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Student apathy towards student government – why don’t we care?

Student apathy is a major hurdle any group on campus is faced with when working towards its true potential, and the Student Union Society is no exception – the SUS’s traditional difficulty in rounding up the necessary students to hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) points to a general lack of awareness and interest.

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Date Posted: October 17, 2011
Print Edition: October 12, 2011

Student apathy is a major hurdle any group on campus is faced with when working towards its true potential, and the Student Union Society is no exception – the SUS’s traditional difficulty in rounding up the necessary students to hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM) points to a general lack of awareness and interest. SUS president Carlos Vidal and VP finance Samuel Broadfoot weighed in on the issue and noted that while the SUS must play a role in making itself relevant to students, students may also begin to take more interest in participating when they discover just how much of an influence the SUS has on their UFV experience.

The SUS’s most recent successful AGM was held on September 30th. Because the first attempt at an AGM on the 23rd did not successfully reach quorum—a required number of 100 students of the voting student body in attendance—the meeting could not be conducted; when this occurs, the second attempt requires only three members in attendance, meaning the second attempt is inevitably a success. At that meeting, decisions were made regarding budget, board positions, and the work required for those positions. Given the subjects voted on at the meetings, it’s important the student body be given a voting voice – but it’s not always possible to make sure that they attend.

Communications director Jhim Burwell elaborated on some of the issues regarding reaching quorum; he noted that the best-attended meeting, to his knowledge, has been the one that was hosted at Casey’s a few years ago. At this meeting, the SUS did hit quorum. However, Burwell explained that this method was not revisited because, at the time, students felt that it turned the AGM into a party, and thus was not appropriate. “The suggestion of bribery came around, he explained, “…that usually stings enough to keep us from doing it again.” He noted that future initiatives to attend, such as offering free coffee, were possible but not likely given the previous backlash.

Though the AGM requires the attendance of one per cent of the student body, it was held this year on the Chilliwack campus. This is because there is a by-law in the SUS Governing Manual that requires the AGM to be held at alternating campuses each year. Last year’s meeting was held in Abbotsford, so this year’s was held in Chilliwack – even though that campus has a smaller attending student body.

Another roadblock in garnering attendance is the fact that the second attempt at a meeting must be held in the exact same place at the exact same time as the previous week’s meeting. So, using this year’s AGM as an example, any student who works on Friday afternoons or is unable to commute to Chilliwack was unable to attend either attempt at a meeting.

Because both these provisions—that the meetings must alternate campuses and that the meetings must be held in the same place on both attempts—are by-laws, they can be changed. Section 23 of the SUS Governing Manual states that “A society may change its bylaws by special resolution.”

Vidal isn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of changing the bylaw. “That’s up for discussion for sure, I have to think about that. You do want to develop some kind of consistency,” he noted. Broadfoot agreed: “There’s never going to be a time that’s perfect for everyone.”

Vidal cited a few different issues related to the SUS’s problems reaching quarum and the topic of student apathy. A key problem, he explained, is that it’s difficult to get word of events out to the student body in its entirety, as the population is so spread out. One new method attempted this year was sending notifications about the AGM to every student through their myUFV – but when students are inundated with messages from so many different groups on campus, it’s difficult to make yours stand out.

He hypothesized that if students realized what came from the SUS, they would be more interested in other services: “Maybe as students actually begin to experience effects of things like health and dental [plans], and things like AfterMath, and all these things that [the SUS] is involved in, they kind of go, ‘Oh, this is all [the SUS],’ and, ‘Oh, they have things I can get involved in,’ – they mature into being interested.”

Broadfoot expanded on this point, saying that the key to engaging students is to “make everything exceptionally relevant to the 9-5 student”. Because UFV is largely a commuter school, most campus activities aren’t highly attended. Projects by the SUS such as the U-Pass are more relevant to the typical student, but projects like these could themselves be a source of apathy. Student Josh Frede commented: “SUS kind of let us all down with U-Pass. A general tuition raise so that select students could use transit is not desirable. Before SUS can regain the respect of the students and their input, they need to repair the damage that U-Pass has done.” Frede added that his reaction to the U-Pass affects his involvement, noting: “I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”

While SUS isn’t going to be able to please every student, the lack of student involvement makes it difficult to make decisions that benefit the largest amount possible. If you’d like to have your say, contact any member of SUS – their contact information is available next to their headshots at their website. The website also lists all upcoming meetings, which students are encouraged to attend. The next one is on Abbotsford campus in room C1421 on October 21st.

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