URSU problems systemic


URSU’s problems go beyond the referendum at hand

Kent Peterson
Business Manager

A referendum is a chance for students to directly decide their answer to a specific question. To require a referendum, the issue at hand has to be a fairly significant one – so significant, in fact, that our elected URSU representatives do not have the authority or mandate to make the decision for us. Last year URSU botched a referendum on our membership with the Canadian Federation of Students – a body that provides services to students across the country and lobbies for lower tuition, among many other things. At the time, the URSU executive had effectively taken an anti-CFS stance. Given the definition and purpose of a referendum, such a stance was entirely inappropriate and quite frankly a dumb thing to do.

This year, we are faced with yet another CFS referendum. The URSU Board has, shockingly given past referendum abnormalities, taken an official stance against continued CFS membership. Not only that, they gave $3,000 of students’ money to help the anti-membership campaign. How utterly Orwellian that the Board should throw thousands of our dollars at a campaign whose main argument is how the CFS supposedly wastes students’ money. Hypocrisy is a light and fluffy term to describe such actions. While all this is happening, the elected URSU executive maintains that they have no stance in this referendum. One executive member, Katelyn Barber, is so neutral that she was, until recently, collecting a paycheque from both URSU and the CFS – talk about covering one’s bases. It is positively laughable when the URSU executive claims to have no position in the referendum. Either they have a stance or they’ve had a deathbed conversion from last year, and an out-of-control board to boot. Which is it?

Unfortunately, however, these problems go deeper than hypocrisy, referenda, and the CFS. Last year’s executive elections were fraught with irregularities, made-up policy, and missed deadlines. One election actually had to be re-opened because there were so many embarrassing gaffes. There was never an official or satisfactory explanation for the calamity that unfolded. I know more about re-branding at the Owl than I do about why our voting process fell apart.

Problems exist far beyond the realm of voting. Current URSU president Kyle Addison and his slate initially campaigned on a new URSU website, and continuously touted its benefits as a new world dawning for the students of this university. After countless, largely unexplained delays, cost overruns, and a notable sense of panic from the URSU offices, the website launched. It has since then fallen flat, living up to neither its promised benefits nor its outrageous price tag. For instance, the website was heralded as an exciting opportunity to interact with URSU executives, mostly via their individual blogs. To date, most executives have only one welcoming post, and one executive member couldn’t be bothered to even say “hi.” In hindsight, it is safe to call the website what it is – a boondoggle.

Useful information is also lacking. Getting meeting minutes from URSU makes pulling teeth seem like child’s play. Asking our elected officials for clarification doesn’t help either – if you ask the same question to four different URSU executive members you will get four very different answers. It would be one thing to suggest that the URSU executive is withholding information or misleading students to hide something, but I don’t think that is the case. I honest-to-God believe that they simply have no co-ordination, organization, or any idea what is going on in their own offices. If the URSU offices were full of chickens running around with their heads cut off, it would be a welcome scene of calm and cohesiveness in comparison. And, being headless, the chickens would wear a lot fewer backward hats.

Rent is going up, tuition is skyrocketing, students are hurting, and what does the URSU executive do? They hire a Communications Co-ordinator who largely does the job of the Vice-President of External Affairs. The Students’ Union used to be a body of ideas, and an effective lobbyist on the provincial scene. But smoke and mirrors about Welcome Week events and new paint in the Owl have sidetracked our student leaders – they are now dangerously out of touch.


  1. Jennifer McCann 29 October, 2010 at 07:20

    Where are the facts? This is your opinion with blanket statements. Also, talking patronizingly to your audience usually is ineffective.

  2. BW 4 November, 2010 at 12:17

    I agree in full Jennifer, facts seem to be distorted or missing from most articles regarding the referendum and the one sided bias from the Carillon.

