Print Edition: May 9, 2012
The new Student Union Society’s (SUS) executive board has now voted to step down from its full CASA membership to associate membership with a vote of nine to five. This follows an earlier decision to table the issue so the board could become more informed about the role of the Canadian Alliance of Student’s Associations (CASA) as it applies to UFV students.
CASA is a higher education advocacy group with full-time staff in Ottawa advocating the needs of higher education at Canada’s highest level of government. With 26 member schools (including UFV) this past year, CASA has maintained a running dialogue with parliament on student issues, including reducing Canada’s $14 billion student debt, creating new federal tax credits for higher education students, and allocating federal monies for post-secondary infrastructure.
In this year’s SUS elections, SUS’s CASA membership was a topic of intense debate as several pre-existing members of the SUS board, as well as incoming members, questioned the price of CASA fees paid out of the SUS budget each year – an estimated $30,000.
Former VP academic Kate Nickelchok was among those who strongly supported CASA membership throughout all discussions. Nickelchok, as VP academic, worked the most closely with CASA of all of last year’s board members; she both attended national CASA conferences and advocated the importance of CASA membership to her peers at UFV.
“When I stepped into the VP Academic office … I had little idea of what to expect as head UFV delegate to CASA,” Nickelchok explained. “By the time I had finished the Western Transition Conference, hosted by SUS at UFV’s Chilliwack campus last spring, I was convinced that CASA was a partnership of which SUS and students could be proud.”
“Between national and regional conferences, I was in regular contact with CASA through phone calls, membership updates and emails,” she continued. “CASA is member driven. Meaning the organization, and its lobbying efforts are created and steered by students. I have seen positive movement both within the organization and its advocacy efforts for Canadian students.”
As part of her role, Nickelchok even spoke with important members of government about the University. “During CASA’s advocacy week I was able to meet with MPs and national decision makers, telling them stories about UFV students and the problems we face,” she said.
Meanwhile with a new board and different priorities being brought to the surface (such as a viable means of transportation for students from the Abbotsford campus to the Chilliwack campus), CASA was informed (according to their bylaws) at the beginning of April that there was a possibility that SUS would be voting to step down from their position of full voting membership in CASA (which SUS has held since 2007) to an associate membership position.
Unlike similar groups, CASA is known for its easy-in, easy-out membership which is both inviting for new members and flexible towards established members (such as SUS) who are closely reviewing their “budgetary needs.”
As an associate member, SUS pays half the fees they did as a full member, and doesn’t have voting power in the association for one year. However, associate membership is not permanent membership. After this year, SUS must decide whether they are fully in or fully out of CASA.
Two days before the issue of CASA membership was finally put to vote on April 27, CASA national director Zach Dayler and former president of the Acadia Student’s Union flew in from Ottawa to talk to SUS board members, as well as any UFV students who where interested to learn more about CASA and what it does for post-secondary students. For the most part, it was SUS board members in attendance at the meeting gathering information on the association going into the vote.
The vote resulted in a decision, nine votes to five, to step down to an associate membership in CASA.
Carlos Vidal, in his second term as SUS president, is openly in support of full CASA membership. As he stated after the vote, “I am confident that the Board’s decision will lead us to more fully evaluate the direction that our general membership would like to see us follow in regards to CASA membership and involvement.”
“Until our direction from the students is clear,” Vidal went on, “we will continue to be actively involved. This change is not a step away from CASA entirely, but rather an opportunity to prepare ourselves to be more effective full members.”
Others who have been openly opposed to full CASA membership in the past, such as VP social Christian Doyle, had an entirely positive outlook on the decision.
“In my opinion this move to associate member in CASA allows both the SUS and the membership to evaluate its place in lobbying. This move will allow the members to speak out in either support or against remaining in CASA and more importantly this will allow us to see if CASA is a priority for our membership or whether they would prefer us focusing on other ventures.”
SUS’s CASA membership will continue to be a constant topic of discussion in the coming year as this new associate membership will expire in a year’s time. At that time, the issue will be put to vote a final time.