I had an interesting bus ride the other day. I had just sat down and was looking forward to getting home after a long day, when I overheard the two girls sitting next to me talking about a Gazette article on the University Students’ Council.
“Incredible,” I thought. “Normal students talking about the USC? Am I hallucinating?” As it happens, I was only half right—one of them was saying how she wanted to get more involved, and asked her friend about her experience with the USC.
“Is it hard?”
“No,” her friend replied, “You do nothing.”
Now, I’m not sure what this girl’s involvement is, and she may well have been exaggerating. But nevertheless, this attitude is indicative of a serious problem that has been facing the USC for years—apathy. And to make matters worse, it’s not just average students who are apathetic—in some cases it’s councillors themselves.
I’ve worked at the Gazette for about a year now, and in all that time I’ve rarely seen the USC debate anything with any amount of passion—the longest debate I’ve ever seen take place in council chambers was over whether a separate debate was a taking too much time. When motions aren’t passed unanimously there are only ever a handful of dissenting votes, and I’ve rarely seen a motion defeated on the council floor.
In a healthy democracy, there are long debates about important topics, and motions are often passed or defeated with a visible divide among members. This is rarely an accurate description of the USC.
Some will explain this by saying the real debate takes place in standing committees, where a smaller number of councillors with alleged expertise in a certain area prepare motions to bring to council. To a certain extent, this is true, but when council with only a token debate consistently approves the will of a standing committee—which usually is synonymous with the will of the vice-president overseeing that committee—it’s indicative of a bigger problem.
Our student government has an attitude problem. I’m not talking about Adam Fearnall or any of the vice-presidents—clearly, they care enough about the USC to devote a full year of their lives to the organization. I’m talking about the councillors. These are the people with the real power in the USC—the executive council may have their agenda, but without council’s cooperation they’re powerless to do anything. So either we have the most cooperative and efficient government in history, or most councillors can’t be bothered to debate most motions that come to council, let alone vote against them. I think it’s the latter.
Councillors are supposed to represent the will of students. But let’s be honest—when was the last time you received an email from your councillor asking your opinion on how they should vote on an issue? Can you even name your faculty council president? I’m sure there are a few exceptions, but there seems to be a massive lack of communication in the USC—both on the council floor, and between councillors and the constituents they claim to represent. Despite the fact that 10,000 students voted in the last election, when I talk to my peers many of them seem to have no idea what the USC does—nor do they care.
If the conversation I overheard on the bus is any indication—and I believe it is—most councillors are putting their resumés before their constituents. Fearnall addressed this issue in his Western Untold speech, and I truly hope he can do something to fix it.
USC members often wonder why the average student doesn’t know or care about what they do—but maybe they should focus on getting their own councillors interested first.