UASU needs to stand with students against Flanagan

Students shouldn't have to wonder where the UASU stands on Flanagan's reappointment after his harmful decisions.

You would expect a students’ union to shamelessly advocate for student demands. Yet in the recent weeks, this hasn’t been the case on our campus. On May 11, per University of Alberta President and Vice-chancellor Bill Flanagan’s request, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) removed a Palestine solidarity Encampment from Main Quad. The encampment was protesting the U of A’s complicity in the “genocide and occupation [of Palestinians] by the settler colony that is Israel.”

As a student leader and frequent protest organizer, the police response to the encampment disturbed me. Many other people in the community shared that feeling. While the U of A Students’ Union (UASU) expressed concern about the violence against students, they haven’t taken a stance on Flanagan’s reappointment.

The Board of Governors (BoG) will meet on Friday, June 14 at 8:00 a.m. and is supposed to discuss Flanagan’s bid for renewal. As we approach this meeting, the UASU needs to commit to voting no on Flanagan’s reappointment.

The UASU represents all undergraduate students at the U of A and carries massive influence over this key decision that BoG will make. Over a thousand protestors showed up the afternoon after the brutal removal of the encampment, many of whom were students. The UASU wouldn’t be alone in speaking out on Flanagan’s failure as president either — other student groups already have. By committing to voting against his reappointment, the UASU would show that they stand with the students they represent and the community members that experienced police violence on our campus.

Flanagan has taken full responsibility for the incident, but is still seeking reappointment. The U of A must protect the students’ right to protest. It’s crucially important that universities are a safe place for all students. Flanagan’s decision to forcefully remove the peaceful encampment worked against freedom of expression and jeopardized student safety. In response to his actions, student groups such as the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Association (IGSA), Black Students’ Association (BSA), and the Indigenous Students’ Union (ISU) have called on Flanagan to resign. Yet the UASU has remained quiet on the topic of Flanagan’s leadership.

It’s time for the UASU to stand with students against Flanagan’s harmful leadership. As a voting member of BoG, UASU President Lisa Glock needs to commit immediately to voting no on Flanagan’s reappointment. As the BoG representative, Adrien Lam should join Glock in making this commitment. Students shouldn’t be forced to wait until after the vote to know where the UASU stands. They should be confident that their representatives will support student demands. 

The UASU, along with other campus associations, is currently asking for an independent investigation into Flanagan’s decision. But in my view, this isn’t enough. While the results of the investigation may clear up some misinformation, students need urgent action from the UASU. Students certainly don’t need an investigation to know Flanagan shouldn’t lead the university. His recent actions speak for themselves. Reappointing Flanagan isn’t in the best interest of students, and the UASU needs to make that clear to BoG. If the UASU stands with other campus groups against Flanagan’s reappointment, they may be able to convince enough of BoG to vote against his reappointment.

The UASU should continue to aid in creating a working group to help find a way forward from the harm done on our campus. But the UASU doesn’t need to wait for a working group or an investigation to stand with students. At the General Faculties Council (GFC) meeting on May 27, Glock said the UASU doesn’t want to “rush into anything” in putting together a working group. But this lack of urgency is incredibly disappointing. It has been four weeks since student protestors were brutally removed from our campus. And with the approaching decision on Flanagan’s reappointment, the UASU needs to support students’ demands, not just act as glorified negotiators. They can start by committing to voting no to Flanagan’s reappointment.

At the same time, I recognize that this is a unique challenge for the UASU due to the need to maintain its relationships with administration. Yet, I think that currently, the UASU’s relationship with university administrators no longer provides students with value. Especially if they don’t help protect student protestors from harm. The UASU needs to stand with students against Flanagan’s misleading statements — which have been debunked by his own staff — and use of police violence against peaceful student protestors. Students rely on the UASU to represent their voices. That’s more important than maintaining a cordial working relationship with university administrators.

The UASU’s vague commitment to support students’ demands isn’t good enough when in practice, they haven’t backed students’ demands. Long-term goals like an investigation and a working group are important to finding a path forward. But a clear statement from the UASU on Flanagan’s harmful leadership is an important first step towards supporting students. It’s time for the UASU to commit to voting no on Flanagan’s reappointment and start truly supporting students’ demands.

Related Articles

Back to top button