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Lessons to learn from other student unions

by Archives November 21, 2001
NEWS ANALYSIS

With many questioning the usefulness of a student union, perhaps it is time for our own CSU to take a look at the experiences of other student unions and draw some conclusions about what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Concordia needs four strong faculty unions that can work with the CSU so they can represent students as a whole. At this point, all except the association representing arts and science students (ASFA) is in a fairly decent situation. ASFA only really started a few weeks ago when their request for funding was approved.
But it’s not enough that they exist and that they are strong. They must actively consult each other on matters that of a general interest to all Concordia students. There exists an official body in the CSU structure, the senate of faculty associations, where this kind if discussion normally takes place. Last year’s union made an attempt to revive it, but it is unclear at this moment whether it is still active.
Frequent discussion between the five parties will not only avoid unhealthy political rifts, but will give all the representatives a decent idea of the prevailing opinions in each faculty.
Voting procedures mostly okay
Referendums seem to be a rare event at other institutions, while the semesterly votes seem like institutions themselves here. Other student union leaders described referendums as administrative exercises used for the most fundamental or important matters only.
On the positive side, fewer referendums may cause less strain on the elector: there will be fewer decisions to make at the polls. It may even reduce the number of posters up on walls. However, referendums are powerful tools used to gauge public support for union ideas. It will be difficult to strike the delicate balance between lack of consultation and excessive political enthusiasm.
Last year, some union councillors dabbled with the idea of introducing fixed quorums for CSU general assemblies. This should be avoided at all costs. UQAM’s general assemblies function on the basis of moral quorum: a meeting can continue no matter how few people are attending, unless someone stops and questions the validity of the meeting due to its poor attendance.
Right now, the Concordia Student Union is directly elected by students. There is no reason to change that policy. Others should consider adopting Concordia’s rules. The system at the University of Montreal allows for indirect election of the president and his executive by appointees of faculty associations. This places the president quite far from his constituency, no matter how many classes he decides to take to make up for this.
Elected vice-presidents, please
What the union might consider changing is the way vice-presidents are elected. At this moment, vice-presidents are forced to form slates with an aspiring president. This precludes the possibility of choosing vice-presidents for their individual talents, which is the way it is done at McGill. Besides, since the union as a whole is supposed to be representative of students, why should the executive not be at least as representative as the student council?
An interesting concept Concordia could consider is to cap the number of years anyone can serve on the executive or on council and have even stricter rules of the number of classes executives and councillors must attend. This is the case at the University of Montreal, where executives must leave after three years of service. Moreover, they are required to attend two classes per semester (the requirement is one at the CSU – but then again, it was zero just two years ago).
It might be too late to entertain these ideas for the immediate byelection. Nevertheless, all Concordia Student Union members should come up with their own ideas to make that institution as democratic as possible.
It would be wrong to think that the student union as an institution is completely useless and a waste of time, effort and money. CSUs of the past have been successful in securing the freeze of administration fees, eventually leading to the promise to eliminate them, for example. They’ve even had splashy orientation events and other student activities.
The experience of the past CSUs and that of the other student unions in Montreal only shows what can be accomplished if students are implicated in the process, and what happens when only a minority decides to participate.

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