University of Victoria Students’ Society continues long history of being criticized for run of the mill financial decisions

by MrContentGenerator

Politically keen observers of Canadian students’ unions will question why these organisations offer services to their members.

From individual advocacy to health and dental plans to food operations, students’ unions provide many of the services that should be offered by post-secondary institutions or government. By providing these services, students’ unions attempt to strike a balance between the principle that these are best offered as public services and the demand for the services by members. This balance is delicate, and sometimes students’ unions get it wrong, but it is an ongoing process for the students of every school.

Often, these services are provided through groups that are in part divorced from the central students’ union.

UVSS collective groups

The University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) has had a storied history with its on-campus collective and constituency groups whom rely on the organisation for funding. In part, these groups engage in valuable political struggles on- and off-campus, which students have regularly voted in favour of funding through referendums.

Other than political representation on issues faced by some demographic or another on campus, these – usually very small – constituency groups also spend the money collected for two other general forms of expense. The first are student services, such as UVic Pride’s Peer Support and Someone To Talk To service. These services cost money. They cost money to hire staff, to print materials, to operate offices, and so on. Rarely have members of the University of Victoria Students’ Society been unwilling to fund the services of these small groups with modest fees.

The third general sort of expense that the UVSS’s constituency groups have are usually the most troubling for regular students. Embezzlement. It is a loaded word with many interpretations, but over the years there have been examples of constituency groups taking advantage of the principles and values of the UVSS as an organisation to politically or financially embezzle from the organisation. This is not meant to be alarmist, petty, or mean spirited – it is a statement of fact about the history of some of these groups. It is reflective of the curious relationship, and lack of accountability, that these not-for-profit groups have with the central student organisation.

UVic Pride requests nearly immediate referendum to increase its fee

According to the Martlet, UVic’s amateur student newspaper, the August 10th meeting of the UVSS board of directors considered a request from UVic Pride to hold a referendum in November to increase its fee from $0.95 per full-time student to $1.69 per full-time student. The collective made the request on the basis that it had hired a second staff person and was planning to expand services.

A conflict arose when UVSS Director of Finance Tristan Ryan introduced an amendment to the resolution that would see the referendum held in Spring 2016 rather than November 2015. For those interested in the progressive development of students’ unions in British Columbia, this is an exceptionally important conflict to take note of.

Based on the understanding of The Western Student, the difference between holding a referendum in November rather than Spring 2016 is this:

  • a November 2015 vote would cost the UVSS an unbudgeted $9,000 to $10,000, according to Ryan
  • a Spring 2016 vote would cost the UVSS almost nothing, because it could be run on the same ballot as the UVSS elections and other simultaneous referendums
  • holding two separate fee increase referendums in one years makes it much less likely that the second will succeed, as students may begin to feel gouged

Regardless of when the referendum is held, the new fee would be implemented in September 2016.

UVic Pride’s Tribesty Nguyen admitted to the Martlet that the collective wanted to hold a referendum before students would have to consider additional fees in the Spring.

Now, Ryan was quoted by the Martlet as saying that the amendment was solely about financial considerations for the UVSS as an organisation. Ryan and other UVSS directors were vocal about their fiduciary duty to the UVSS as a society, which dictates that they give serious consideration to anything that would financially impact the organisation.

The Society’s General Manager Dale Robertson told the meeting that the organisation had a fund reserved for elections, with a balance of over $30,000.

Now, here is the important message in this story. UVSS director at-large Katrina Woollgar told the Martlet that “hypocritical of the board to ignore that request while simultaneously saying it supported the collective’s operations.”

Ryan withdrew the amendment after criticism from those in favour of increasing UVic Pride’ fee. The UVSS bent to the desires of a handful of people, and UVic students will pay about $10,000 dollars for it. This also means the UVSS will be preoccupied with organizing for a referendum in November 2015, when there is a federal election in October 2015 that students need to prepare for.

What happened: a dynamic of political extortion in the UVic Pride referendum decision?

It would be hypocritical of the board to ignore that request while simultaneously saying it supported the collective’s operations.

The UVSS’s Katrina Woollgar, with this statement to the Martlet, has engaged in a form of debate and politicking that should be bellow the directors of a major university’s students’ union. Woollgar is calling into question other directors’ support for UVic Pride and all it represents, simply because they made basic financial observations and sought to save ten thousand dollars for the students of UVic.

Are the proponents of the November referendum so afraid that they can’t convince UVic students to vote yes in Spring 2016 that they would stoop so low as to infer that UVSS directors didn’t support LGBTQ+ initiatives? This is a serious question, and one that gets raised to the detriment of reasonable discussion and the honest representation of students at the University of Victoria.

Another director at-large, Kaylee Szakacs, who is quoted by the Martlet as being “emotionally torn and mentally separated”, even felt the need to ask those leaving the meeting to be cordial.

What new fees are going to come up in Spring 2016 that are going to make students balk at the minor UVic Pride fee increase?

Was there any thought given to the idea that if the UVic Pride increase is accepted in November, that it is that much more difficult for the other constituency groups and collectives to increase their fee in the Spring?

What if the UVSS needs to increase its fee to run campaigns that make a difference to all students’ lives, such as fighting increasing tuition fees or the terrible system of student loans?

What now?

Tristan Ryan had the right of it with his amendment. UVic students shouldn’t have to pay $10,000 for a referendum that no one is going to vote against in Spring 2016. This semester, the UVSS should be focused on political campaigns and the federal election.

Cooler heads could have prevailed at the UVSS board meeting on August 10 – and the decision to hold a referendum this semester can still be reconsidered. Email the UVSS board and let them know your thoughts.

note: In this article we link to David Foster’s blog. We’re sorry, we know we’re better than that (or are we? we’re an anonymous blog…). For that matter, we’re sorry we linked the Martlet. We feel appropriately bad about both.