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What exactly does our Student Union do?

Did you know that after each council session, the University of New Brunswick Student Union publicly posts their minutes? No? That’s okay. Nobody reads them, including the council itself. As of Feb. 13, the council still hasn’t posted the minutes regarding the strike/lockout debate, which are arguably the most important minutes in the history of the organization.

But let us take a look at their most recently posted minutes, those from Dec. 1, 2013.

Vice-president external, Greg Bailey, put forward a motion to repeal the recommendation of a referendum on whether or not students wanted to keep paying our membership fee to the New Brunswick Student Alliance – a professional lobby group for students. The referendum question was to be added to this year’s general election ballot.

If my travels through Quebec have taught me anything, it’s that nothing galvanizes a base like a good old-fashioned referendum. Furthermore, the Student Union has a history of flip-flopping on the NBSA and a referendum would clear up the inability of the council to make a decision.

There were, of course, detractors.

President Ben Whitney does not believe in the need for a referendum to fully understand the wishes of the students because, as he stated, “I really believe that council is the best educated group to make this decision.”

President Whitney, you understand that your council exists within a university, right? And you also understand that a group of 46 out of 5726 undergraduate students is probably not the best educated group to make any decision, let alone one that deals with inter-university relations?

I assume you know this because that is why you didn’t just appoint yourself to the presidency; you respected the fact that the student body is smarter than you and you therefore act in accordance with its wishes.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that Whitney is correct and that council is the best educated group at the university. Except we can’t pretend that for long because the vote was tabled for the following session since multiple councillors said that they did not feel prepared to vote on this issue. Residence representative, Arielle Rechnitzer, stated “I would not feel comfortable asking my constituents about the NBSA because with that comes the question about what it is.” Arts representative, Nicole Saulnier, echoed Rechnitzer’s point: “I feel uncomfortable voting on this motion since a lot of people don’t understand what it does.”

Not only does our Student Union president severely underestimate the capacity of the student body, but he also severely overestimates the capacity of his own council.

This mentality is not limited to Whitney. Within the same minutes, vice-president finance and operations, Marc Gauvin, stated that he was against a referendum because “There’s going to be a whole lot of uneducated voters out there.” Once again, Mr. Gauvin, I would encourage you to go to the entrance of campus, look at the sign, and read the word that comes immediately before “of New Brunswick.”

If students do not know what is going on with the NBSA, or even that we are a part of the NBSA, it is because we have not been properly informed. If only our student fees paid for someone whose job it was to tell us about stuff like the NBSA.

Because, I mean, that would be really embarrassing if someone did have that job and were accepting their paycheques despite the hard evidence that they are doing terribly.

Like, that would be the worst.

Really terrible.

Well actually, it turns that job exists: the vice-president external, Greg Bailey. Mr. Bailey vindicated himself from the fact that nobody knew shit about what was going on by arguing, “I like to think that it’s sort of a ‘no news is good news’ thing. If I’m not talking to you guys hopefully I’m off working getting stuff done.”

Yes, Mr. Bailey, “hopefully” you are “getting stuff done.”

If no news is good news then your job obviously has no relevance. Forgive people for not knowing what the Student Union does anymore when the Student Union itself does not know what the Student Union does anymore.

Council’s minutes are full of little gems, like at one point Oliver Gorman-Asal, the law representative, openly admits that when he was on council last year he voted to push the referendum back a year because “Maybe I thought I wasn’t going to run this year and that’s why I did it.” Typical Gorman-Asal, always letting the lols roll.

But the underpinning ethos of the entire session is that the UNBSU could really care less what they say or do because we don’t care either.

It is with soul-crushing irony that the Student Union, a once noble idea, has mutated into a mirror image of Eddy Campbell’s administration, and in doing so has come to symbolize what hinders this university.

The UNBSU’s incestuous upper echelon consistently takes advantage of youth apathy, internalizing and exploiting it. Hence their position of “neutrality” during the strike actually being one of “Please blindly protest and we’ll still pretend like you’re contributing to the outcome.”

Finally, and perhaps most debilitatingly, the governance of the Student Union has become a stepping stone for those who have much loftier goals. During the strike, one of the things that the UNBSU executive showed us all was that they are solely interested in the shine and shimmer of their own professional images and have thus adopted the attitude of “If I don’t piss anyone off I can probs get into UofT’s MBA.”

