Students' Union failures

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A visit to SAIT this weekend reminded me that adequate student representation is both achievable and important.

For its size and resources, the SAIT Students' Association appears to do much more for students than their University of Calgary counterparts. Posters from SAITSA and provincial and federal student lobby groups cover the campus. Even random non-SAITSA students--owing their stance to SAITSA's campaign and personal experience--seemed more knowledgeable and concerned about major issues than many of this year's SU officials.

In comparison, I found myself unable to defend our SU in a conversation with Emery Weal editors on Saturday.

I had no counterexamples to SAITSA's fugly but apparently effective Bill 43 and tuition posters, their blatant bias against government underfunding, or their pervasive message that students pay too much tuition. Our SU had plans for some kind of province-wide advertising campaign against Bill 43, a snow castle and a penny pile somehow protesting tuition increases, a legacy of failure against tuition hikes and differential tuition. They might still have these plans, I don't know.

No SU official could match SAITSA President Stu Sherry and his team's apparent Herculean efforts in fighting for students individually and collectively. Nor could I defend the written quality of the SU View appearing in the last two issues of the Gauntlet, or the SU's handling of the Rothman's Inc. incident which some journalism students called a media disaster.

As I stated that each of our five SU executives will make about $24,000 this year, I yearned for the days when the SU executive was not completely ineffective. The traveling road show about tuition, the gripe/information booth, classroom visits, posters describing why tuition increases are bad, even last year's Academic Carnival all helped SU officials interact with and benefit students and the community. These activities have not occurred this year.

Instead, our representatives have simply tagged along on others' initiatives such as the bookstore bursary, co-curricular transcripts and the Campus Fair, ignoring elected officials and students whose ideas fossilize in reports. Some successful events such as Overflow were repeated, and redevelopment is clipping along faster than last year, but those are exceptions, not rules.

We have less than two months until the Board of Governors' tuition decision which affects every student on campus. Two months to make a difference. But our SU's attention and advertising are focused on imported musical talent and the least exciting SU by-election in recent memory.

And therein lies the SU's problem with accountable and responsive representation. Students unaffiliated with the SU remain largely outside the consultative and legislative processes.

Despite efforts to communicate with students, the SU mailing list remains silent, the results of officials' lobbying efforts remain secret and this year's crop of frosh remain mostly clueless that a tuition issue exists.

Meanwhile, the SU has virtually ignored the efforts of those who disagree with the SU's Presidential line and (thankfully) turn the legislative manure pile once in a while, and the SU has addressed demands for a womens' centre from an ad hoc group of concerned students--despite the group's superior PR skills--only after two months.

In comparison with the U of C, SAIT might have fewer concerned full-time undergraduates and more part-time students with lives off campus, but SAITSA shaped students who do care into a formidable lobbying force.

I don't envy SAIT's physical plant, but I am jealous of their students' association and the elective representation they achieve on shoe string monetary and student budgets.