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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.

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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 ufv.ca/studentlife.” 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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