General elections for the Student Representative Assembly began this week. If you’re too burnt out on the MSU’s presidential elections to pay much attention to the SRA generals, you’re not alone. Last year, about one in eight eligible voters cast a ballot, compared to the one in three that voted for MSU president.
That’s a problem. It means that almost 18,000 full-time undergrads didn’t vote for the students who governed the McMaster Student Union, which collects hundreds of dollars in membership dues from each student annually.
The SRA’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Democratic Reform will be offering its final report to the Assembly on Sunday. For the past year, it has tried make the SRA more relevant to students.
The Committee’s four-page document details the work it has done, and how effective it feels that work has been.
It’s conclusions? The Committee accomplished next to nothing.
MSU Speaker Simon Gooding-Townsend, who penned the report, points out that one argument against striking the committee again next year “is that the committee is not effective at accomplishing reform and that the SRA is not interested in implementing reforms.”
The Committee had discussed electing vice-presidents at large, like the MSU president. It discussed inviting the part-time managers of MSU services to be members on the Assembly.
It brought a proposal to the SRA to change the way academic divisions are represented to make the student-to-member proportions more equal. Science, for example, has one rep for every 816 students, while Arts & Science has one for 274 students.
The proposal was voted down, and the Assembly’s structure stayed the same. All the discussion ultimately translated to no action, and the Committee’s work was done.
But there’s no doubt that something needs to change.
The MSU’s constitution limits the Assembly to 35 members. That’s the Students Union president, the three vice-presidents and the 31 current student representatives.
That number’s been the same since 1964, when the full-time undergraduate population was under 3,000 members – no where close to the 20,000-plus it is now.
Students aren’t properly represented. Most of them don’t pay attention to the SRA. Meanwhile, the elected members struggle to find out what it is that students want.
A solution needs to begin in three major steps.
First, the SRA needs to be bigger. There’s no guarantee that its members can effectively speak for us. So if it’s going to be making important decisions on what to do with student money, it at least needs to be a representative sample of the student population.
Second, it can’t only be divided by faculties and programs. Societies, services, cultural groups and other organized segments of campus life need seats. These other aspects of a student experience can be just as meaningful to someone as what they’re studying.
And third, the students already in elected positions of power in major student groups – faculty society presidents, for example – should be on the Assembly. Rather than fragmenting a voter’s attention between organizations, it’s important to let the people already leading students bring their knowledge and connections to the SRA.
Voting for the new SRA will run March 12 to 14. Only six of the nine elections will be contested – students in Nursing, Business and Kinesiology won by acclamation.
Evidently, interest in running for seats is low. And if the Ad-Hoc Committee on Democratic Reform was any indication, there’s not much interest from elected members on making change.
But if the new SRA really believes that it needs to be both a relevant and effective student government, it won’t let the enthusiasm for reform fade away over the summer.