Home Commentary The turning tides of the CSU

The turning tides of the CSU

by Aviva Majerczyk November 10, 2020
The turning tides of the CSU

Disclaimer: The Concordian is a fee-levy organization

For the past few years, the CSU has felt out of step with Concordia students, do we now have reason for hope?

To say I’ve been embarrassed by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) in my past few years as a student would be an understatement. In recent memory, the CSU has jumped from controversy to controversy, spanning from allegations of anti-semitism, an attempted impeachment, to mockery of non-binary gender identities.

While it may seem like Concordia just has bad luck with student politics, or that there’s something in the water that’s making everyone collectively go insane, all these issues have precedents set by North American politics en large.

The most hotly contested CSU issue in the past year or so has undoubtedly been the implementation of online fee-levy opt-outs. Fee-levy groups are student organizations that are funded by students based on a per-credit fee. These include People’s Potato, Cinema Politica, CJLO 1690AM and Queer Concordia.

Since the referendum question asking if fee-levy opt-outs should be brought online passed with 61.1 per cent of the vote last November, the process of actually building the system has been marked by a lack of transparency and bad faith reinterpretations of the purposely vague question.

Despite the fact that only 16.6 percent of Concordia undergraduates actually voted in the referendum, the question passed, and thus must be enacted. With that being said, it is still important to critique why this question was ever even up for vote in the first place.

Former General Coordinator of the CSU, Christopher Kalafatidis, who put forth the question, remarked at the time to The Concordian that, “Fee-levy groups never work towards building better relationships with students. Having this option to opt-out would put them in a situation where if they are going to be using student money, they are going to have to earn it.”

The quote says it all. It was political —  the move was always political, not financial. We need to move past their assertions that the online opt-out question was posed to protect the interests of students who desperately need to save about $60 a semester, and reckon with the fact that this move was intended to put pressure on fee-levy groups. For what exactly? It’s hard to say. But there is no reasonable way Kalafatidis and his colleagues at the CSU could believe that all the disparate fee-levy groups have the same approach to student relations, as stated in his comment. Furthermore, this ongoing false dichotomy between fee-levy groups and tuition-paying students is misleading, as it paints said groups as if they were a third-party, not just fellow students in an organization.

What do Kalafatidis and his supporters get from this move? Well, they get a reinforcement of their conservative ideals. Online fee-levy opt-outs can be understood through the lens of taxation. Much like federal taxes, students pay a few cents or dollars to fee-levy groups, some of which they will never interact with in their time at Concordia, and some of which will be imperative to their student experience.

From a progressive perspective, when all students pay into the fee-levy system, our campus organizations are well-funded and able to provide resources for all students. However, a conservative might argue that we should not be paying into services that we don’t plan on using, no matter how small the cost overall.

The conservative position of simplifying the opt-out process wouldn’t exist if not for the general shift to the right in Western politics and push to defund social security programs. Since the era of Reagan and Thatcher, conservative politicians have been further and further critical of welfare programs, which the majority of them feel that they don’t directly benefit from. Whether we like it or not, student politics reflect politics at large, and this connection between fee-levy groups and taxation is too blatant to ignore. It’s just unfortunate to see these individualistic and neoliberal ideas enacted on our campuses through the lens of impartiality and the assertion of ‘having the students’ backs.’

The moment it was most obvious that many on the CSU were out of touch with political realities was at the Aug. 26 special council meeting. At this meeting, former councilor Mathew Levitsky-Kaminski presented a motion to have the CSU denounce certain extremist groups. The motion named “groups” such as the KKK, “Unite the Right,” Antifa and Resistance Internationaliste.

To anyone actually aware of extremism’s rise in North America, this list would make absolutely no sense. For one, Unite the Right is not a group, it was a two-day rally event in 2017. Additionally, despite what Trump wants Americans to believe, Antifa is also not a definable group either, but instead a political movement and ideology literally connoting “anti-fascism.” If Levitsky-Kaminski truly cared to protect Concordia students from extremist violence, he would have cited groups that actually have a decent presence here in Canada, such as the Proud Boys, rather than the KKK or mere ideologies like Antifa.

Then why put forward this motion, if it was so disconnected from reality? What motivation was there other than to obfuscate the desire for comprehensive anti-racism measures from the CSU, like General Coordinator Isaiah Joyner has been suggesting should be put forth?

Much like in general North American politics, racism and inequality cannot be solved through band-aid fixes. Additionally, making this sort of “both sides” argument on extremism only serves to echo Trumpist rhetoric further endangering people of colour who are affected by the much more common right-wing extremism.

I see this meeting as a turning point for the CSU. Between the accusations of political bias, and the pointed racial comments, the divisions on council had passed the point of civility.

However, after this meeting, multiple councillors resigned, including Levitsky-Kaminski.

With those resignations and the election of the “We Got You” slate of executives, the tides are finally turning on the CSU. An online opt-out system is finally being implemented with sufficient input by the fee-levy groups and with a survivor-centred sexual misconduct policy finally in the books, there’s reason to look forward to the future of the CSU.

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