Thank you, McMaster Students Union, for the Union Market.
Its coffee and bagels are cheap, its employees are friendly, and it’s right on my way to most classes. For me, an average Mac undergrad, it’s one of the most valuable things the MSU does.
So last week, when the Silhouette got multiple visits and emails from members of the Student Representative Assembly (SRA) about a resolution they had passed that said our students union would officially “stand in support” of Quebec students protesting a 75 per cent tuition hike, my reaction was simple.
The resolution was not a first step lowering our own tuition fees – at least, not it any obvious way. It was just about defining the position of the MSU on matter that was only barely within its purview.
Yet, there was a real sense of accomplishment among those student politicians I spoke with. To them, the SRA had done something significant. In the next province over, 20,000 students took to the streets to fight tuition increases. Here, we got a majority of 30 people in a room to say, ‘Yeah, I can get behind that.’
Is this really the best my student representatives can do for me?
In one sense, members of the SRA run the multi-million-dollar, twenty-thousand-person organization that is the MSU.
Their wishes are the commands of the Union’s employees – and that includes everyone from the Sil’s editors to President Matt Dillon-Leitch. And when student leaders meet with politicians to lobby on tuition and other matters, they take with them the reputation that the SRA has defined for the Union.
But in another sense, they are actually mandated to do relatively little. Yes, they meet once every two weeks and form a variety of committees, and yes they established their positions by virtue of election.
But as long as the Board of Directors (made up of the MSU president and vice-presidents) is doing its job, the SRA can go – and has gone – long stretches of time without doing much on the way of significance.
In others words, it’s really up to them to make something out of the Assembly, and often, they don’t. In meetings, they quibble over the small stuff. Outside meetings, they form alliances and strategize.
It gets political; for some, it’s seen as a launching pad into their own careers in public service. Last year, some of them tried to get McMaster students as a whole to endorse a party in the federal election. Earlier this term, they flirted with a motion that would publicly call our riding’s MPP Ted McMeekin a liar for a mix-up that led to his cancelled visit to a meeting during the provincial election. In the process of discussions like this that members get defensive, they get angry, and little gets done.
It’s no wonder that voter turnout for SRA elections hovers around five per cent. But the cynics will tell you that SRA members are only motivated by two things anyway, neither of which is representing their peers. The first is the hope of becoming either MSU President or one of the three VPs, which are pretty tempting full-time jobs for a recently graduated student. The second is ego.
But I’m not trying to bash you personally, SRA members. Most of you that I’ve met seem like good and intelligent people with real enthusiasm for this school and its students.
But please, worry less about what the students union is and more about what it does. Leave the political causes to popular movements; if a student uprising like the one in Quebec does grow at McMaster, respond to it accordingly, but don’t use the SRA to create one on students’ behalf. That’s not representation.
Cut the bickering, and focus on doing your honest best to serve Mac students in a pragmatic way that is within the jurisdiction of the MSU. There are real issues here that could use your attention. If you can’t do that, then you’re only gathering every other Sunday night in Council Chambers to resume a battle against irrelevance.
That is, unless any of you can get me free coffee at the Union Market.