An Open Letter to the Incoming SRC.
This open letter is meant to bring forward our concerns, suggestions, and foster collaboration. It will address our views on student democracy, leadership and journalism.
By definition, any student union or government is required to serve and represent students. Representatives are here for students of the ASU. These students, from presidents to councillors, are here to serve everyone at to the best of their collective ability. These students are members of the union in the same way that each and every student who pays student fees is. Elected members have a duty to consider more than just their own opinions on issues when determining the interest of the union as a whole. This is where problems arise.
The best unions must embrace democracy to its fullest. This means laws and practices that adhere to democratic principles of fair and free elections, ethical governance and always promoting students’ democratic rights. These should be the top priorities of any union.
It is no great secret that we, Kyle Thompson-Clement, Chris Vanderburgh, and Josée Léger, strongly believe that the ASU has systematically weakened students’ rights. It was brought to our attention that students can no longer impeach ASU representatives nor bring forward referendum by petition. Adding these restrictions means students with enough support from other union members currently have no guarantee that they could remove a representative from their position or submit a question for a referendum.
To incoming ASU representatives, understand that the 10+ people sitting around the table are not the union. The union is each and every student and it is your job to serve these students. If members of your union, non-elected members and those around the table alike, show support for an idea like a bus pass or impeachment and referendum rights, it is your job to find out how to make that work for the union.
It is your job to contextualize your positions and solicit feedback, both positive and negative. Again, we remind those who are elected that it is your job to promote everyone’s right to fair and just governance. This year we feel the union has failed to do so.
Often the term leadership is connected to elected members of the ASU. We would strongly agree that every one of the students elected to the ASU as representatives is in some form a leader. Part of this leadership entails educating students on what being a member of a union means, and what they are supposed to be privy to as paying members. As leaders, we urge, nay beg, all representatives of the ASU to lead by example.
Check your colleagues. Do not be afraid to speak out against any authority on the ASU. If an elected member is fearful of speaking out, it is clear the union is flawed.
Do the hard work. Protect student rights. Explain from the day they are accepted to Acadia University that their representatives are there to protect everyone’s rights.
The following message is just for the incoming Executive. The Executive sets the tone for how union members will be governed. If you lead by example the whole elected representative body is stronger. Please, for every union member, eliminate with the strongest sense, any thoughts or feelings of thinking you know better than students.
Please keep communication open to anything you do that will have an impact on the student body. Transparency is key to educating a union on matters that affect them. If students show enough support or vote favourably on a referendum question to see something actioned it is your job, especially as the executive, to make that happen.
Secondly, we get it. We understand that all union members are not always informed enough to make decisions on their union’s future. However, as a governing body, it is also your duty to educate students and present the most whole thought out plan for how to achieve a particular goal. This means putting in the work to find the most effective way of implementing these changes regardless of personal bias.
It is up to every union member to decide whether they agree or disagree on substantial changes. Leadership means constantly putting effort in by presenting all the options with the most detail and clarity. This will allow the union at large to fully consider decisions and show the rest of the representatives that the union is more than just the individuals who sit in the council room. A more engaged approach to union governance will boost election participation and promote a more active union.
Incoming ASU representatives need to understand the importance of journalism. In every modern society, journalism plays a critical role in being the check and balance of power, corruption, and ethical governance. The Athenaeum is here to educate students on all social issues. Sometimes, our job is to foster a conversation on the governance of our union.
Any attempt to undermine the duty we have as journalists is a threat to governance and pushes us towards an authoritarian government. We know it sounds overwhelming, but we exist to bring forward any issues within the union.
We’re not looking to ruin the reputation of the ASU. We love our school and we love our newspaper. However, it is our job to stand up and be watchdogs for policy changes or events within the ASU that represent significant changes to how students are governed. Articles that shed light on messy issues may not always make your job easier. Certainly not. That’s not why we are there.
Instead of trying to silence voices of dissent, representatives themselves must use the same medium we do to convince students otherwise. Journalism, especially pieces that shed light on policy issues, represent an opportunity to think critically about the decision being made in the council room. Please, embrace what journalism represents: checks, balances, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a means to educate the very union you represent.
Throughout our time at Acadia we have learned a lot about the inner workings of politics. We can confidently tell you that your representatives work towards making the lives of its union members lives better.
However, to the incoming ASU representatives, please advocate for students’ rights. Put the students first and actively work hard by setting petty grievances and personal bias aside. Work towards giving students the most democratic and sound governance we all deserve. Lead by example. This means setting a tone that students rights are of the highest importance, exploring all options, and educating other union representatives on why democracy is essential for the union.
Finally, attacks on student journalism can and should be met with hostility and dissent. It can be a bitter pill to swallow but it does not change our job as student journalists. We will continue to do the hard and sometimes confrontational work of exposing incidents that run counter to students’ best interests. Again, this opposition through The Athenaeum can be embraced as an opportunity to reflect on representatives’ choices and standard governance practices.
The Athenaeum is willing to meet regularly with the ASU in hopes to actively work out future tensions. The Athenaeum and the ASU are here to work for the students.
Let’s not lose sight of that.