There’s something wrong with the Students’ Union political culture of the last few years. The same faces have been running, with the same uninspiring platforms. The elections should be a time of revitalization and excitement, but instead we get the equivalent of McDonald’s coffee — it’s cheap and easy and you’ll drink it, but it doesn’t compare to what you could be getting.
The worst thing about the SU political culture is that whenever an outsider suggests that something is wrong, it gets absolutely and completely dismissed by the SU establishment. The arguments get derailed with excuses. “The executives work 80-hour weeks, give them a break.” “If you know everything, why aren’t you running?” “You just like to criticize everything we do.” I’ve been on the receiving end of all of those.
It leads to an insular culture. And that insular culture prevents outsiders from getting interested. It also prevents the adoption of new ideas and promotes a conservative mindset and powerful groupthink. Throughout the Lister affair of the last year, there has been an extreme lack of dissent on the part of SU representatives regarding the actions the SU has taken — and this is after several counts of The Gateway revealing the dissemination of incorrect or incomplete information.
Certain groups encourage their members to get involved. Lister feeds SU political positions, as do fraternities and sororities. This year’s executive, for example, are all members of frats, and most lived in Lister at some point. You can’t fault those groups for encouraging involvement. It’s good that there are some groups doing that encouragement. The problem is that the majority of people arriving at the executive level during the last couple of years have done so through the filter of a frat or Lister — and most have also arrived there through the filter of Students’ Council.
What’s largely not been represented lately at the executive level of the Students’ Union is everyone else. Those of us not in frats. Those of us who didn’t live in Lister. And we are the majority of potential voters, and the majority of the students they claim to represent. The Students’ Union has completely failed to foster interest among outsider students, and the last few crops of executives have, knowingly or not, exploited the imbalance of power while failing to fix it.
You also have to consider where these former executives from the last few years have gone after their terms. Many of them still work at the Students’ Union. By all accounts, these people do great jobs, provide expert service. Institutional memory is an important thing, but too much of it coupled with several years of samey-candidates, and an organization begins to resist change. Rather than nimbleness, adaptability and a willingness to try new things, we end up with a culture concerned more and more with its own continuance and less on what those outside that culture actually want. It’s subtle. Those on the inside may not notice it. But it’s there. It’s self-sustaining, and it the organization ceases to become self-correcting.
Instead of admitting its mistakes, it doubles down and ignores dissent.
Ten years ago, Mike Hudema was president, and whether you like him or not, that was an SU so far removed from what we have now it seems impossible that it could ever happen again.
Part of the self-correcting nature of an organization like the Students’ Union should be the elections. So let’s say you want to change things. You missed the deadline for executive positions, and you run for council. You win. But you have no idea what to do. All these bylaws to read through and understand. All these committees. And you have no idea how Robert’s Rules work.
Before you can even hope to effectively change something, you need to learn its language. So you start talking to returning councillors and the executive — who are largely returning councillors. You talk to the staff in 2-900. You talk to some former councillors.
And by the time you know enough about the system to be able to navigate it, well wouldn’t you know it, but you’re friends with too many people to want to stick your neck out and effect that change — and that’s assuming you even still want to change it anyway. Then it’s election time again, and if you stick around, you’re now the returning councillor welcoming the newcomers.
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