Exploring common pitfalls of Concordia’s student associations
With the semester winding down, the current masthead of The Concordian has sat in on its fair share of student group councils, assemblies, and meetings. We’ve seen the admirable dedication of various members who sacrifice free time, sleep, and opportunities in positions that are often overlooked or taken for granted. Depending on what association we’re talking about, the financial remuneration, if any, may very well come out to below minimum wage when one factors the time commitment involved. That these individuals continue to devote their energies to their fellow students cannot be chalked up singularly to a simple calling for politics or a cynical desire for power; quite the opposite, in fact.
Yet over the past few months we’ve also witnessed a broad range of structural deficiencies and methods of procedure that leave the door open to abuses and a lack of transparency that could be rectified with relatively simple procedural changes.
Student groups are ultimately responsible to their constituency, but an oftentimes apathetic student body means even minor mobilization can sweep questions and assemblies via popularity politics. This is unavoidable and common in all elections, and what should be aimed for is not an elimination—this is impossible—but a minimization. Secret ballots won’t eliminate friendship votes, but they’ll help. Greater use of online voting would as well (how often are you called over after class to help sway an election?)
Transparency involves clearly marking past decisions. There is no standard for minute-keeping with some organizations being quite thorough and others leaving much to be desired. If the student body is to have a clear record and evaluate an individual’s voting history, keeping track of how members vote on issues shouldn’t be a choice. (Right now, votes are anonymously grouped by decision and voters must explicitly ask for their names to be noted alongside their votes.)
Another issue is a lack of institutional memory—and once again this is prevalent in some groups and nonexistent in others—as student groups cycle through in a flash with executive terms lasting but a year with the possibility of re-election. Nothing can be done about that, but there are alternatives that should be open to discussion. Perhaps the merits of a staggered election—with half a council elected each semester and where the incomers would be assured on-the-job training by virtue of their real-time collaboration with their senior colleagues—could be debated, though admittedly this has its share of difficulties.
Long histories of mismanagement mean student associations often have bad reputations. They therefore need to be constantly sending a clear message of reform through more ethical management and conduct if they hope to gain and maintain student trust.
None of these tweaks are outside the realm of discussion or impossible to achieve, and after the initial inconveniences of getting used to the new system, maintenance is virtually zero with minimal added bureaucratic strain.