It’s hard to work in politics. It’s especially hard to work in politics when you are forced to work with people who disagree with you.
Yet, the lessons learned in compromising with people you don’t see eye-to-eye with are important. Ideological clashes can be disruptive, even personal. Yet the democratic process is built on negotiation, consensus, and mutual respect.
This democratic process has fallen apart at the Students’ Administrative Council. A 31-8 vote of the commissioners called for president Rocco Kusi-Achampong’s resignation.
The sad fact about the whole sordid affair is that this year’s SAC board of directors has been the most productive in recent memory—when SAC executives and directors chose to co-operate.
Observers of last spring’s election will remember Kusi-Achampong’s opponent, Noel Semple, claiming it would be impossible to set up ROSI, the online course-selection system, to allow students to opt out of some student fees. The online opt-out was accomplished by September.
The jaded, squinting scribes of The Varsity laughed when Kusi-Achampong’s “We the Students” ticket promised a discounted TTC Metropass for U of T students. That battle was won in November, when the TTC commission voted to adopt a pilot programme for Metropass discounts.
And there is nothing wrong—in principle—with celebrating the 101st anniversary of SAC. It is a shame the Dec. 22 party was not better advertised, and more effort should be made to determine if the money was spent improperly. But all SAC parties of the past few years have been abject failures, and it is hardly surprising that this year’s party failed to break with tradition.
Indeed, Kusi-Achampong’s “We the Students” ticket should be congratulated for its courageous stance on the issue of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) referendum. It was the SAC board of directors who showed rashness and cowardice when they allowed themselves to be bullied into signing on to the CFS’ referendum bylaws—a ridiculous farce of a procedure code that allowed the CFS to run a referendum that would win them almost half a million dollars.
Other Canadian universities, such as the University of Manitoba, rejected the CFS’ demands and ran fair referenda their own way. The CFS issue is under consideration by Student Affairs, and advocates of free speech and fair play should hope the administration is wise enough to correct our elected student representatives’ callous mistakes.
Kusi-Achampong spoke against the procedure of the CFS referendum, and he should be applauded for his contribution to the debate. His running-mate on “We the Students,” Emoline Thiruchelvam, completed a thankless task as part of the committee that ran the referendum. Thriruchelvam, along with fellow SAC director Andrew Tyler, defended U of T students as best they could on a referendum committee stacked with two paid CFS organizers.
If Kusi-Achampong did indeed destroy CFS Student-Saver cards, he had a good reason: the cards were dumped on the U of T campus, conveniently before the CFS referendum. This blitz of CFS promotional material was conducted even as CFS organizers picked over posters calling on students to reject the CFS with the haughtiness and attention to detail of mediaeval popes counting the angels dancing on a pinhead.
The temporary suspension of the SAC listserv is another specious complaint. For years, the listserv has been a sewer of bickering and personal attacks. SAC should consider shutting it down for good.
Unfortunately, SAC has been split along ideological lines since September, when another “We the Students” candidate, vice-president operations John Lea, withheld money from the International Socialists club. The club had asked for money to attend a rally organized by a group whose most recent achievement had been the Concordia riot. The rally organizer, who spoke at the SAC meeting, seemed unconcerned by the possibility of violence at the Ottawa event (which later took place peacefully), so Lea witheld the money. The resulting spectacle of childishness, which involved the theft of Lea’s office keys by some of the same SAC directors who now want to impeach Kusi-Achampong (or run to replace him in the next election) and ended in the calling of campus police, harmed relations on SAC just when solidarity was needed.
The Varsity does not claim Kusi-Achampong is blameless. Certainly, he has failed at times to engage his opponents and make peace. Yet the same charge could be levelled at some of those who now want him to resign.
SAC works best when student representatives rise above petty squabbles and personal agendas to improve things for students at U of T. Kusi-Achampong should regard the vote as a lack of confidence in his leadership, and should seek to serve out his term by working with his fellow SAC directors, instead of against them. And Kusi-Achampong’s opponents should look at the achievements of this year’s SAC board of directors and realize that when student politicians put students first, real progress can be made.