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Activity and Wellness fee referendum results scrapped due to “technicality”

The “Activity and Wellness fee” referendum held by the Student Union Society (SUS) last week passed with a final count of 849 to 701. Just a day after the results came out, a SUS press release announced that no action would be taken on the referendum. The official reason given by SUS is that on February 3, 2012, when the SUS board voted in favour of holding the referendum, they did not receive support from 75 per cent of the board. Thus, the referendum never should have been held. The announcement came in the midst of allegations that the vote and the campaign leading up to the March 19-21 vote violated SUS referendum by-laws.



By Sean Evans (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: March 28, 2012

The “Activity and Wellness fee” referendum held by the Student Union Society (SUS) last week passed with a final count of 849 to 701. Just a day after the results came out, a SUS press release announced that no action would be taken on the referendum.

The official reason given by SUS is that on February 3, 2012, when the SUS board voted in favour of holding the referendum, they did not receive support from 75 per cent of the board. Thus, the referendum never should have been held. The announcement came in the midst of allegations that the vote and the campaign leading up to the March 19-21 vote violated SUS referendum by-laws.

This issue was brought to the attention of SUS communications director Jhim Burwell by newly-elected VP academic Dan van der Kroon via email on March 22. Burwell spoke with The Cascade on the matter: “I don’t know how Dan felt about the referendum … I don’t know why he was asking questions, but quite frankly …  I am glad he found it.” Burwell continued, “It’s better to have it discovered when it was than to have taken further steps toward implementing it.”

Athletics students and athletes were upset with the news that a technicality brought down the results of the referendum that would have seen greater support for their programs. Caleb Davisson of the UFV Cascades Men’s Rowing team—a team that has seen its future in doubt in the midst of the current funding crunch—was disappointed with the news. “It’s pretty frustrating, for the most part,” he said. “We were out there, spreading the word; quite a few of us were standing up in our classrooms, telling people about the referendum. There was a big move against it, and there was a big move for it. Obviously the vote passed … and then the technicality showed up.”

Allegations of violations of SUS  referendum bylaws

UFV criminology student Dan Crich was shocked when he first heard about the referendum on March 19th – the day it started. Crich did some investigation into the issue, and was upset by what he found. Crich came to The Cascade offices last Thursday following the release of the referendum results. Armed with a copy of SUS referendum policy, Crich pointed out a number of issues he had with how the information campaign had been held, and, in his opinion, a number of SUS bylaws that had been violated.

“In the Governing manual for the SUS referendum policy, I found a couple issues with the referendum, including that at least a week before the referendum they [SUS] should hold an info session,” Crich said. “It [the info session] was only three days before. Personally, as a student I had questions, … but it was too late.” Crich stated that his frustration was that he only heard about the referendum on March 19 and thus had no opportunity to ask questions about the referendum.

The first SUS bylaw that Crich alleges was violated is under Referendum Policy section two, part F, which reads, “A question and answer period must be held one week prior to the vote where students will be given the opportunity to ask the Board questions regarding the referendum.” The info session for the referendum in question was held on Friday, March 16, the referendum began the following Monday. Crich also pointed out that the info session was hosted by Athletics director Chris Bertram and Susan Francis from Student Life, not the SUS board.

When questioned on this, SUS communications director Jhim Burwell stated that: “In looking at the policy from my eyes, and my interpretation of the policy, they hit everything.” When asked if it was a problem that the info session was held three days prior to the referendum, Burwell responded, “No. No, because the spirit of that [bylaw] is, and has always been recognized as being within the week before … if you engage people too far out, they forget about it.”

“There has been an obvious lack of effort to get information out there,” Crich said, “there is myUFV email available, there are campus and personal announcements on myUFV. None of them were used. And the first time they used that was a campus announcement on myUFV half way through the referendum at 11 a.m. on March 20.”

Crich continued, obviously upset by what he saw as an injustice, “I’m sorry, but they could have put it up a week before.” Crich went on, “They didn’t put an effort into getting information out to the whole student body, while I have heard of Athletics students saying things to their classes … they haven’t told the whole student body to vote.”

