Q&A with Canadian Federation of Students – B.C. Chair Zachary Crispin re: Bill 18

Devan C. Tasa, Contributor  Ω

Those who are democratically elected to represent students or faculty on a university’s board of governors, the body that deals with financial matters such as tuition, can now be unilaterally removed without a recall vote.

On Mar. 29, the provincial government passed Bill 18, which gives university’s boards of governors in B.C. the power to remove members with a two-thirds vote, whether the members were democratically elected or appointed by the government. On most boards, including TRU’s, the appointees make up the majority.

Bill 18 also bans any faculty that is active in their own union from running for and sitting on the board.

Omega reporter Devan Tasa talks with the chairperson of the B.C. section of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Zachary Crispin, about how Bill 18 could affect a board’s student members.

Devan C. Tasa: What I’m interested in is what is the CFS’s position and what the CFS thinks about the provision that allows the board of governors to remove another member with a two-thirds vote. I’ll think I’ll start off with first for our readers is: what is Bill 18?

Zachary Crispin: Bill 18 is a bill that changes the way post-secondary education is going to be governed in British Columbia. What it does is it further erodes the democratic structures that were originally put in place so that post-secondary institutions were a place of free thinking and debate and academic freedom was paramount. Now, what we are going to have happen is sort of a two-tiered system where union workers and possibly in the future students, are going to be sidelined and that government appointees are going to have essentially all of the power to run institutions.

DCT: All right, so what the CFS’s position on the bill?

ZC: The Canadian Federation of Students, what our original request is for the government is to remove certain provisions from the bill, provisions that made it impossible for elected faculty within their unions to sit on the board of governors. We think [it] doesn’t make any sense and it actually erodes the democratic structure of the institutions. [We’d also like to] take out the provision of the bill which allows the board of governors to remove only workers and students from the board.

DCT: I’m wondering what the CFS position is in regards to the provision that would allow student members to be removed with a two-thirds vote?

ZC: The government has stated that the reason they are putting that provision in is because the Ministry of Advanced Education thinks that there a conflict on interest between the interests of students and the interests of the post-secondary institution. It’s the same argument that they put forward saying they think the interests of workers is separate and distinct from the interests of the institution. But the fact of the matter is, the interests of students and the interests of workers are the interests of the institution and they are not separate. And so having a system of well-paid workers is in the interest of the institution. Having an accessible program and having accessible courses for students so they are not going into massive debt to take courses at the institution is in the interests of the entire institution. The government is trying to sort of build a false dichotomy that we either have democracy or we have the best interests of the institution, where that choice actually doesn’t exist.

DCT: One of the things I’m wondering is there’s a very controversial student who’s been elected to our board of governors recently and the thing is that there’s no provision to remove him right now. I’m wondering what you think about that in relation to Bill 18?

ZC: That’s a question that it makes sense would come up, especially [since] this bill has been going through the legislature and people are talking about it. But the fact of the matter is that when you want democracy, you have to take everything that comes with democracy and sometimes in a democratic system, it happens that you’re not going to get someone that you like. And I don’t know the specifics of this board member at Thompson Rivers University, but in general we see this at all levels of government and any elections in various places. If you want what comes with democracy, which is everyone having a voice and everyone being able to participate and everyone being represented, then you’re going to have to [take the bad with the good]. You know, people are going to be elected that don’t know what they are doing or who are no good and that’s why we have more elections, right? That’s the benefit of democracy is that we are not stuck with something in perpetuity.

DCT: Would you say that it’s fair then to say that the CFS position is that if somebody is elected then they should be removed by another democratic vote?

ZC: Yes. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be a provision for recall votes if students don’t feel that like they’re being represented by one of their representatives or anyone else. I mean that should go for most things, right? The threshold for getting rid of someone should be a democratic threshold.