  3. Terrain Temple 9 November, 2010 at 11:57

    Actually, this OP-ED is pretty spot-on,
    There has been a lot of attention drawn in the past 18 months on the level of professionalism of the "4 Students". Everything from faulty elections, a bunk referendum, not to mention the increase of organizational inept and hypocrisy. Guaranteed, this will be the last elected year for the 4 Students.
    Thanks to the URSU referendum on CFS membership, thousands of students on campus are now awake to the issues at hand. Not to mention, students got to see how short-sighted and self-centered these amateurs are in their campaigning – belittling student issues of solidarity and activism to candy and fat suits. Students are now awake to the issues facing them every day, issues which URSU has not made a priority – issues that are central to student success. Thanks for showing us your true colours, URSU exec!
    The campus is alive!!

  4. Bart Soroka 6 December, 2010 at 10:17

    The Student Union did not "botch" the refrendum last year. Check the March 2010 minutes; the Referendum is mentioned, and it's stated that the CFS would not recognize our referendum. It was entirely within their constiutional dates; they simply said "no" without providing a real reason. That's not the Union botching anything–that's CFS stonewalling. Something the CFS does better than lobby. When an organization spends less than 10% of its budget on lobbying, they aren't a lobbying organization.
    (http://takebackyourschool.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/cfs-budget-leaked/), as well as a McGill analysis at [I believe] (http://pgss.mcgill.ca/EAC/faq/cfs_combinedFinancialStatement_30June08.pdf)

    The URSU executive did not take a stance last year. They facilitated the entirely fair referendum process–something 10% of U of R students signed off on. Not the majority, but a group that needed representation to bring their concerns to the general public. Supporting students is NOT inappropriate or dumb.
    This isn't "another" CFS referendum, it's the same referendum. When you claim that something is "shocking" or "abnormal" please explain what you mean, maybe with a link or at least a general idea of what you mean specifically. Blanket statements with negative language seem like a cheap attempt to make people respond emotionally, rather than based on analytical evidence. $3,000 was the amount of student money the CFS was spending to fund their side of the debate (offically, anyway. They have not released their budget as far as I've been made aware at time of posting).
    The $3,000 spent was spent to educate the students of the U of R about the CFS, and our cost/benefit analysis of membership. Statements made were clear, fact based, and always had links or references back to documents to verify statements made by the Vote No group–something I can't say for the Pro-CFS campaigners. This is the exact OPPOSITE of Orwellian–Norwellian, if you'll indulge me.

    Kaytlyn's ability to be a major player on both the URSU and the CFS is a testemant to her dedication to the school. She spent countless hours last year creating EVERY ISC card for U of R students. There was no training, no assistance offered by the CFS, just throwing her into the deep end. She had to work to gain access to funds held by previous CFS reps, and she was taking a load of classes and representing the students on the Executive. She knows how hard the CFS can be to deal with, and her working with the CFS is a testament to how hard our Executive tried to make the relationship work.

    As stated, the URSU had no opinion on the referendum last year. This year, there was a vote held by the Student Union board. I for one am glad that the board is open for debate and discussion on policy issues, and doesn't simply follow the whims of the Executive. What you call "out-of-control" I call… well, a working system of democratic representation.
    The website is, currently, a very useful place, especially for a student looking sto start a club. The VP Finance has made an easy to use, easy to understand page with all the information anyone would want to know about how to sign up, what the goals are, and what the Student Union can offer. When the rest of the bugs get cleaned up from the site, we'll be able to see much more easy to use services like this. Call it a Proof-of-Concept.
    URSU meeting minutes are simple to access: ursu.ca, governence, minutes. (http://ursu.ca/governance/minutes). The minutes need to be approved the board before posting, which means that there is about a 2 week delay between meeting and posting, but that's the cost of accurarcy.
    As to a "lack of co-ordination" of the URSU exec, I'm curious what question you asked and what answer(s) you received. This seems to be another blanket statement with no real support. However, I will say that even if you are receiving different answers, it's because our Executive is comprised of individuals who have different ideas and experiences colouring their answers. Once again I'm GLAD for this individualism; every time we get a different answer, we're simply resisting the Borg.

  5. Dave 6 December, 2010 at 18:42

    @Bart – wow, writing a novel! OK, this should be fun.

