No General Assembly In Sight
By Valeria Lau
Advancing student interests. Bringing students together to discuss and co-operate to achieve change. Promoting and organizing cultural activities. These are some of the purposes of the Dawson Student Union (DSU), as outlined in its constitution. A student union can be an incredibly powerful tool to represent the voice of students within an academic institution. As Dawson students, we pay $19 per semester for our membership in this Union. This, however, raises the question: just how representative of Dawson students is the DSU?
To properly consider this question, we must think back to the last Spring elections of the DSU. These took place in April of 2018, and they determined the nine new representatives in the Executive Committee of the DSU. During the brief election campaign, the fact that eight out of nine candidates ran entirely unopposed during the brief campaign election was widely criticized by members of the student body. A significant fraction of students were not even aware of the possibility to place their candidacy for the election since less than two weeks passed between the announcement of the elections and the deadline for candidacy placement.
Some may ask themselves, what is the purpose of a General Assembly? Well, it turns out, this kind of meeting can do quite a lot for Dawson students. For one, a General Assembly can be a way to ratify amendments to the DSU Bylaws. It can put into effect the removal of office of DSU members that are not abiding by their duties, as long as it passes with a ⅔ majority vote. Essentially, a General Assembly can put true changes into place regarding the operation of the DSU.
Once we consider the importance of a General Assembly, it becomes rather alarming that not one has been held so far in the Fall Semester of 2018. In addition to the fact that the Union must call two GA’s annually, a specific General Assembly must be called in October of every year. This is the ‘Fall Semester General Meeting’; it is meant to serve as an opportunity to ratify the Union budget for the year, as well as to ratify amendments to the Bylaws and Policies. Despite it being a mandatory part of the DSU’s mandate, this Assembly did not take place in October, and no plans for a rescheduling of it have been announced so far.
The lack of engagement that the DSU Executive Committee and the student population have with each other is not unknown. Despite initiatives by the Union to cement a presence in students’ everyday lives, such as handing out agendas and branded DSU shirts, it appears that most Dawson students are not fighting over the opportunity to engage with their student union.
So, why is it so important to have a General Assembly anyway? Apart from the disregard for the Union Bylaws that this brings to light, the issue seems to extend beyond a simple oversight by the Union. This is because, besides the General Assemblies, the only platform that the DSU has in place for students to exercise democratic practices within the Union is the Student Council. However, this body is actually not in place: it does not exist.
Who should be there to hold Executives of the Union accountable? The Student Council. Who should represent the voices of students from all types of programs in the college? The Student Council. Who should have the power to vote to make executive changes regarding the operations of the Executive, to call on a General Assembly if the Union fails to do so, to vote to impeach an Executive that is failing at their job? Yes, the Student Council. This body, whose existence is guaranteed in the Union Bylaws, is exactly the kind of democratic representation that the Union framework promises. Without this Council, the DSU operates almost entirely unchecked, and any internal conflicts go by unnoticed and unheard. There is, in essence, no accountability for the actions of DSU.
It might not be a stretch of the mind to say that allocating a budget of upwards of 400,000$ to nine students, who usually do not have previous managing or administrative training, is not a sustainable method of operation if there is no further representation of student voices in every decision-making process. The current administration of the DSU was voted in by less than 1% of Dawson’s student body.
The Dawson Student Union is an important body with great potential. Noteable positive initiatives have come from this Union over the years, and many of its Executive members continue to work tirelessly to provide students with everything they can offer. It is this powerful energy that would, if properly allocated, make important strides in seeking out student input and cooperation in every way possible. Be it calling regular General Assemblies or the establishment of the Student Council, the Bylaws of the Union provide the DSU with the necessary tools to establish a functional system of student engagement. If these mandates were respected, the Union would have the power to truly embody its role of advocate for Dawson students.