Petition to start a new student union receiving a lukewarm response, history of unsuccessful attempts
A former distance education student says TRU Open Learning (OL) should have its own student union, but he may be fighting an uphill battle with little support.
Two weeks ago, Mark Swarek launched an online petition to TRU’s dean of students, Christine Adam, advocating the creation of an OL student union much like TRUSU. The university would collect a union fee from each student, which would then be funnelled to the union for advocacy, services and entertainment.
Swarek argues that the current system excludes OL students, since they are not members of TRUSU and do not benefit from its services such as advocacy, student saver discounts and health and dental insurance.
“It takes a lot of self-discipline and a lot of commitment and dedication to be an open learning student, especially if you’re pursuing a program that way,” Swarek said. “So we need every support and every advantage that’s available to us.”
According to Adam, the demand for what Swarek is proposing is low.
“Many OL students are actually members of student unions elsewhere and they are taking a course through TRU OL, so they’re receiving benefits and other sorts of services connected to their affiliation with another institution,” Adam said.
Only seven people have signed Swarek’s petition so far.
TRUSU president Dylan Robinson said that, while he is not opposed to a separate student union, OL students must collectively approve the idea.
“We’ve spoken to open learning about this issue in the past and more recently as well and, at this time, we don’t really believe that there’s widespread interest amongst open learning students to join a student organization,” he said.
He added that, if there ever were widespread agreement among OL students, TRUSU would be happy to be part of those discussions.
A union all his own
While Swarek said he still envisions a student union associated with the university, he is also taking matters into his own hands.
Only a few days after launching his petition, Swarek announced the Open Learning Students Alliance (OLSA), his own independently formed organization separate from the university.
“I realized that perhaps the best way to demonstrate to [the administration] that there is support from open learning students is to go ahead and form an organization, gather members and start delivering services,” Swarek said.
According to Swarek, he hopes his organization can eventually provide members with health and dental insurance, advocacy and student discounts on items specific to an off-campus education such as software and technology. At the moment, however, membership benefits are mostly related to forming the organization’s framework and voting in the first board of directors.
In order to provide health insurance and other standard benefits, Swarek said he plans to become a member of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), a national organization that regulates student unions across Canada, including TRUSU.
According to Zachary Crispin, spokesperson for CFS British Columbia, there are several Canadian universities with a separate union to represent a specific group of students. He added, however, that any union applying for CFS membership must be able to demonstrate that it represents all students in that group, in this case, OL. The organization must also be ratified under the B.C. Societies Act, which requires each applicant to have a constitution, bylaws and at least three directors.
Christine Adam said that getting the OLSA to represent all TRU OL would be a challenge, since distance makes it difficult for students to organize. Adam added, however, that sending an email to all OL students “wouldn’t necessarily be an unreasonable thing to request.”
She also said that the OLSA would have to be ratified by the Societies Act before the university would consider an arrangement similar to TRUSU.
Swarek’s organization is currently an unincorporated society outside of the act.