Interview: Rob South

Rob South, president of the Students’ Union, is currently involved in an embroglio over a recent Governors meeting in which he did not second a motion for a zero tuition increase.

He has been a target of criticism by this paper for working too closely with administration in negotiating a 65 per cent tuition deal. He met with the Gauntlet Mon., Feb. 7.

Gauntlet: What’s your opinion of what went down on Friday?

Rob South: Well, I’d love to be able to say that we went in expecting to get 65 [percent hike] and we ended up with 65, but that’s not the whole story.
I think a lot of students feel betrayed by me right now and I’m deeply sad they feel that way. And obviously I haven’t done my whole job if they feel that way.

Why didn’t you second the motion for zero?

The intention we had going into that meeting was that we wanted attention to be on the provincial government for their underfunding. My first thought was that if the [news] cameras show the board voting down zero with all these frustrated students in the room then there will be nothing in the news about provincial funding. It turns out there wasn’t too much in the news about provincial funding because at that point in time it was a no-win situation.
I wanted to keep the attention on the Provincial government and gosh darned if I didn’t screw that one up. The second thought was… where do you draw the line between affordability and an $8 million deficit?

I think I made the mistake of treating the [zero proposal] like it was a realistic possibility when it was a symbolic gesture and a lot of students took that to mean that I don’t believe students are entitled to zero. Which I certainly do.

And I apologize to any student who feels that way. Somewhere along the line, and it’s more than just in that board meeting, I failed to communicate how much I personally do support and believe in that view.

As an SU President on the board, do you think it’s more important to represent the views of students or do you represent the SLC and your exec’s or do you do what you think is right?

[As a board member,] I take it as students’ wishes. Of course, you can never represent 20,000 students at one time–there’s too much diversity there.

I think I’m supposed to represent the views of the student body, no matter how complex. At the same time, I feel my responsibility to represent is on par with my responsibilities as a Governor.

I tried, and obviously failed to do, both in the sense that even when I didn’t the second the motion, I was talking about how students wanted zero and as a matter of fact would be quite comfortable paying $1,000-$2,000 less.
I underappreciated the importance of that symbolic gesture.

Your role as an SU president?

When I have clear direction from council the role is to represent the views of council. When there is no clear direction, when you’re in a situation where not everything has been defined, you take into account what you feel council would think and at the same time try to represent the diversity of the student body.

It is by no means an easy task.

Was there a clear directive?

The first I heard of this was [the following Monday] from executive. They say there was. In truth I just don’t recall it there being a clear directive in this sense. It may be the case I was too thickheaded to hear them. If that’s the case I apologize. The only directive I recall is going ahead to get the 65 and getting as much attention as possible.

Do you stand behind your decision?

Representationally it was the wrong choice…

For students?


But I’m not sure there was a right choice. It was a lose/lose situation. But representationally it was the wrong choice.

What is your opinion of the Revolutionist Anarchist Kollektive?

Their heart’s in the right place. They represent a lot of frustration on campus which is genuine. I differ with them on points of technique.

I think the BoG is a good example of this. I’ve heard from RAK they want more provincial funding and my whole speech was how we need more provincial funding and more leadership from the Board. Well, I was trying to get that leadership through building people up instead of tearing them down.

Fundamentally, they are a little bit more extreme than me but really far less than a lot of them realize.

But my technique is soft-spoken diplomacy and theirs is militant advocacy.

Would you say no fault lies with the administration for the financial situation here at the University?

Of course they could be doing a better job. There are definitely things they could be doing better. [But] if the university did everything perfectly it wouldn’t be that significant [of a difference.]

Have they done a good job of lobbying for more funding? Have they done all they can?

No. They need to be doing more.

I’m always encouraging them to do more. It’s been a painfully slow process but they are improving. and I don’t think you throw away that improvement. I think you give improvement some credit. Things like Ted Newall setting up a meeting [with the Learning Minister] to try for a tuition freeze is an improvement. That’s never happened before.

This core stuff is not working great, but it’s an improvement. Terry White is talking about underfunding, the Senate and the Alumni Association are becoming more mobilized, these are improvements. And you don’t disregard those improvements.

Do the events of the last week undermine some of those improvements?

No, I don’t think so.

If anything positive comes out of the meeting, I just hope it’s that as many people around campus, as many leaders around campus, step up and prove their worth and try to effect change.

And don’t question themselves as to whether they’ve done enough, but question themselves as to "what more can I do?"

What’s going to happen now?

It’s beyond me what happens next. I’m just trying my best, as are other people, to move forward and put the right issues on the table. I still think those issues revolve around government funding.

If I thought my resignation would bring a single extra dollar of funding I’d resign in the next minute, but I don’t think it will and I don’t think it would do anything productive to a lot of relationships that took a long time to build.

Are you going to resign?

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