The SU is SUcking us dry

An article in last week’s Maclean’s magazine decried the decline of Canada’s parliamentary system. In the story, a sorry scene of a nearly empty parliament with clusters of MPs working on other projects are occasionally and briefly interrupted when the others show up for question period — also when the cameras appear. These few dedicated MPs are reminiscent of our own Students’ Union. Every day, five executives and dozens more elected officials work to improve student life, and yet rarely anyone knows who they are. This raises an important question: are students ignorant, or is the SU irrelevant?

The term “union” typically refers to a group of individuals who unite to gain negotiating power for a goal. The SU represents the interests of all students, a massive and broad list of tasks which they can’t seem to pin down. The SU provides many useful services that students do take advantage of, but how many are they truly responsible for providing? If the SU was functioning primarily as a campus, municipal, provincial and federal lobby group on behalf of students, they may be more successful in having these other groups take on the jobs that are rightfully theirs.

Let’s look at some of the valuable services the SU provides beyond lobbying. The SU collects revenue from several businesses on campus including Stör, Bound and Copied, the Den and the Mac Hall concert venue. This money goes to support other services like clubs space, free concerts at That Empty Space, an ombudsperson, Safewalk, Qcentre, the Campus Food Bank, tutoring, BSD and many, many more.

While some of these projects (read: Cinemania) may be hard to convince the university administration to take on, many others should be the responsibility of the school, not a group of undergraduate students. With the introduction of non-instructional fees taking effect this fall, the SU is rightfully pushing for the university to take on more of these necessities, but not enough. The SU’s Disability Resource Centre and career services fees were dropped because the university is taking on those tasks and they should also be accountable for programs like Safewalk, a food bank and Qcentre.

The SU is much better at publishing financial information online then past years, however vague it still may be. Last year, the SU collected over $10 million, mainly through operations (the Events Centre, concerts, The Den) and another $4 million from student fees and levies. Student fees and levies are all voted on by students and so it can be argued that the majority — represented by the small minority who bothered to vote — supports these projects (of which the Gauntlet is included, thank you). The SU did the ground work to gain approval, but after funding for the library or the Refugee Student Program or NUTV is approved, the SU vice-president operations and finance will have to attend respective board meetings until the end of time. The SU is wasting time managing these affairs.

Why can’t the university be tied to these results and have specific amounts to pay our share of the ancillary fees? The U of C administration may not have the best track record dealing with student issues — the Women’s Resource Centre space didn’t last long — but a contractual obligation to spend student dollars or student-backed causes isn’t too much to fight for.

The SU should be lobbying more for a shift in responsibilities so that they can focus on lobbying for lower tuition, not just asking nicely for minimal increases. SU executives and elected officials make a decent amount of money and get great resume filler, but they are also dedicated individuals with good intentions. Yet just as a handful of MPs can’t change the course of Canadians politics, neither can five SU executives effectively negotiate for anything worthy while juggling so much other miscellaneous crap.

. . Gauntlet Editorial Board

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