When President Adam Fearnall proposed his USC revamp to council last week, he pitched it as a way of making the organization more democratic and accountable, which to me was a bit like if the American PATRIOT Act had been pitched as a way to expand civil liberties—funny, in an Orwellian sort of way.
Though the president proposed several major alterations, the one that sticks out to me is the changing of vice-presidents to hired positions, rather electing them by council. Fearnall said this would allow the president to pursue his or her elected agenda efficiently with a handpicked team. This should be the first clue that the change is undemocratic—democracy is never efficient. In fact, it is exactly the dissent that this proposal aims to do away with on the executive board that makes democracy so wonderfully, painfully slow.
The first concern to address is cronyism. Back when the president used to hire the vice-president of communications, there were more than a few questionable choices that may have been influenced by a personal relationship. Under this revamp, there will now be four full-time, paid staff that will be chosen by the president. The potential for abuse is quite large. Even if it’s not a personal relationship, the choice could be heavily influenced by backroom politics. Councillor A accepts a position as Senator B’s campaign manager in return for an executive position if the Senator wins. It could lead to quite a few “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” situations. Come to think of it, it would make USC politics more like federal politics, which would be entertaining, but not democratic.
The current vice-presidents serve as the voice of council on the executive board—their job is to represent council’s wishes, even if that means handcuffing the president. The elected status of these positions also dilutes the hierarchy on the board to some degree. Fearnall himself brought this up—saying he is currently powerless in the event that he has a dispute with one of his vice-presidents. The proposed changes would make the rest of the board answerable to the president, who would be able to pull rank with ease on any of his hired subordinates. So the board will now run as one cohesive, efficient unit under the say of one person—otherwise known as the opposite of democracy.
While it may not compromise the democracy of the USC for the executive board to be picked by the president, this will only be the case if it is truly answerable to council. This is predicated on the assumption that council will routinely serve as a check to the influence of the executive board. Generally, however, this is not the case. Though executive members don’t have voting rights, their influence is still the driving force behind many of council’s actions. The majority of proposals come to council through standing committees that tend to be heavily influenced by the relevant vice-president. It’s not surprising—the executive board is composed of full-time staff that are experts on USC operation and procedure. It’s only natural that the majority of councilors, who are students doing this job part-time, would defer to the opinion of the executive.
This system works fine when council is the one who gets to elect the vice-presidents that they will put their faith in. However, under this new system, the president will pick the executives, who will influence council. The whole thing becomes a sort of trickle-down power structure.
All this being said, I am actually in favour of these changes. Just because they’re undemocratic that doesn’t mean they’re not exactly what this organization needs. Maybe it’s because I believe in more of a soft-aristocracy for the USC, but I like the idea of electing somebody to wield crazy power over council with a handpicked team. There is even an unlikely scenario that this could end up having a weird reverse democratization effect on council. Perhaps, no longer able to elect vice-presidents to put their faith in, councilors will be forced to start challenging the executive board like they never have before. Anything’s possible.
Personally, I applaud this change and welcome the incoming oligarchy. Good luck!