The second SUS bylaw that Crich had concerns about is under section two, parts B and C, which read “Posters and a posting on the SUS website will be put up not less than thirty (30) days prior to the commencement of polling” and “No less than fifty (50) posters will be hung in the Abbotsford and Chilliwack campuses…”

While Crich can not confirm that this bylaw was violated, nor could The Cascade, his complaint was that the design of the posters, with an official UFV logo and classic UFV design made them innocuous – they blended in, and they were not effective at generating awareness of the referendum. On top of the poster that Crich saw, it read in big letters: “This is Campus Rec.” On the bottom, in smaller writing, was: “For more information on the upcoming referendum hosted by SUS, please visit” Crich argued that the posters failed to comply with the spirit of the bylaw—to inform the student body of the referendum—and questioned if the required number of posters was put up on all campuses.

Jhim Burwell, in response to these questions, stated that “Chris Bertram assures me that they were put up, and that they were put up largely by him and students directly within his sphere. And I want to take his word at it. He told me he did it, so I trust him.” SUS president Carlos Vidal spoke with The Cascade about the concerns raised by Crich and others. Vidal confirmed that the posters had been printed and posted by the University, approved by SUS, and to his knowledge, the SUS policy had been followed.

In the press release announcing that no action would be taken on the referendum, it stated: “In the week leading up to polling, and especially since the result was released, there has been a great lash-back [sic] about the referendum process. The crux of the complaint being the perception that the information and engagement campaign was insufficient, though the SUS Referendum Policy was followed to the letter, and in many respects exceeded.”

In a letter to UFV president Dr. Mark Evered questioning the Universities involvement with the referendum, Dan Crich concluded by saying that the “The Athletics referendum should be re-held after they have sufficiently communicated to all students at UFV. A true democracy, after all, includes informed people from all paths. Please consider the well-being of democracy in our school and help us to ensure we withhold our integrity as a democratic student union with the ability to vote.”

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  1. Scott Bishhop

    April 1, 2012 at 1:34 am

    By: Scott Bishop

    For so many, this campus is just a place to park your car when you go to class. This is why the student body was given a chance to inject more funding into campus recreation and athletics. Students should be able to have fun while waiting for that brutal 8:30-10:00 p.m. class. As Chart-1 shows, the student body voted for more fun in record numbers, yet you can’t have it…..But why?

    Chart – 1 : A sample of Issues and Elections Voted on in the 2011-2012 Academic Year (% is based off of total population – votes/10,000 students)

    Electing President Carlos Vidal: 318 votes (3.18 %)
    Electing Daniel van der Kroon: 104 votes (1.04%)
    Student Union Building Referendum: 599 for, 351 against; 950 total 9.5%
    Campus Recreation Referendum: 849 for (54%), 701 against (46%); 1550 total votes (15.5%)

    Let’s start with the issues brought forth by second year criminology student Dan Crich, issues that were published in the March 28th, 2012 edition of The Cascade newspaper. Specifically, Crich was up in arms about the advertisement and engagement polices used when holding any referendum, feeling that “there was an obvious lack of effort to get information [regarding the campus recreation referendum] out there”.

    Crich was ridiculously specific in citing SUS referendum policy, stating that he felt the spirit of holding an information session one week prior to voting wasn’t fulfilled properly. The information session was held on a Friday, and voting began on the following Monday. Moreover, Crich also took aim at the SUS policy regarding the display of SUS-approved posters (the policy states that fifty posters must be hung in the Chilliwack and Abbotsford campuses).

    Here’s the punch line: Dan Crich couldn’t confirm that the poster bylaw had even been broken so instead he argued that the posters ‘blended in’, and that the ‘classically designed’ posters were not made to actually generate awareness. Has Dan Crich ever seen a UFV bulletin board? Does he realize that no matter how marketable a poster appears, if some student covers it up with a textbook ad, it doesn’t really matter what the poster looks like anymore? And do I really need to re-state that the posters were SUS-approved?

    What’s even funnier is that SUS Communications Director Jim Burwell was quoted by The Cascade (March 28th, 2012) in saying that the information session upheld the by-laws, as “the spirit [of the by-law] is, and always has been, within the week before [the referendum]”.

    Unsurprisingly, Crich went on to attack the efforts of the athletes and other students who made announcements to their classes, arguing that this implies that the entire student body wasn’t informed. In the real world, these athletes and students are just volunteering their time to ensure people actually vote – kind of like oh, I don’t know…real campaign volunteers.

    Clearly this record setting voter turnout wasn’t a land slide victory (54% to 46%), which means that the people who actually did vote must have been informed enough via the ‘classically hidden posters’, the ‘shady information sessions’ and so forth. In a vote this close, it’s safe to say the students made up their own mind.

