Engagement problem with student government must be addressed

Last week’s TRUSU annual general meeting was a real letdown. Not because of what the union reported to its members, not because the special resolutions on the table passed or failed, but because attendance was so poor.

University should be a time when students learn how to engage with governing bodies. In many ways, student government is the perfect body to engage with. It holds regular meetings (TRUSU’s are every two weeks), it has plenty of people available to engage with on anything the union concerns itself with, it has a large group of elected representatives and it has a governance structure that isn’t too complicated.

If you’re a student, you know you’re paying a lot of money
for both tuition and fees. When was the last time you looked at that list of fees and wondered how they were spent? Well, if you were at Thursday’s meeting (and given the attendance, you probably weren’t), you’d know what TRUSU did with your money. You’d see how the union succeeded and how it failed. You’d have a chance to question the executive and union’s elected directors on how they used your money. You’d have a chance to ensure accountability.

Only a couple of people did that, though. And good on them for doing so. One gentleman behind me questioned every large spending item he could, seemingly without much understanding of the budget he was looking at, but that’s fine in a meeting like the AGM because the elected members are there to explain the documents being presented and be accountable for their decisions.

The bar for quorum (the minimum amount of members needed to make decisions valid) is not very high. Only 50 students have to show up in order for the decisions made that night to be valid. Only twice
in the past five years, however, have more than 50 students showed up to a TRUSU AGM. While I think there’s more the union could be doing to ensure that its meetings are attended, the blame doesn’t rest solely
on their shoulders. Last year, when students were called on to make decisions about this year’s student leaders, only nine per cent of students showed up to vote. Nine per cent.

At various students’ unions across B.C., quorum requirements are typically higher. At Kwantlen Polytechnic, which has roughly the same number of students as TRU, 100 members are needed. At two schools that are smaller than TRU, University of Fraser Valley and Capilano University, 100 students and 75 students respectively are required to pass special resolutions at meetings. Only UBC Okanagan, which is smaller, matches TRU’s quorum requirements of 50 students.

From Feb. 9 to 11, TRUSU will hold a referendum on adding international students to the health and dental plan. It would mean that those international students who become eligible for the plan would pay the same $248 premium that domestic students pay. There would be no fee increase for anyone other than those new members joining the plan. For the referendum to succeed however, 20 per cent of the union’s membership,
or approximately 1,800 students, must show up to vote on the matter. Considering past turnouts, including last week’s annual general meeting, it seems unlikely (and unfortunate) that required number of voters will show up.

The union is now campaigning for that referendum, and I wish them the best of luck and genuinely do hope that students flex their democratic rights and show up to vote, but perhaps more should have been done earlier to address the engagement problems the union is now facing. Perhaps after an AGM that did not meet quorum, a referendum that did not meet its threshold of voters to be binding and yet another student election with single-digit turnout will the union see that it has a major problem on its hands.