By Derek Baker, January 24 2017 —
The University of Calgary Students’ Union is a democratic organization, as described in their bylaws. Motions, policies and resolutions are voted upon by council members during meetings. The legitimacy of a democratically run institution rests on the foundation of adhering to the outcome of such votes.
However, this respect for the vote has been called into question.
On Nov. 29, 2016, SU members voted down a motion that would change the frequency of verbal reports given by elected officials during Students’ Legislative Council (SLC) from weekly to monthly, among other things. The debate ensuing on this policy change was polarizing, with some SLC members advocating that the reform would increase the quality and effectiveness of verbal reports. Others took the position that losing weekly verbal reporting wouldn’t actually solve the problem of poor quality reports and decrease SU elected officials’ accountability.
Though the vote was very close — with nine in favour, 11 against and one abstention — the motion ultimately failed. As a result, student executives and faculty representatives will continue to provide verbal reports every week.
This motion’s failure reinforces the importance the majority of SU elected officials place on frequent verbal reports. The will of this majority should be followed if the SU is to be respected as a legitimate body of governance.
But this was not the case during the Jan. 17 SLC meeting.
During this meeting, two executive members and one faculty representative declined to speak about what they had accomplished in their position as student representatives during the previous week. They simply stated that their reports were available to view online, rather than actually presenting them and going into detail.
Yes, their weekly reports are available online for all elected officials and students to view. However, using this as an excuse to manoeuvre around a policy that failed to pass defeats the purpose of voting for anything in the first place. The vote affirmed the importance of weekly verbal reporting to the SU. Disrespecting the members’ vote undermines the organization as a whole.
This should not happen during council meetings. The debate explicitly asked for weekly verbal reports to continue and the vote confirmed that.
As a student whose interest and engagement in SU matters is rather infrequent, the odd time that I do manage to sit through an SLC meeting, I want to know what’s been going on. In the sparsely attended gallery, the few students that are present deserve to hear what their representatives have been up to.
Furthermore, elected officials are meant to represent students and vote in a way they know their constituents would want them to. Disrespecting the council’s vote ignores the student voice and brings forward a lack of accountability to the decisions the SU makes as a body.
Most importantly, I want to know that my SU is above petty politicking and isn’t going to let personal grievances about an outcome of a vote diminish the quality and legitimacy of the organization.
While weekly reporting might seem like a small matter, there are larger implications to SLC ignoring its members’ votes. SLC members should not continue pursuing a failed policy on weekly verbal reporting without consequence. What’s to stop them from doing the same in other situations?