    1. "Stonewalling" isn't the same as "asking that the Students' Union follow the rules of the structure that they are a part of." Meaning that, yes, they did indeed botch the referendum because they failed to notice that it's a requirement to abide by CFS's regulations when running a CFS defederation referendum. Who'da thunk it?
    2. United Way spends less than 10% of its budget on actual donations… does this make them not a charity? No. URSU is in effect a lobbying group as well (or they should be)… how much of their budget do they spend on lobbying (and no, being a card carrying Sask Party member doesn't exactly count as "lobbying")
    3. "Entirely fair referendum process?" Yes, this is why they ran a referendum where the "Board" took a stance on the referendum, despite that being in violation of URSU's constitution. Spin it however you want, but at no time in the past has that part of URSU's constitution where it says that URSU's not to take sides in proceedings of a political nature meant that URSU shouldn't be affiliated with a political party. Besides the fact that Kyle Addison is a member of the Sask Party, and that the Communications Director of URSU is part of the Sask Party, what that section means is that in instances where there's two sides to a referendum, URSU's not going to take sides on the issue. URSU executives in the past didn't take sides on the U-Pass or the Rink – they simply provided the resources for both sides to be represented. Just because CFS was likely going to support the Yes side doesn't mean that URSU wasn't still in violation of its own constitution.
    4. I doubt that "analytical evidence" is the mandate of The Carillon or a freaking editorial piece. Next.
    5. Statements from the No side were perhaps true in many cases, but essentially irrelevant. I'd rip them apart but that'd take another novel-lengthed comment. How about I just point you to the link where The Carillon did a pretty good job doing that for me: http://www.carillonregina.com/?p=1036
    6. Kaytlyn's ability to be both on URSU, championing a referendum and collecting a paycheque from CFS, while simultaneously doing next to nothing on a provincial level, nor working to promote the many things that CFS actually does do for students on campus (part of her CFS job, but hey, then there wouldn't be a reason to defederate!), kind of throws that into question.
    7. That "working system of democracy" wouldn't allow outside speakers to talk to the board about why staying in the CFS would be a good idea; URSU didn't post their minutes from board meetings until months after the fact (hmm, another violation of their constitution!); and seemingly no one informed the board that "taking a stance" is an ethically slippery thing to do.
    8. URSU's website looks very nice, but if we're going to talk about wastes of students' money, how about the fact that URSU contracted the website to an outside company for thousands of dollars instead of simply hiring a talented student? Surely we could have just as nice a website, saved some money, and felt a little less guilty about having an organization that takes like the cost of a sandwich from students every year to lobby, create programs and campaigns that URSU is seemingly not very interested in doing?
    9. Once again, yes, URSU's minutes ARE easy to access… now. They're supposed to be posted no more than fourteen days after a meeting, not "whenever the hell we feel like it." What's the recourse for breaking so many things in the constitution, anyhow? (That "two week delay" is not acceptable, and hasn't been operating procedure in the past, at least from what I can tell)
    10. The Borg? Really?

  6. Charles Winder 9 December, 2010 at 02:57

    10% budget for "Lobbying" is for Lobbying material. It doesn't include the money that goes to paying staff, transportation, etc etc etc etc etc. Sure maybe CFS needs to label that one better in their spread sheets but this is what I've been told, and it makes sense. That's my 2 cents. Dave's comments cover a lot of good points.

