URSU AGM shows union lacking in broader vision
Can URSU stay relevant?
Shae Sackman is on the URSU HR committee. They reported on the AGM in their capacity as a student.
The University of Regina Students’ Union held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 28 and a new format to align with a remote semester was a platform to showcase the ongoing problems with communication, collaboration and engaging with students that URSU has been facing.
The AGM Package available on the URSU website included a proposed agenda, reports from the executives, financial statements, a document titled Restated Articles of Incorporation of the Students’ Union of the University of Regina Inc., and a new formulation of bylaws. Many students were caught off guard not only by the seriousness of the implications of the motions on the agenda, but by the AGM as a whole, as URSU did not officially communicate the information through a verified channel (in this case, students U of R email addresses) until October 26th at 3:58pm.
News of the AGM was said to have been advertised through social media, but this presupposes that students follow the union on social media. URSU historically has never had access to the U of R student mailing list, and only that week was able to access this information to communicate en masse to registered students that the AGM was to be taking place. Students were left scrambling trying to find representatives to attend to confirm their club and society ratification status, and many students who may have wanted to attend simply could not make it on such short notice.
After a long pause as URSU staff did their best to manage an onslaught of late registrants, the AGM began by appointing John Lax as chair – an out-of-nowhere claim before the adoption of the agenda had even been motioned was raised. A member stated that proper notice had not been given and that this would impact the members in being able to properly consider the material provided with the agenda. Heated discussion about the proper way to proceed and if adequate notice had indeed actually been given ensued. Multiple students said in the chat function of the Zoom meeting that they wanted more time to understand what the motion was trying to do as many had not even had the chance to look at the AGM package. Eventually motion 11.1.1. – Governance reform and legislative compliance was struck from the agenda.
After 45 minutes of confusion and chaos, the modified agenda for the AGM was finally approved, and the three executives gave their reports for the year so far. The Vice President of Student Affairs, Ziyang Zeo Li, submitted a detailed record of what he had been working on, including facilitating student engagement, working on initiatives for improving mental health, and student advocacy initiatives including the recent Proctortrack feedback campaign.
Vice President of Operations and Finance Gurkirat Singh went through the financials, detailing an expected drop in enrolment at the U of R and mentioning that URSU was working on finding some kind of alternative for the Winter 2021 U-Pass.
President Gurjinder Singh Lehal mentioned better relations between the students’ union and the administration, citing the town hall that took place on August 17 as a sign that increased cooperation was taking place. He also mentioned other changes, including switching the health and dental insurance provider, focusing on an effort to provide open educational resources in the form of zero-cost courses, and facilitating provincial voting forums this past month to encourage student turnout.
What was missing from all these reports and from the AGM more generally was any semblance of a coordinated, cohesive vision for the students’ union. While the online format does prove difficult to navigate, there was no sense of the executives having had worked together to solve problems, or formulate a guiding vision for the rest of the year. No unified front, no feeling of a team of students fighting for those they represent, and no mention of working together. Not even the formats of the executive reports were consistent or had a unifying thread – providing a visual manifestation of this lack of cooperation and investment. During a time when students so obviously need clear, strong representation and support the URSU AGM provided nothing but anxiety, confusion, and doubt among those in attendance. University of Regina students need and deserve more from the students’ union.
Motion 11.1.1. has serious consequences for the future of the union, how it would represent and engage with students, and how it would conduct its work. The effort and development that has been done on these new articles for governance are at odds with the unaware students attending the AGM. Students are often entirely unaware of the work done over the years, the implications of it, or how to interact with these new articles. One student suggested that an “explanation of everything being addressed with enough time that people can get clarification on items before the AGM itself,” would have increased transparency and engagement that the motion calls for. If students are not invested in the work that the students’ union is doing, that is the responsibility of the executive team for failing to express the importance of their work and the interests of the union to the members.
While COVID changed the manner in which the executives can perform their duties and the way they interact with the student body and their concerns, it also provides many opportunities to try new ways to do important work. The URSU AGM could have been a fantastic practice of inclusion by adding captioning much in the manner of RPIRG’s AGM this year, or as suggested by one student “having a more concrete system to notify the chair of questions or comments” would help for accessibility and clarity. URSU could have taken this opportunity to educate and engage their members on how governance works and why it is important in the union, showing ownership and accountability to the process and their members.
URSU executives now know that the student members who attended the AGM were largely uninformed of the issues at hand and caught off-guard. Students at the University of Regina care about mental health, about ever-increasing tuition fees, about food and housing insecurity, about diversity, accessibility and inclusion. About the fear and uncertainty resulting from a global pandemic. And about how their interests and concerns are being represented to the University administration. And yet the executives cannot seem to connect and work with and for students in a meaningful way.
Whether and how URSU decides to bridge this disconnect has implications for the union’s relevancy and its ability to lead. The students’ union must be able to put forward a united front and advocate for students in a meaningful way.