On Wednesday night, the worst Concordia Student Union council meeting in recent memory went down in a hail of insults, yelling and an utter failure of transparency. Don’t take our word for it – there were about 100 people there who can tell you about it. Four video cameras filmed it, with three of them streaming live on the CUTV website.
Appropriately, since the CSU feels like a sinking ship, the words ‘travesty’ and ‘mutiny’ were bandied about. In the end, we all went home with more than half the agenda untouched, and a crummy feeling inside.
Who’s guilty for the way things unfolded at Wednesday’s council meeting? Well, each side is laying the blame on the other. When the CSU executive motioned to go into closed session to discuss former VP Morgan Pudwell, her supporters, and most of the room, refused to leave, as required by closed session rules. What resulted was an impasse where half the room – councillors, students, members of the student media – was screaming at each other in a childish display of screwed-up doggedness.
Most student representatives seem to want to fault the students who showed up: ‘They bullied us, they shouted us down, they didn’t follow the rules.’
How wrong they are. These students are attempting to send a clear message to their elected representatives. Some councillors argued that the presence of the students was unnecessary, because as elected officials, they were there to represent students’ interests.
Well, just because a slim minority of Concordia’s undergraduates elected you to a position last April doesn’t mean the electorate doesn’t have the right to tell you how they feel. Just because we vote in 308 members of parliament every national election, does that mean Canadians stop caring about what happens in Ottawa for another fours years or so? We don’t stop calling and writing our MPs, we don’t stop reading the newspapers and watching the nightly news, and we don’t quit organizing protests, marches and sit-ins.
We have a representative system at Concordia, but students should still be empowered to participate and make their voices heard. We get the feeling that certain councillors just wanted students to shut up, go home and not interfere in and inconvenience their otherwise cosy little meetings. Where some councillors have the luxury to come and leave early, and a small minority of councillors actually bothers to voice opposition to the executive, as they should.
The CSU executive misstepped in calling for closed session. While the procedure is called for when discussing employee problems, Pudwell is not some random undergraduate hired to staff the CSU reception.
She ran with a slate and was elected as a VP on a public platform with a mandate; if she did not fulfill her duties, we should know why. Pudwell herself stated open session could carry through. Her supporters feared she would be attacked unnecessarily; to that, we say Pudwell is a smart, grown woman who fully understood the consequences when she quit her office, and could handle herself in closed session. On the other hand, councillors said that the measure was needed to avoid potentially embarrassing Pudwell.
Why this sudden concern for Pudwell’s reputation, when a group of councillors signed their name to a letter released to the meeting whining about how she supposedly bungled the women’s caucus?
Either way, we fail to understand why the CSU felt the need to stick to the rules and not adapt themselves to the situation at hand. In digging in their heels, they created an adversarial relationship with the students who elected them – and who won’t hesitate to virulently oppose them in the near future.
To top it off, how can we trust the CSU executive, after they openly lied to the Concordian about calling security on students in an interview shortly thereafter? This betrayal of trust casts doubt on everything they say; how do we know all that would be discussed at council would be limited to Pudwell’s employment record?
Some students who refused to leave did a disservice to themselves and to everyone else by starting the yelling that led to the downward spiral that led to the meeting’s early end. By all means, a sit-in is fine, but yelling is best reserved for an outdoors protest, not an indoor conference room.
Bring on the students and the cameras, we need big, open CSU council meetings; they should not be a private, cosy affair. But while we’re at it, we need a CSU executive and council that does not oppose students, and we need student observers who don’t treat council meetings like a rally.