  7. Mike Burton 9 December, 2010 at 14:58

    1.        What it really involved was asking URSU to follow rules that were changed after students at the U of R had already submitted a petition.  They didn’t exactly fail to notice that the requirement to follow the rules, URSU believed that since their petition had been submitted before the rules were changed that their referendum would take place based on the old rules.  The previous by laws stated that a Referendum on Continued Membership would be held with 60-90 days within receipt of a petition.  So in fact, they were following the rules of CFS that were only changed after a large group of member local associations attempted submitted petitions. 
    2.       Both URSU and the CFS are more than simply lobbying groups.  Their mandates both include providing services to their members.
    3.       I do not agree that the Board taking a stance on the referendum is in violation of URSU constitution.  Article 2, Section 2 (d) of the URSU constitution says that it is a Principle of the Students’ Union “To remain politically non-partisan in all activities and lobby efforts.” That’s not spin, that’s a direct quote.  Nowhere does it say that URSU will not take sides in proceedings of a political nature.  The Section specifically does mean that URSU should not affiliate with a political party.  According to your interpretation, if there was a campus referendum on reducing tuition fees, URSU would be required to take both sides or no side at all?  URSU executive members did take sides on U-Pass and the Rink referendum.  In fact, as I remember it the URSU Board of Directors took a position on the Rink referendum and should have taken a position on the U-Pass referendum.  And both sides were represented on campus, so to claim that it was not an entirely fair referendum, you will have to provide more proof then, in my opinion, your own misinterpretation of the URSU constitution.
    4.       No comment.
    5.       Statements made by both sides of the campaign could easily be ripped apart.  In fact, I heard a member of the Yes campaign tell a student that they needed to vote Yes in order to get their ISIC card.  This is not only untrue, but could be interpreted as a bribe.  Regardless of the results, URSU members will remain CFS members until at least June and regardless of how they voted are eligible for an ISIC card.
    6.       First off, Kaytyln did spend time promoting the CFS including provided services that are suppose to be provided by the federation like the ISIC cards.  Second, last February the CFS and it’s provincial component hired a campaigns coordinator who made twice as much as an URSU executive member makes and twelve times as much as the CFS-SK pays it’s at large executive, so why wasn’t that person actually doing the work of which you speak? Third, let’s be very clear that the CFS had two or three qualified candidates who applied for their organizer position, yet they have not seen fit to hire any of them.  This is in spite of the fact that organizers are in place in every other region in the country. 
    7.       Article 4 (2) of the URSU constitution says “All members are entitled to attend, speak, and make submissions to all SU meetings.”  There is no requirement that non members are allowed to speak.  URSU minutes must be approved by the Board of Directors at the next meeting and are published 14 days after that.  This is to ensure that incorrect minutes are not posted on the website and that board members can ensure that the minutes reflect what actually happened at the meeting.
    8.       I am not an expert on websites.
    9.       As I outline in above, the provision requires that URSU minutes need to be posted but they must be approved at the following meeting so it’s not, whenever we feel like it, it’s within 14 days of having the minute approved and that’s been operating procedure for quite some time, since at least 2002. 

  8. Joel 9 December, 2010 at 17:20

    Mike, I respect your opinion and I know that you are a very intelligent guy who could out-fact me any day of the week, so I do not want to start a debate with you. That being said, I personally believe, and many others do as well, that this referendum was definitely a political one, and the portion of the constitution you have quoted says that URSU is to remain "politically non-partison". The way I see it, and this is purely based on what I have seen, trying to get rid of CFS is a Sask Party supported action so it can be replaced with the incredibly ineffective and easily controlled Saskatchewan Student Coalition. It is clear to me that this referendum was Sask Party motivated, and Sask party endorsed, which is entirely unfair for all the students who won't benefit by getting jobs with the Sask Party when we leave the CFS. Yes, the CFS has problems, and yes, there were some fantastic candidates that should have been hired as Campaigns Coordinator, but this is no reason to discard the CFS. We have absolutely nothing to gain from leaving the CFS, except for the $10 each we would save a year.

  9. Mike Burton 9 December, 2010 at 19:55

    Joel, thanks for your comments on my comment, I am not sure why it appears so strangely but I guess I am not that tech savy.  Anyways,  the referendum is clearly political but so are all lobbying activities. The word that is is important is non partisan.  The Yes and No sides of this referendum are not political parties.  Neither is the CFS.  If as you claim this is an initiative of the Sask Party that would be concerning, I have seen no evidence to suggest this is true.  Further, I do know that many Students Union executives end up working politically.  I have seen it happen with the provincial NDP, the federal Liberals and NDP and the Sask Party. 
    Finally, I think what you are fairly criticizing is what has been being lobbied for in the past few years.  When I was on URSU we  lobbied very hard, in a very political manner, for a continuation of the tuition freeze and even for a tuition reduction. We let students know, through a report card released during the 2007 election campaign, where the parties stood on the issues we thought were important.  Some got better grades then other but that is how lobbying should work.  If URSU members have an issue with what has been lobbied for they should run for either the executive or the board of directors.  That's what I did and I was able to feel like I had a say in what URSU was lobbying for. 

