The SU: Decades of disorganized dissent

By Wendy Maloff

The following is my adventure attempting to find the history of the University of Calgary Students’ Union. The voyage started on Monday afternoon, with a copy deadline looming large. I commenced my search for the deep dark secrets of the SU in the most obvious of places–the SU’s own offices.

I was expecting to find an exciting history chock full of notorious characters and overflowing with crazy lore.

My first stop was the office of Nic Porco, Vice-President Academic. I commend him for his intrepid efforts to get me the goods, but apparently SU history is hard to come by. He pointed out that new ideas emerge each year with new executives and all I left with was the date of their establishment, 1966, and a list of the executives that have come and gone over the years. Alas, there was no heading beside them indicating swallowed goldfish for charity or hidden treasure in old Mac Hall.

I left, thanking him for his help and went straight to President Barb Wright’s office. Barb also made a genuine effort to help and offered some insight into the SU’s political past. She noted the tuition cap of 1998.

Next stop, the office of Chris Kerr, VP Events. He was able to give insight into the many events that have been held over the years–Bermuda Shorts Day being an important day for a long time. In an old Gauntlet issue from the ’60s it was referred to as National Bermuda Shorts Day. He also directed me to the “Wall of Fame” in old Mac Hall that displays the many acts that have played at the Ballroom, such as The Hip, REM, Green Day and the unforgettable Iggy Pop and Duran Duran.

Apparently, the Students’ Union does not have a policy of continuity when it comes to the history of their organization. However, this only led me to believe that “the truth is out there.” Perhaps the truly great stories have simply been hidden by past executives to save themselves from shame. Hidden very, very well.

Many people know the Students’ Union as the defenders of students’ rights, opposers to the annual tuition increase, owners of Mac Hall businesses and “those people” that have annual elections.

Fortunately, my search was not entirely fruitless. The following is what I’ve deemed to be the highlights of the Students’ Union since its inception, learned from various sources.

1966: University of Calgary became autonomous from the University of Alberta and gets a Students’ Union due to Alberta Legislation.

1967: MacEwan Student Centre opened, complete with Speaker’s Corner where it still stands today.

1968: Seven members of the Students’ Council (as it was then called) resigned stating the Council was undemocratic in its decision to withdraw from the Canadian Union of Students.

1971-1987: The SU talked about, planned and built MacEwan Student Centre. This obviously kept them very busy and occupied all their time, since there were apparently no other noteworthy accomplishments for this period.

1987: The SU organized a rally to protest funding cuts made by the provincial government. The event turned into a crowd 5,000 strong at its height and stopped traffic on Crowchild Trail where it intersects with 24th Avenue. They also disrupted the intersection at 32nd Avenue until they were asked to leave by city police.

1989: The SU erected the flag pole in front of Mac Hall and got a citywide bus discount for post-secondary students.

1998: Provincial legislation was passed to cap tuition at 30 per cent. The SU is instrumental in the process.

1998: SU leads tent village protest previous to that year’s BoG meeting.

2001: Another round of Mac Hall expansion is about to come to an end. The SU also becomes the proud owner of the newly renovated Den, complete with old Max’s staff and troughs that double as urinals.

What lies in the future for the SU? Only time will tell. I predict expansion will continue, perhaps indefinitely, as will the battles against the growing monster that is tuition. The SU will continue providing the many services to students that are often taken for granted.