Student engagement on campus has been a hot topic for as long as I can remember and clubs, associations, and student societies are basically begging students to get involved. Anyone that’s involved in pretty much anything at UFV knows the struggle of trying to recruit students, especially the Student Union Society (SUS).
SUS has quorum requirements for their general meetings, which range from two per cent of the society’s membership for the first attempt of a requisitioned meeting, to 0.375 per cent for second attempt of a meeting without a member vote, and they usually have a hard time achieving this. Sometimes even the promise of free food isn’t enough to draw the needed amount of students.
In the past, SUS found a quick fix to this problem: making it mandatory that their employees attend general meetings and paying them to do so. Students employed by any of SUS’ services (The Canoe, FairGrounds, FixIt, facilities, and SUS’ front desk) were either required to attend meetings if they were working, or paid for two hours of work to attend.
Attendance for SUS’ general meetings has historically been low (it took three attempts to meet quorum for an EGM in fall of 2015), especially by the general student population that isn’t already somehow involved with SUS. But by requiring that SUS employees attend, this usually results in a significant portion of students at the meeting being SUS employees, which isn’t a fair representation of UFV’s student population.
This unproportioned attendance isn’t effective. It’s at these meetings that society-shaping decisions are made and students have the opportunity to tell SUS what they actually think about these decisions — but that won’t happen if those in attendance are the ones implementing the changes, or afraid to risk their job security by voicing their concerns to their employer. Any voting items are usually passed unanimously, without much, if any, questions from attendees.
The good news is that SUS claims to have fixed this problem. In an email sent to staff employees after SUS’ recent extraordinary general meeting (EGM), SUS president Sukhi Brar explained that current policy no longer requires attendance from staff.
“While we encourage all of our student staff to attend these meetings, it is not obligatory and student staff that choose to not attend SUS EGMs / AGMs will not be written up or punished in any way. Since it is not a job requirement of student staff to attend EGMs / AGMs, students who attend EGMs / AGMs will not be compensated for their time,” the email read.
However, students weren’t aware of this until they were at the meeting. Afterward, when a student asked if attendance was mandatory, SUS then replied no. To be fair, SUS could have forgotten to inform their employees of the policy change, but it doesn’t really seem like that’s the case.
“I attended the SUS EGM meeting believing it was mandatory for all SUS-associated employees to be there and that we were getting paid,” an employee of SUS that requested to remain anonymous explained. “There was no indication that I did not have to be there as my manager kept reminding me and my co-workers of the mandatory meeting and that it is in our contracts to attend meetings such as the EGM.”
The student also showed The Cascade their employment contract, which stated that attendance was mandatory.
So did SUS actually change their policy requiring staff to attend general meetings? Probably, but not telling their employees about changes in their job descriptions is a pretty shady move — intentional or not — especially following the elections of the current SUS board, which were full of promises of transparency.
Going forward, SUS: be upfront about what you want from your employees, listen to what they say, and I know this is hard, but don’t take the easy way out by getting your staff to make up for the rest of the student body’s lack of interest.
And SUS employees: if you’re not okay with the way your employer is running things, be vocal about it, even if it could affect your job. This might be the only time you work for an organization that gives you the ability to shape how it’s run. Use it.