April 25 was just a normal day for Dawson College’s staff, but a special one for its student body. It was the annual Winter semester General Assembly and the first election day for the next Dawson Student Union (DSU) administration.
Two major topics were on the GA’s agenda: the ongoing elections and the proposed budget. While these are quintessential issues, there is something else that I (and probably many other Dawson students) wanted to see addressed, because the very integrity of the Union depends on it. This issue is the accountability of our student union.
It is no secret that not everyone is satisfied with the DSU. In the The Plant’s April issue, students had the chance to voice their criticisms about the organization. Aside from simple hostile remarks such as “stubborn” and “condescending,” some left detailed complaints and concluded that the DSU is “[ruining] the legacy of Dawson club spaces,” “[abusing] their power, despite claiming to be ‘working for the students,’” and “endlessly exasperating the student body with its lack of understanding of what it means to actually be a student.”
There is also the eternal feud between the DSU and the Facebook page Spotted: Dawson College. Especially during this election season, Spotted posted several memes brutally bashing the Union. Although the page is not administered by the Dawson community, the several dozens of reactions left by students on each of their posts echo their sentiments about the DSU.
I might be wrong, but I sense an abnormal display of hostility towards the DSU, an institution whose purpose is to serve us the students and to safeguard our rights and freedoms from the College administration. Of course, many criticisms are just unconstructive name-callings. But when several students claim that the DSU is actively working against us, I believe that the Union should at least respond to them.
That is why the issue of the DSU’s accountability should be at the center of this year’s elections. Whoever will be in charge next year will have to keep being responsible towards our 11,000-student strong community. Fortunately, during this GA, students started to bring up this concern. During the candidate question period, The Plant’s very own News Editor Sheena Macmillan asked: “Where is the Student Council?”
Never heard about the Student Council? Do not worry, neither had the candidates apparently, since they looked at each other, unsure about how to answer.
The Student Council, as stated in the DSU Bylaws (which are available on the DSU website), has the purpose of “ensuring that members of the Executive Committee adhere to the Bylaws and policies of the Union” and “administering its affairs and may enact, amend or repeal policies, resolutions and regulations.” In other words, this body serves to keep our elected DSU administrators in check. Like the Parliament to the Cabinet, the Council aims to make the DSU accountable to the rule of (by)law and to us.
The composition of the Council is normally determined every year by the Executive Committee (i.e. the Chairperson and the other executives), and its members shall reflect the academic and social diversity of the student body.
After the long silence following Macmillan’s question, then Chairperson hopeful Treven Goppy stepped forward, admitting: “There is no Student Council.”
In a follow-up question, The Plant’s Editor-in-Chief Gary-Joseph Panganiban asked.
Goppy if the Council would be something that his administration would consider implementing next year. The incumbent Deputy Chairperson answered that it is an “interesting proposal,” but he has “no plan on implementing it [at the moment].”
Here lies the problem. The Student Council is not a mere “interesting proposal” that you may or may not implement next year. It is the body that is supposed to bring checks and balances to the DSU, a body that the previous administrations (including the one Goppy is a part of this year) have seemingly forgotten to preserve. We are not asking you to implement it. We are commanding you to uphold the DSU’s own Bylaws and ensure the accountability of the Union.
The Plant requested to see the minutes of the DSU’s last five Executive meetings, which are records normally available to us, on April 23 but, for mysterious reasons, they have not been provided with the minutes or received any formal answer to their request. (note: They still have not been provided nearly three weeks after they have been requested).
In every liberal democracy, the government is accountable to its citizens. The government fears its citizens. The state’s accountability and transparency is what makes we the people free and powerful, and our interests heard. The DSU also reflect this ideal. It is written in the DSU Constitution (also available on the website) that its first purpose is “to organise students on a democratic, co-operative basis for advancing Students’ interests, and advancing the interests of the Students’ community.”
However, it is ultimately up to us to advance our own interests. Only the students can keep the integrity of its student union. To secure that end, it is our responsibility to check our DSU by being informed of their activities and to get involved in student politics. I do not know about you, but I want the 19 dollars that we give to the DSU every semester to be well spent – especially when combined, provides the DSU with a budget around $500,000.
I believe that us the students must participate in student politics more, and politics in general. Did you know that the General Assembly had to be interrupted twice because attendance was too low for it to be allowed to continue? The few students there had to organize a makeshift campaign to beg people to come. Last year, 13.2% of the students voted in the DSU elections, and in 2016, only 4.6%. This year’s elections are even more underwhelming with a participation rate of around 2.4%.
Remember, change at the DSU must come from us the students. It does not matter how principled the candidates look or how safe the system is. We must be the ones preserving the values of the Constitution. We must not delegate the task of pursuing our best interests to someone else. Starting now, Dawson students shall seize back its Union. Who is there to check the DSU? We are.