The case for and against UVSS faculty representation
No one’s ever surprised by the lack of engagement in UVSS elections. You can find Martlet articles dating back to the 1960s talking about student apathy, and a general distaste for student politics. One aspect of apathy is the consistent lack of candidates running from different faculties and areas of campus. While certain groups like Human and Social Development, Law, Education, and Fine Arts haven’t sent a director to the board in a few years, 29% of students on campus are in the Social Sciences, but generally make up around 70% of the directors elected.
The result is that the students most often asked to vote, given classroom talks, and otherwise participate only come from a narrow slice of campus, and won’t always understand what other parts of the student body want from their student society. The proposed solution up for debate at the UVSS Annual General Meeting (AGM) is to create director seats on the board that are tied to faculty in order to ensure that every faculty can bring their perspective to the board.
Focusing on the AGM proposal more specifically, the model reflects the composition for students on the UVic senate: one director per faculty, and five at-large directors. It’s a common model which you can see at other student unions like the UBC Alma Mater Society and the Simon Fraser Student Society. The five at-large seats allow undeclared students to run, as well as providing room on the board to allow candidates who might not have won their faculty seats, but still received high vote totals overall to also be elected.
There’s a few nagging doubts some people might have about the proposal. Often, UVic Senate student seats in certain faculties don’t have students run for them, or have students acclaimed. Some people could attribute this to the faculty model, however I would point to a lack of advertisement, and disengagement from those elections. Voter turnout is poor even compared to 15-20% for UVSS elections (they got 6% last election). With a higher profile, and overall better advertisement, I would expect most, if not all, positions to have multiple candidates running in them.
Wouldn’t it make sense for Poli-Sci students to do Student Politics? Well, not quite. On the face of it the UVSS may seem to be focused on campaigning for student issues, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. We manage the health and dental plan for 12 000 students, several businesses, over 200 employees — the majority of which are students, clubs, course unions — and to a lesser extent several affiliated groups, advocacy groups, and professional development unions. Even campaigns can often change from year to year depending on the perspectives on the board. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I wouldn’t think that an understanding of international political theory would help in any of that.
-Pierre-Paul Angelblazer, Director of Outreach and University Relations
One of the most interesting proposed motions for this year’s UVSS AGM speaks to students’ desires for electoral reform in the UVSS: faculty representation. Among student unions in Canada, the UVSS stands apart: flat executive hierarchy with no president or vice-presidents, an operational versus governance board that is more adaptable than large councils, and every director position open to students regardless of faculty, department, or academic year.
The proposed resolution seeks to amend the bylaws to turn the eleven at-large director positions into nine faculty directors and five at-large positions. Students could run directly for the at-large director positions or for their faculty position, and candidates in the latter category would have their votes count towards the former if their bid for faculty director is unsuccessful. This system leads to a few concerns:
First, this change would add unnecessary complexity to UVSS elections. Students are already disinterested in elections and UVSS activities, and this would only exacerbate the problem. Undeclared students would be limited to fewer positions and the votes of advocacy group representatives on the board, of which there are five, would be diluted by the expansion of voting members. There’s also the potential that these positions might undermine the respective course union and professional development union executives within the faculties who already advocate for students in their departments and faculties.
Faculties such as Law, Education, and Engineering prepare students for specific professional degrees and have stricter requirements for their programs. Co-ops and difficult classes with full workloads limit students in these faculties from participation in UVSS elections and board governance. The number of students that are willing and able to volunteer their time with the UVSS from these faculties would likely be much lower than a large faculty such as the Social Sciences, which could lead to only one candidate running.
This ties in with what is probably the largest issue with faculty representation: the potential for overrepresentation and underrepresentation. The Social Sciences are by far the largest faculty with nearly 30% of undergraduate students. Next up are Engineering and Science with 16% each. On the other end, Law is the smallest with only 2% of students. Education and Fine Arts are not that much larger with 6% of undergraduate students each. The resolution on the agenda for the AGM would give each of the nine faculties the same number of dedicated seats, just one, regardless of size. Governance is currently set up so that no student would be barred from running, as perhaps it would be valuable to have a law student on the Board, however, the proposed resolution would limit the field of candidates and restrict eligible positions.
When it comes down to it, it’s up to students, as UVSS members, to decide how they want to choose how to be represented in the governance structure of the UVSS.
-Curtis Whittla, Director of Finance and Operations
The AGM will be held in the Vertigo room of the Student Union Building on Oct. 11 at 2:30 p.m. All undergraduate students are encouraged to attend.