Last year’s election saw a dismal 17.9 per cent voter turnout. Furthermore, the vast majority of seats were run uncontested – including three of the four VPs’ as well as the president’s. The 2008 Zimbabwean election was a better representation of democracy.

However, both president Ben Whitney and VP external Greg Bailey only received about 90 per cent of the vote. Meaning that, despite running against a blank page, 10 per cent of voters would rather we just burn this mother to the ground than let yet another business student grab one more resumé topper.

Yes, it is true that the entire student body’s indifference to the happenings of the Student Union cannot be solely attributed to the UNBSU. But, as the NBSA debate clearly demonstrates, the UNBSU’s leadership thrives on self-preservation, isolation, and actively assumes student apathy and ineptitude.

So, was the NBSA motion repealed? Are we having our referendum? I have no idea. Council still hasn’t posted their latest minutes.

Immeditaely before publication, this story was leaked by an undisclosed friend of Ben Whitney, Greg Bailey, and Marc Gauvin. UNBSU has since updated its webpage with recent minutes along with the dates of when future minutes will be posted.

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11 Comments

  1. LENT0N Reply

    Wow you are unbelievable. Ben is perhaps the first president in years (with no offence to previous position holders) who was 100% dedicated to the student body. To the point where he almost didn’t run because he felt like maybe he couldn’t do it as well as they expected him to. Student apathy is not Bens fault. Voter apathy is widespread in Western Culture. I’m sure you’ve noticed this on your travels through Quebec which hold some sort of relevance other than sounding ‘Well Traveled’ to another province.
    Long and the short I was an active member of the student body and even sat on council for a year and this group is the best one in the past five years.
    People critical of government bodies often have no ideas of the logistics and reality of the situation.
    I hope someday you have to hold an elected position and realize how little effect you have no matter the effort.
    Source.: I’m from Quebec. That counts right?

  2. CalebNunn Reply

    poppypal  “People would just see that it costs them money and vote against it. ”
    Two years on council and this is how you see your fellow students; as chumps who only care about money? Need I remind you that last year the Brunswickan successfully RAISED fees so they could better their services to the student body. May I also remind you how this was done? Oh yeah, a student referendum. 

    Get your mind out of the gutter and stop believing that students don’t care. A referendum is a fantastic way to gauge student opinion, improve democratic decisions, and maybe even gain some student interest in issues that matter.
    Sincerely,
    Caleb Nunn, former Arts Councillor and some chump who isn’t in school anymore and for some reason still pays attention to this….

  3. CalebNunn Reply

    poppypal  
    I know your identity is masked and you have clarified that it was for exaggerating purposes, but bad call on your part as a councillor calling down your fellow students in your initial post. Who knows, maybe part of the reason a lot of students are apathetic towards council and the “work” it does is because that’s how the council portrays itself? As a greater good, “the best educated group”, higher than others, the only ones that really care.
    Yes, I’d agree that there are more pressing concerns for students than the NBSA question, which is exactly why I tried to get the NBSA question to referendum in the first place! As the author notes the UNBSU could never make a concrete decision on the question (and obviously, they still can’t). A quick, simple, easy, DEMOCRATIC referendum would clear things up for good.

  4. Jordan Thompson Reply

    LENT0N  Well said. Although I take exception to the comment about Ben being the first president in years who is 100% dedicate :).

  5. Jordan Thompson Reply

    I still haven’t heard a real reason for why the NBSA should go to referendum other than the comments of a few people who dislike the NBSA. Referendum for the sake of referendum is a waste of everyone’s time. 

    The NBSA has gotten stuff done in the past couple of years. My time as president saw an ancillary fee freeze be put in place (2012 budget) and this stopped a $35 per lab fee for Science students which would have cost first year science students ~$200 per year. That year also saw the increase of student loan exemptible earnings from $100 to $150. Not much, but helps. A $1,000/year bursary for students with high unmet need was also implemented that year due to lobbying on the NBSA.

    Students are apathetic. I, and previous SU execs, have tried to get students interested in the happenings of external lobbying. Most students don’t pay attention or care. The SU has tried, and failed because turnouts were low. To be perfectly clear, I am blaming students on this one. Students need to take charge and get engaged with the SU and government, it’s hard to put student issues in front of government when students don’t vote.

  6. Eastcoasting Reply

    (To Jordan Thompson)  This is the entire issue right here. Blaming students for not being interested in a system that as far as the majority of them are aware, is ineffective. Students are apathetic because they are at UNB for 4 years, and they quickly form the opinion that the SU can’t accomplish anything that will directly impact them in that amount of time.

