EDITORIAL | Dear UVSS Board: We want substantive change, not empty stances

Editorials Opinions
The Lead Directors of the 2019/2020 UVSS Board of Directors. File photo by Belle White

As students head back to school, they’ll get access to a bunch of UVSS-funded perks like Campus Kick Off and the plethora of coupons inside those coveted student agendas. All this might be nice for the first few days, but over the summer we’ve seen the true colours of this UVSS Board.

If we had to guess, most students returning to campus this fall have no idea what the UVSS really is, or that the UVSS has voted to publish several press releases and public letters on issues like free transit and universal contraception over the summer. And honestly, why should they? 

For starters, students should care what the UVSS does because they literally fund it. The 13 million dollar budget that the UVSS has is entirely taken from student fees. In fact, you’ll be paying into this in the next few weeks when you pay your tuition. 

This money goes towards running UVSS-owned businesses and restaurants in the SUB and funding advocacy groups, campaigns, clubs, course unions, the UVSS Food Bank, the campus radio station, the Peer Support Centre, the Anti-Violence Project, UVSS events, and even the Martlet (although unlike everyone else on this list, we are independent from the UVSS). The UVSS Board of Directors is the elected student body that oversees the UVSS, including the millions of student dollars that runs the organization.

It’s great that the Board has voted in their meetings over the summer to take a stance on important issues such as decolonization, free transit, and universal contraception. But is there much point in these strongly-worded motions and press releases if they’re not backed up by active efforts to induce change on these fronts?

In their press release announcing their solidarity with the Unist’ot’en Camp, the Board “pledged to take concrete steps to challenge colonialism and racism,” but did not specify what those concrete steps would be. Instead, they encouraged students interested in learning more about UVSS decolonization to attend the July 8 Board Meeting — although decolonization was not discussed beyond the meeting’s territory acknowledgement, which is standard at the start of every meeting.

In January, the previous UVSS Board of Directors (whose term ended in May) pledged to donate $1 000 to Unist’ot’en Camp’s legal defense fund. They also voted to lobby the university into taking a stance in support of the Unist’ot’en Camp, although the Board was ultimately unsuccessful in that effort.

While the UVSS Board continues to pass motions with good intentions, they have failed to substantively enact many of their campaign promises during their first four months in office.

While the UVSS may mean well, and these press releases are a good first step to change, it has been months since the last of these public statements were released and we have yet to see any active efforts from the Board to support these efforts in any large-scale way that would back up their grandiose messages of solidarity.

Not only that, but the Board has failed to meet all of even the minimal actions promised in these motions. In the news release section of the UVSS website, there is currently no release supporting the call for free transit ridership in Victoria or universal birth control in B.C., despite the fact the Board voted for these statements to be issued in May and June respectively.

As the old adage states: talk is cheap. While the UVSS Board continues to pass motions with good intentions, they have failed to substantively enact many of their campaign promises during their first four months in office. 

In May, members of the UVSS Board and Divest UVic held a silent protest at the Board of Governors meeting. After the meeting, the Martlet spoke with UVSS Director of Campaigns and Community Relations, Juliet Watts.

 “This was our first presence at a Board of Governors meeting, and it’s not gonna stop over the course of the year,” Watts said. “it will continue until divestment happens … Next time, we might have more to say.”

Next time, in June, not a single student (including UVSS Board members) was in attendance at the meeting, apart from the Martlet.

Over the summer, UVic decided to swap out plans for affordable grad student housing downtown with plans for a hotel. This presented an ideal opportunity for the UVSS Board to lobby their UVic partners on the importance of affordable housing and perhaps pass a motion dissenting that decision. Yet, the Board did not discuss the university’s decision even though advocating for affordable student housing was a central campaign promise.

Similarly, one of the key promises voiced by the Hear slate (who are now the UVSS Board) in the most recent election was to lobby the federal and provincial government to remove taxes on textbooks and advocate for open source textbooks. However, as many students will note in the coming weeks, we still have to pay taxes on our textbooks. 

It is a long process to lobby big players like the federal government. But with a federal election looming, the UVSS had an opportune time to put this issue on student voter’s agendas this summer. However, as Martlet reporters sat in the otherwise almost empty chairs at UVSS meetings, textbooks were not discussed in the slightest. 

We’re used to UVSS boards making empty statements and promises they don’t intend to keep — who could forget the year one board promised to build a petting zoo on campus? But if you’re going to take stances on issues, at least follow them up with some change on campus. 

Time will tell whether the UVSS will progress on their lofty promises, like encouraging UVic to divest and moving the SUB towards being zero waste, which may actually come to fruition. But with a third of their term complete, the possibility of substantive action towards changing our campus looks grim.