    Despite all of Crich’s arguments, a statement released by Burwell indicated that the “Athletics and Student Life Departments exceeded all the requirements of the SUS Referendum Policy”, and yet this record setting referendum will not be acted upon. Why? Let’s ask SUS VP Academic Dan van der Kroon.

    As it turns out, van der Kroon was the one who just so happened to discover (after the referendum had passed, no less) that in order for a referendum to be held, you need 75% of the SUS board to vote in favour of holding the referendum, otherwise the results of said referendum are null and void.

    Here’s the good part: van der Kroon wrote a guest column for on June 23, 2011 titled “Abbotsford Council Employing Selective Long-Term Thinking”. In this column, van der Kroon slammed Abbotsford City Councillors for their decisions in using tax payer money to fund the Abbotsford Heat hockey team. Van der Kroon openly stated in this column that he’s “certainly been known to indulge in being a hockey fan [himself]…. But it should remain a sport, not a business. Especially not a publicly operated business.” Clearly, if van der Kroon feels that sports “[distract] from the issues that really affect [the citizens of Abbotsford]”, how do you think he is going to feel about a referendum that asks the student population for a 3% increase in tuition that will directly fund campus recreation and athletics? Although Mr. van der Kroon can only speak for himself, we do know it was he who brought the frivolous ‘75% board approval’ technicality to the attention of Mr. Burwell. Obviously, the actions of Mr. van der Kroon benefit the minority of students who voted not to be taxed an additional 3%. Furthermore, these actions completely undermine the motto of the SUS – ‘your say, your way’; and also undermine all the other referendums held by the SUS.

    Speaking of which, why don’t we take the same technicalities and frivolous arguments presented by Crich and van der Kroon and apply it to the SUS building referendum. I mean, the voting turn out was significantly lower when compared to the campus recreation referendum, and was much more in favour of having the building undergo construction. Kind of makes me wonder about those ‘classically designed’ building referendum posters. In fact they were so ‘classic’ I didn’t even want to read them…Is it possible that the SUS was playing the same dirty tricks as the athletic department?!?!
    Now, I know what all you nay sayers are thinking “Scott, get a grip! We followed those policies to a T! And we don’t want to take away from a building that would promote campus community!” Well I don’t want to take away the voice of 15.5% of the student population, but hey, hypocrisy is what it is.

    In closing, for three days a large body of people showed that they are passionate about developing this campus into more than just a place to park your car while you learn. The majority of those who took the time to be engaged in this topic decided that we need to be like every other university in Canada and give funding to campus recreation and athletics. If you still think campus recreation doesn’t deserve your money, you should probably check The Globe and Mail’s 2012 University Report Card. As a collective whole we decided we wanted to catch up to the likes of SFU, UVIC and UBC. Now, this action plan (along with multiple varsity teams) has been put into jeopardy due to cut-throat, hypocritical politics. Currently (March 30th, 2012), the SUS board is mulling over the idea about re-holding the referendum.

    I vote for an inquiry into why this technicality wasn’t brought to light before the referendum even happened, and demand that the SUS board up-hold the results of the first referendum. That is, if my vote still even counts.

  2. Anonymous

    April 3, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I quite agree with you, Scott.

    After the referendum was held, and the resolution was passed, students seemed to get so passionately infuriated about it,

    It’s interesting that they didn’t show that same fervour during the voting process, but rather waited until the vote was over. It really demonstrates student apathy at UFV.

  3. Scott Bishhop

    April 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Ironic isn’t it? student apathy even during the highest voter turnout. Honestly, I’m tired of being tired of people saying we have no campus life. Yet the first chance we get to build community and some people don’t want to pay the mere 50$ to do so (1600 x .03). Its just really sad really.

  4. danvan

    April 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Scott, I appreciate your involvement and thoughts on this issue. I’ve set up a “VP Academic” page specifically to correspond with SUS members over at this (!/groups/303375253863/) link, and I’d be quite delighted to see this develop into a more full-fledged discussion over there.

  5. Dessa

    April 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Scott, I don’t mind paying a “mere $50” but as an upper-level student, I’m looking at closer to $70 — which, in all honesty, I still don’t take offence to — but the fact that it’s a percentage tied to tuition is what raises my eyebrows. If tuition jumps (and it’s only a matter of time), I’m suddenly looking at paying a lot more than $50.

    And I wouldn’t say this is “the first chance we get to build community.” UFV has all sorts of student associations that do an excellent job of building community. I wouldn’t describe this as building community, really, at all — just the continued support of programs already in place.

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