UPDATE: Club policy continues to draw backlash from free speech advocates

Campus News
This motion was passed at a UVSS board meeting on Feb. 6 to eliminate preferential treatment of clubs and course unions. Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief
This motion was passed at a UVSS board meeting on Feb. 6 to eliminate preferential treatment of clubs and course unions. Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief

UPDATE Feb. 23: This story has been updated to include events that took place at the board meeting on Monday, Feb. 20.

A new amendment to UVSS policy designed to prevent preferential treatment of clubs and course unions has roused concerns about free speech and political discourse.

The amendment, passed at the Board of Directors meeting on Monday, Feb. 6, seems benign in its wording: “In the interest of fairness to all clubs, the Board shall not endorse or support club initiatives beyond what is designated in Clubs Policy, unless that endorsement or support is offered to all clubs.” (A second clause states the same goes for course unions.)

But the controversy stems from the amendment’s potential to prevent future UVSS-hosted events such as Clash of Clubs, a political debate on Jan. 26 that included representatives from each of the political-party-affiliated clubs on campus.

In response to the amendment, the Facebook page “UVic Students for Free Speech and Accountability” (SFFSA) posted for the first time in eleven months, voicing their displeasure at what they called the board’s “deci[sion] to disallow all the hosting and organization of future political debates on the basis that organized debates unfairly discriminate against clubs that didn’t represent political parties.”

UVSS clarifies role

However, the debate over the amendment’s adoption is not necessarily a battle over censorship. Rather, it’s a more of a dispute over the role of student government, and revolves around one central question: does the UVSS have an obligation to assist certain clubs in the planning of events, or not?

“In my mind, [students involved in political clubs] are university students and should be able to talk with each other, and kind of [organize] these [events] themselves,” said Emma Kinakin, UVSS director of student affairs. “[Political clubs] could ask the Undergraduates of Political Science to hold events like this. They could ask the debate club to hold events like this. I’m not discouraging collaboration, we’re just saying ‘we give you the tools, now go and do it.’”

But not all of the directors were on board with the amendment. At the Feb. 6 meeting, Jordan Quitzau, director of events and the organizer of Clash of Clubs, attempted to amend the motion to specifically exclude the event, but his amendment was voted down.

“If all the groups want to come together and put [Clash of Clubs] on, in a sense, they could do it themselves, but it wouldn’t be the same,” said Quitzau. “[With] the UVSS being the parent organization in a sense to all the clubs, it’s a lot easier . . . We have far more access to promotional materials and stuff like that. Not to say that it’s not impossible if the Undergrads of Political Science wanted to put it on.”

Despite its current controversy, the amendment was not exactly a brand new policy. Kinakin and Quitzau both explained that even before the wording was put onto paper, the UVSS generally did not give endorsements to specific clubs.

“As we get more and more clubs, trying to clearly define the UVSS board’s relationship to them has been an ongoing challenge,” said Kinakin. “We have so many people doing so many great things, when we start picking and choosing [clubs], it becomes really difficult to justify why one club deserves us to throw an event for them and another one doesn’t. So this [amendment] is the first step in trying to define that relationship.”

“Our practice has been to not give anyone different levels of support,” said Quitzau. “So, for example, people asking for media posts and things like that, we’ve kind of just said ‘no,’ because there’s a lot of clubs and to share all of their events would be overwhelming on our Facebook page.“

The policy is by no means set in stone. But that depends on input from students and directors. “Anyone can bring anything to Policy Development [Committee],” said Kinakin. “So if someone wanted to make [an] amendment, they could, and then it would be up to the board to decide.”

“It might come back in re-wording to further make it clear that Clash of Clubs is a no-go, or we could see what happens,” said Quitzau. “This policy [came] in right after [Clash of Clubs] happened, and [that event] was fairly well taken, lots of people liked it, that’s a lot of poli sci students on campus, so I think they’re going to want to make their voices heard.”

The backlash continues

On Feb. 18, SFFSA made a post that said they would attend the board meeting on Monday, Feb. 20, to “voice [their] discontent about the board’s ruling on debate events.

“The ruling was an insult to the student body and by taking it lying down we would send the message that UVSS slates can get away with ignoring their electorate.”

During the meeting’s question period, Nick Noble, who introduced himself as a member of the UVic Greens club, said he felt the justification behind the motion was “too thin to warrant such a heavy-handed response.” He then asked if there were enough board members who felt the same way to overturn the motion. Noble did not initially mention Clash of Clubs.

Alysha Flipse, director of outreach and university relations, and Kevin Tupper, director of finance and operations, on the other hand, did. Flipse told Noble that Clash of Clubs “wasn’t on [her] mind” when the policy was drafted, and said it was written in response to clubs in the past that came to the UVSS seeking support.

Tupper said that everything around the motion was “framed and read incorrectly,” and that nothing could stop the UVSS events committee from proposing a similar event in the future.

Noble, similar to what Quitzau did, proposed amending the policy to exclude Clash of Clubs. But Tupper shot that down. “It doesn’t make sense to exempt Clash of Clubs from a policy that doesn’t expressly ban it,” he said.

Kenya Rogers, Third Space board rep, said that board “has a responsibility to create policy that reflects our actions,” and that the motion to prohibit endorsements reflects best practice.

The question period ended with the policy left unchanged. In response to a comment made on Facebook by Rogers asking why the SFFSA didn’t show up to the meeting, a page administrator claiming to be Noble said he was in fact present.

“I didn’t mention where I was coming from, aside from my other political affiliation, because I knew people had pre-existing ideas of this group that would cloud the way they looked at the issue,” the comment said.

The administrator accused the board of “question dodging” and “a lot of talking without saying anything,” and said he “regret[s] not trying harder to nail someone’s foot to the floor to get a real answer.”

In a private Facebook message to the Martlet, Noble confirmed that he wrote the comment, but deleted it because he “did not want to risk confusion concerning the people running this page and their other political affiliations — they are 100% unrelated and separate.”