  10. Thomas 13 December, 2010 at 10:56

    First off, I can't believe you'd sell out your own friends to win your political battles. Holy ego Batman.
    I don't know where to start but I really take personal issue with this number 6
    6. Kaytlyn Barber produced AT MAX the first 50 ISIC cards. So I'd appreciate some facts coming from you you at least. Students can thank Shelley Melenson, Allison Kimbley and a number of other students who have produced well over 500 cards since. Kayltyn is no saint.
    And as far as the wage of the Campaigns Coordinator. You're numbers are way off. I wish I got paid that much money. But nope, Way off. I'm insulted that you would insult me. I'm really cheesed that you use false information to slap a "friend" in the face.
    You're on the ROC. Why are you so invested in this? I can't even get a conversation with the CFS members of the ROC but you are everywhere on campus and blogosphere talking about this. I really don't know what you are doing but I no longer trust your motives for politics – and research. 
    Get a life and let me live mine.
    I'm glad you finally showed your colours. I'd rather you not use me anymore for your political games.
    And I will no longer give you the time of day. Who can trust you to work on behalf of students when you on work on behalf of your own career?
    You've really changed. When you set up at agreement in 2006, who would have known the FNUniv students would become second-level union members? When all we were looking for was equality. I can't believe you man.
    Goodbye Mike.
    Consider this bridge burned out.
    This will be the last I speak to you.

  11. Mike Burton 13 December, 2010 at 23:11

    Let me start by apologizing because some of my comments were out of line.  It's nobodies business, including mine, what you are paid.  I am sure that you are under paid like everyone else I've worked with in my time in the student movement.  This includes URSU Executive and staff and CFS Executive and staff.  People pour their hearts and souls into these organisations and they make far less than they could earn in other jobs. 
    I am sorry that I have insulted you.  I will restate that it's none of mine or anyone else business what you make.
    I won't speak for any other members of the ROC but why I am "everywhere on campus and the blogosphere" talking about this issue is because I was appointed to represent URSU members by the URSU board and I feel those members deserve to know what is going on. What the delays are about and why their representatives have reach certain conclusions.
    I have never tried to stop you from living your life and I have never used you and I am sorry that you won't be able to trust me.  As far as my career goes, this role has done nothing for my career and I will be very happy when it's over.  I have missed work and school in order to fulfill my obligations to this committee, so if this is benefitting me at all, other then to give me more stress then I would like to have in my life, you will have to point out to me how that is. 
    We, myself and yourself, and the FNUNivSA and URSU created an agreement that gave FNUniv students equality BUT during the period when there was no equality FNUnivSA formed Local 90 of the CFS.  I am of the opinion that FNUniv students can be members of Local 9 or members of Local 90 but they can't be members of both.  That opinion comes from the CFS Bylaws, the document that both URSU and the CFS agreed to run this referendum based on.  Could my opinion be wrong? For sure, as is evident by my apology I am wrong a lot.
    FInally, my motives simple.  I care about URSU the organization.  Not this executive or board, or any individuals within the organization.  It is capable of doing great things for students, I have seen it.  And I don't think people should go around misinforming people about the URSU constitution because they don't like this executive.  Disagree with them.  Run against them.  Submitt motions to the AGM to change things that you disagree with, but don't try and undermine the organization. 
    Anyways, I am sorry.  If this is goodbye, I am grateful that I have had the honour to call you friend.  I hope that we do speak again and who knows maybe we can even rebuild that bridge.  All the best.

  12. Thomas 14 December, 2010 at 15:51

    Thanks MIke.
    I really should have went for a jog or had a nap before replying to your post. I was just really upset.
    As you know we've done a lot together in the past to protect the rights of URSU and FNUnivSA members.
    I just felt like I was under attack (by a friend nonetheless) when I have nothing to show for the countless hours I've dedicated to the cause. We've both put our lives and education on back burners for the student movement – next time, let's try to get the same colour jersey.

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