The UVSS board of directors are once again at the centre of controversy after the UVSS’s noted absence at last week’s #alloutnov2 National Student Day of Action rally.
The Nov. 2 rally was held in solidarity with events across the country that saw students protest the increasing cost of post-secondary tuition. The Canada-wide movement was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) — a national organization that lobbies for college and university students, and included the UVSS in its ranks until an acrimonious split in 2011.
Since the rally, UVSS members have criticized directors on social media for what they see as the board ignoring a vital issue, and a failure to uphold its mandate to work for students.
However, at a board meeting last night, directors reiterated that choosing to abstain from the rally was rooted primarily in its connection to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), which has been accused of questionable labour and financial practices by other member societies, and even entered a legal battle with the UVSS before the aforementioned split.
UVSS a no-show at student protest
The board originally voted unanimously against supporting the rally on Oct. 24. At that time, board members were concerned that the event was too partisan, as it was hosted in part by the Young Communist League and the UVic NDP Club.
The board unanimously opposes the resolution to support the Fight the Fees rally.
— The Martlet (@TheMartlet) October 18, 2016
Regardless of the lack of support, the rally went ahead as planned, drawing a crowd of approximately 80 students and featuring a range of speakers that crossed party lines, such as Rob Fleming, B.C. NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, and B.C. Green Party candidate Mark Neufeld.
Board goes on the defensive
Later that day, UVic teaching assistant Bradley Clements forwarded screenshots to the Martlet of a conversation that took place via private message with the UVSS Facebook page. The screenshots show Clements asking the UVSS why no student union representatives were present alongside its “brave members” at the rally.
An anonymous UVSS staff member, who the Martlet confirmed was UVSS interim director of outreach and university relations Alysha Flipse, responds by reiterating that “we were unable to support the event because of its partisan nature,” and goes on to quote UVSS Board of Directors policy 2.3, which reads: “The Society adopts a non-partisan position that does not endorse any political party.”
The screenshots then show Clements asking, if the board is concerned about partisanship, why it chose to publicly advertise a presidential debate after-party on Oct. 19, which was explicitly hosted by the UVic Young Liberals, on its social media channels and chalkboard outside the board’s general office.
Clements also asked about a YouTube video of UVSS director of campaigns Maxwell Nicholson sitting in on Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver’s constituency report that the UVSS shared on its Facebook page.
Video of the latter can be found here. The segment including Nicholson starts at around 17:00.
In response, Flipse asks that Clements come speak in person, as “there’s reasons why those events are different than [the rally]” and that it’s “a complicated issue.” Flipse told the Martlet that she has not spoken to Clements in person since the conversation on Facebook took place.
Screenshots of the conversation are included below.
Non-partisanship excuse comes into question
While UVSS board policy 2.3 states that the society will adopt non-partisan positions on certain issues, policy 2.1 reads, “Where appropriate, the Society will partner with other student associations to advocate for affordable high-quality education and related student interests.”
At Monday’s board meeting, the Martlet asked the board for comment on the backlash that spawned from the UVSS’s absence from the rally, and specifically asked how the board reconciled the two policies.
Kevin Tupper, UVSS director of finance and operations and meeting chair, said that the CFS’s involvement with the rally was a primary motivator for him to withhold UVSS support.
“We partner with other groups all the time,” he said, citing other UVSS campaigns like Rent With Rights wherein the UVSS has partnered with UBC and SFU student societies as well as the Alliance of B.C. Students to advance student causes. Tupper pointed to the “where appropriate” wording in policy 2.1., and said that it “didn’t feel appropriate” for the UVSS to publicly support an event that was organized by the CFS, which had undertaken legal action against the society before.
Maxwell Nicholson agreed, and said that rejecting support for the event wasn’t rejecting support for its message. He then pointed to a Nov. 2 Nexus newspaper article that reported the Camosun College Student Society had also chosen not to participate in the National Student Day of Action.
As for the UVSS’s advertising of Oct. 19’s presidential debate event, Emma Kinakin, UVSS director of student affairs, said the event was part of the Raising the Bar contest, wherein clubs were given $250 to host a party at Felicita’s and raise money for their respective club. Any club that entered the contest was given equal opportunity for promotion over social media.
Whether or not the board’s explanation for its absence at the National Student Day of Action will placate those who spoke out remains to be seen. On Nov. 6, CFS communications coordinator Sarah McCue wrote that thousands of students turned out across the country in support of free education, and that students must unite to make their voices heard.
“From here, we build,” McCue wrote. “We must all continue to work together as a coalition in order to expand popular support for free education in our communities . . . We will continue to mobilize on-the-ground and take direct action to pressure political decision makers.”
“And united,” McCue wrote, “we will win.”
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to the rally as the National Day of Action, leaving out the ‘Student’ part. We’ve updated the article to fix the error.