful to identify that its board of directors specifically, rather than the executive, adopted the stance in opposition to the U of R’s continued membership in CFS. In a subsequent interview, URSU vice-president of external affairs Kaytlyn Barber was also quick to make the same distinction.

According to Barber, the motion to officially oppose continued membership in the CFS was brought forward by URSU board of directors member Adam Nelson, along with a presentation in favour of voting “no” on continued CFS membership. At this point, the board voted to remove standard orders, effectively halting the meeting and allowing for one of URSU’s board members to make a presentation outlining the “yes” campaign. The board then returned to the original motion, after an attempt to table it, and voted in its favour.

The board also approved a motion to hire someone from campus to campaign for the “no” side and subsequently provide $3,000 to that campaign. In April, when URSU first attempted a CFS referendum, they had hired representatives for both sides; however, Barber said URSU’s board of directors only voted to hire the opposition campaigner, reasoning that CFS would be sending and funding their own representatives.

“The $3,000 for the ‘yes’ side is being funded by [CFS],” Barber explained, adding, “to our knowledge.”

That “yes” side is made a group that CFS national deputy chairperson Shelley Melanson characterizes as “a combination of elected folks like myself`and then representatives on campus who have either been involved in the Federation’s work previously – so there’s some former URSU executives that have gotten involved in the campaign – and then there’s individual students who got involved with the Education is a Right campaign, or been involved with the National Aboriginal Caucus, and are familiar with the work, who believe very strongly in membership.”

Melanson attended the Oct. 13 board meeting at the request of URSU Aboriginal director and CFS Aboriginal caucus chair Cassandra Opikokew, who sent Melanson a message upon arriving at the meeting and seeing the “no” presentation and its associated motion listed in the minutes.

“[Opikokew] encouraged me to come and participate in the meeting, and to try and get on the speakers’ list so that I might be able to give a presentation on membership, or at the very least be available to answer questions for board members if they had any,” Melanson explained.

That, however, was not what ended up happening.

“It was sort of difficult to follow the meeting,” Melanson admitted. “There was a point where Robert’s Rules [of Order] were suspended and then it was unsuspended. But essentially it came down to the fact that I wasn’t going to be allowed to make a presentation … There was actually a vote that took place on the board asking if representatives from the CFS who are not students would be allowed to speak and that motion failed, so I wasn’t permitted to speak as a result of that.”

This decision confused Melanson, especially given the “no” presenter’s background.

“Unless I misunderstood, my understanding, from what the presenter said, was that he was not a student,” said Melanson. “He had graduated three years ago and was part of the alumni association but was not currently a member of URSU.”

Opikokew was allowed to present on Melanson’s behalf, after which the board made its decision. As a result, the campus faces a referendum that effectively pits its students’ union against a body that ostensibly advocates on its behalf.

But whatever decision the student body makes is a decision URSU is ultimately bound to. Barber acknowledged this; URSU’s plan for a U of R that has seceded from the CFS is mostly provincially-oriented, an approach that offers “better alternatives that have been very cost-effective for us.” Meanwhile, a “yes” vote would have URSU working to “ensure students were getting value for that money, which means we want a staff person in the province, we want changes made so we’re getting the same level of service.”

Melanson suggested that CFS wants something similar, and explained that there is currently a campus coordinator who has been hired by CFS to do provincial work for the duration of the semester while the CFS seeks to hire a prairies coordinator.

“There’s a recognized desire that there needs to be a prairies organizer,” she explained. “The idea is to attempt to try to fill that position before the end of the semester … it’s my hope that we can have that position filled by December.”

Voting takes place in locations across campus from Oct. 26-28. Check http://www.referendumoversightcommittee.ca for information on polling times and booth locations, and go to http://www.cfs-fcee.ca for more information on CFS.

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