    TO be perfectly clear, I am blaming the SU for perpetuating the apathy and actually using it to make their jobs easier. The only reason to not hold a referendum on this issue is because it would be a lot of work and might not result in the decision that the Executive wants. Who knows, maybe actually asking students what they want would get them a bit more interested in what is happening. It is YOUR job to communicate your value to the student body, not the student body’s job to make you feel valuable.

    Students naturally don’t want to fork over more money for something, which is why the Brunswickan had an extremely hard time raising funds, but eventually they succeeded, because they worked their asses off in communicating their value to the students. The next example of this is the Biz Society. In my last couple of years they were extremely small, had very little funding and were basically irrelevant. Bob Keleher went classroom to classroom trying to convince students to give up 100$/year to fund the society. He actually was successful and through referendum secured the money, so to claim that students won’t support anything that costs them money is false, they just need to be actually CONVINCED.

    Most people join the executive because it looks great on the resume, that’s the bottom line. That’s completely okay though, they should use it as a platform to gain experience and boost their stock with future employees, but it shouldn’t be easy.

    I should throw a disclaimer on here that I actually think Ben is doing a pretty good job at making the SU more accessible, I don’t agree with how the strike was handled but I wasn’t in the situation so that is just my opinion.

  7. Jordan Thompson Reply

    Eastcoasting  Why do they quickly for the opinion that the SU can’t accomplish anything? Students don’t care what the SU does because they don’t care, not because the SU doesn’t communicate with them and they don’t do relevant things. Orientation, SafeRide, Book Buy and Sell are used by thousands of students on this campus, the SU has a direct impact on many students lives.

    Not to mention the lobbying, representation on committees (who consider the student reps voice to be the voice of students), etc. My point is that there are examples all around students of what the SU does and how it impacts daily life. If students chose not to know what the SU does, it’s their own fault. They get weekly emails from the SU telling them what the SU does for God’s sake. How much more convincing do students need? 

    And most people don’t just join the exec for resume boosting. It’s not the bottom line. I was on two executives and knew the students on 3 other execs during my time here. Don’t get me wrong, it does look good on a resume, but what you’re saying implies this is the sole purpose. It’s not. That’s the bottom line.

  8. Jordan Thompson Reply

    Eastcoasting  To be perfectly clear, I don’t want students to be apathetic. But saying their not and the SU has to basically hold their hands and tell them exactly what is going on does students a disservice. It’s sending the message: you’re not at fault, it’s everyone else’s fault. It’s incredibly easy to know what the SU is up to, the website, facebook, twitter, emails, posters, brunswickan articles on what the SU is up to. It takes no time at all and students should be taking the minimal time it takes to figure out what the SU does.

  9. Eastcoasting Reply

    Jordan Thompson I don’t really understand where the entitlement is coming from. You talk about how hard “we worked’ and how much the SU does for the students and how blind they are to all the things done for them by the SU. Can we maybe consider that perhaps, while students are apathetic and while they should take a bigger role that apathy might mean that they don’t think the SU is doing enough or in the right way?

    From the few responses I have read on this board from SU members (some of which were deleted), it feels like the executive begins looking at the student body with disdain instead of saying “Shit, people don’t really care, how do we fix that”.

    I have never had an SU member come to one of my classes and explain to me what it is the SU does. Should I have taken the trouble to find out, maybe, but maybe you should have looked at how you are communicating with students and said “This is not working”. You are being PAID by the student body to represent us and then tell us the results of the representation. I get you are probably already busy, I’m not saying you are not, but running for an elected office is a job that brings a ton of work and challenges, one of those challenges is engaging your constituents. 

    The last election had a 17.9% turnout, but those positions are paid for by 100% of the students. That is the issue and that is what the SU should be focusing on fixing.

  10. Mark V Reply

    I am a little saddened at this whole article and I am a little confused at the direction The Bruns is heading. Why is there not a piece on the candidates that are running? This paper now seems so quick to bash the UNBSU. Last years there was a section dedicated to introducing all the candidates BEFORE the election… and this year there is nothing.
    So instead of being a solution to the problem which you are creating, you are just propogating your biased opinion by filtering what people can know about their elected governing body. I never knew this paper was headed in the direction of the National Post.

    I used to like The Bruns, but this year you really let me down.
    It is nothing bu a tabloid now.
    🙁

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