Proposed amendment at USSU Annual General Meeting causes dispute

By in News
The numbers reflected in the Ubyssey article were collected from the 2015-16 USSU budget.

On Nov. 23 at the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Annual General Meeting, a proposed amendment to the USSU bylaws led to an objection from a group of students from the U of S Campus Conservatives.

The AGM agenda consisted of eight proposed amendments to the USSU bylaws, but the amendment that garnered the most debate called for a removal of the requirement that USSU executives enroll in courses while they are in office. At the AGM, members from the Campus Conservatives, a politically-­focused student group, questioned whether or not the amendment is necessary and beneficial.

David D’Eon, president of the USSU, put forward the proposed amendment at the AGM. He explains that it is necessary to change the restrictive course-load requirements due to the demands of the executive positions.

“When I stepped into the job, I was very aware of a history of mental-health breakdowns amongst executive members, and that was something that I wanted to try [to] find a couple of ways of addressing. So, that was my first motivation,” D’Eon said.

Before the amendment passed, section 15 and 16 of the USSU bylaws required the executives of the union to enroll in a minimum of three credit units in both the fall session and the winter session. Failing to enroll in courses while working full time on the executive might have resulted in removal from office.

At the AGM, a group of about eight students objected to the proposed amendment and handed out small information sheets to convince students to vote against the amendment with them. The handouts stated that the purpose of the bylaw was “to ensure the executive remains under the control of U of S students” and that the amendment would give the executives an “easy ride while they get paid a massive salary.”

Erik Carey, a second-year political science student and a member of Campus Conservatives, notes that, while the students who objected to the amendment at the AGM were from a political student group, the amendment is not specifically a conservative issue. Carey explains that this amendment may allow some individuals to take advantage of the union positions.

“We are concerned that some people might see this as an opportunity to take a year off of studying while maintaining their student status, and at the same time, generate an income,” Carey said. “This opens up the possibility that people who don’t really care about the interests of the students [run] for the positions because of the benefits it offers.”

D’Eon explains there may be a misunderstanding amongst students that this amendment might allow people who are not U of S students to hold executive positions, but he says this is not the case.

“We have an agreement now, with the registrar’s office, where executives are coded as ‘placeholders,’ which is the same status given to students who take time off to partake in co-op programs. It is still in the bylaws that you are required to be a student to run for an executive position,” D’Eon said.

D’Eon explains that the U of S is not the only university to consider removing the requirement that student-union staff take classes during their work year. He says he discovered, while attending a student conference at the University of British Columbia, that the required course load is in review at other unions.

“This was a conversation that I carried with me to the Student Union Development Summit that I went to in August. It really became apparent when we spoke with other student-union members that this was one way that was being explored, by many unions, of reducing the burden on executive members,” D’Eon said.

Despite the opposition to the proposed amendment, the USSU passed all eight amendments during the AGM. Carey notes, however, that he and other students still have concerns about whether or not the amendment will encourage inept students to run for executive positions on the students’ union.

“Our point was that, if they cannot handle the workload of the classes and their responsibilities, they should not have taken the responsibility in the first place.”

Nafisa Islam

Photo: Emily Migchels / Opinions Editor

  • Guest

    Why not just get a job you actually meet the qualifications for? If a three credit course (possibly night or online) is enough to make you break down mentally, I worry about your ability to do the job.

    • r

      I think we need to trust these student’s autonomy in deciding for themselves what works for them – not every exec member will take this option. Your attitude about mental breakdowns is unfair. Personally, I am taking a full course-load, and have two jobs, one of which is working for a professor. I know my own boundaries regarding my own mental health, yet still succumb to mental health issues at times. That doesn’t make me a bad student, or bad at my job. Therefore, I respect the exec for understanding their own boundaries. And not just their own – they are doing this for members of future execs, which I think is enormously kind.

      Having known several exec members over the past four years, I can personally say that it’s an extremely demanding job that they take very seriously. The concern is that they’re trying to “get an easy ride,” or that having a year off from classes means they won’t have student’s interests in mind because they won’t be students (for a year). Okay, but they will still be interacting with students – constantly. They are attending meetings, answering emails, setting up entire unions across the province to protect students, helping student groups, and then answering even more emails from students when they get home. They have a set salary, yet I still see this year’s exec going to events for students after their work hours, in addition to putting in enormous amounts of work. I just can’t understand what the big deal is with allowing them to take 6 less credits, if it helps them serve students even more. Isn’t that what the group of students protesting want? For the USSU to serve students? This will help them do that. Like I said, the executive will decide what works best for them. Go ahead and pass judgment on how others manage their mental health; I hope that if you ever face obstacles with your own, that people have much more empathy for you.

  • Guest

    As a former executive member, I can certainly attest to the demands of being both a student and holding a position on the executive. However, I found the experience tremendously valuable in preparing me for the workforce, where balancing work and life can be incredibly demanding. I have experienced mental health challenges, in addition to supporting those around me, however simply removing a symptom is not going to address the larger concern that students deal with during their educational careers that transition to their professional careers. We need to open up the dialogue on how we support all students (and employees) when times are difficult, not just sweeping it under the rug to resurface later in life.

    That being said, I am pleased that this executive team made this visible to all students and allowed for healthy debate.