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Deep divide over ASFA referendum

by Gregory Todaro March 8, 2016
Deep divide over ASFA referendum

While some see change as necessary, others fear consequences

Starting on March 16, the Arts and Science Federation of Associations is asking students to determine its fate. Of three referendum questions, one is looking to change the structure and role ASFA plays in student life, and in the weeks leading up to the vote students have taken strong stances either for or against the proposed changes.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

ASFA Council voted during their group’s Jan. 28 special council meeting to send three referendum questions to vote. The question causing the rift is Question Three, which asks students to approve bylaw changes that would fundamentally restructure the organization. The new ASFA executive team would be made up of three positions: an internal coordinator, who would assist member associations (MAs) and internal matters; a financial coordinator to maintain ASFA and MA finances; and an advocacy coordinator, who would deal with all matters pertaining to student advocacy. ASFA council voted to send the official proposal to lawyers, who would then rework the bylaws to create a new structural organization based on ASFA’s suggestions.

In their report, a lawyer from Simkin Légal recommended that a “more prudent course of action would be to delay the process and recommend that the new administration conduct a thorough consultation earlier in their mandate.”

However ASFA president Jenna Cocullo said the bylaw changes represent a necessary move for the future of the organization. “ASFA doesn’t work, and everyone knows it doesn’t work,” she said. Despite the lawyer’s recommendation, ASFA council voted to approve the proposal, which Cocullo said passed without a vote against it.

Students in opposition of the bylaw changes fear a decline in social events for students.The new structure would eliminate the position of VP Social from the ASFA executive, meaning the organization would no longer take on a leading role in organizing events.

“It’s important not just because [we’re] getting rid of student orientation and giving students a chance to bond, but it won’t actually encourage MAs to have their own events,” said Elizabeth Duong, current councilor of the Concordia Undergraduate Psychology Association and Question Three opponent.   

However, Cocullo said the end of the VP Social position will open up the floor for MAs to create their own orientation events.

“Launch [week] doesn’t have to disappear,” she said. “Those [MAs] who want to do events can do them together.”

Cocullo also said the importance of Question Three goes beyond the role ASFA provides for fostering social events for students.

“It’s all about MA autonomy and efficiency at ASFA,” she said. “We can focus less on ASFA and more on MA events.”

While ASFA’s VP finance Christina Massaro is undecided on Question Three, she also believes MAs can get together and create social events for the larger Arts and Science community.

“This way, MAs can do this on a more personal level. ASFA will just be a financial body [for MAs],” she said. “Instead of ASFA throwing events, it’ll be the MAs.”  

Duong said she’s also concerned that the change in structure would mean ASFA will no longer give out academic awards to students. In response to this claim, Cocullo said while standing regulations for the advocacy coordinator don’t specifically mandate academic awards, council could add them to the position’s requirements by a two-thirds majority vote.

Cocullo said there was “a lot of mismanagement” from ASFA’s executives in the past and the new structure would help reduce that mismanagement. Instead, there will be a community-at-large association who would be responsible for events at the MA level. It would be under the scrutiny of the ASFA executive instead of part of it.

Cocullo said she also feared that several MAs including the Political Science Students Association, or PSSA, could leave ASFA if some form of restructuring isn’t approved.

However, PSSA president Jason Poirier Lavoie said this isn’t the case.

“The PSSA’s official position on that issue is that whether it passes or fails, we will remain within ASFA,” he said. “We’ll just be severely disappointed if the members refuse this restructuring.”

“We would strongly implore the members to let it pass,” he added.

Poirier Lavoie also said that for member associations without accreditation and their own fee levy, leaving ASFA would be “suicide.”

“It’s my personal opinion that if an exec were to simply tell you that they want to leave ASFA, they don’t understand what it means,” he said. “Our only source of funding is ASFA.”

While the PSSA plans on announcing its own referendum for a fee levy, Poirier Lavoie still believes “even if we were to successfully acquire this fee levy … the PSSA should not leave, nonetheless.”

“This has to happen,” he added. “It would be a sign that the members don’t understand what’s going on if they were to turn down this referendum.”

Cocullo said regardless of the result, it’s important that Arts and Science students educate themselves on the changes and make their opinions heard at the ballot box.

If students choose to pass Question Three, opponents to the changes said that the future of ASFA is uncertain. Duong feared that new MAs may not be able to form under the ASFA banner because of the elimination of the VP internal position. Cocullo said this simply isn’t the case. If Question Three is voted down, Cocullo herself isn’t sure what will happen to the organization.

“Hopefuly there will be another attempt for a restructuring the year after,” she said. “It’s a matter of finding a change for ASFA that works, even if it’s not this one.”

Both the “yes” and “no” committees established to represent each side of the restructuring debate began their campaigns on March 7. Polling will take place on both campuses from March 16 until March 18.

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