As a first-year student, I quickly learned that the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is in the news a lot.
The Varsity reported throughout the year on the controversies surrounding the UTSU, including the roiling fee diversion debate, UTSU’s $52,000 deficit after a $152,000 surplus the previous fiscal year, and the acusations of a lack of transparency in their Annual General Meetings and elections. The fact that they are in the news again should come as no surprise to anyone.
Across campus, advertisements sponsored by the UTSU, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), and several other groups have been appearing on bus shelters. The advertisements feature slogans in support of the UTSU’s campaign to stop flat fees from being re-instituted.
UTSU has been criticized in the past for taking a stance on political issues on and off campus, such as the men’s rights movement, the conflict in Sri Lanka, and the Idle No More movement.
The fact that the union is focusing its efforts on issues relevant to most U of T students is good. That does not, however, mean that the union should be engaging in politics.
There are two questions that students should be asking themselves. Firstly, is the UTSU advocating for the voice of the majority of students? Second, should they be spending our fees on advertisements for their advocacy? The answer to both of these questions should be a resounding “no.”
It is common knowledge that there is an extensive voter apathy among U of T students. The election results for the 2013 UTSU executive elections were abysmal. The only slate, “Team Renew”, was acclaimed with 2000 votes in favour and 900 votes against. That corresponds to a whopping six per cent voter turnout rate.
To put this six per cent into perspective, the 2011 federal election had a voter turnout of 61 per cent, while the 2010 Toronto municipal election had a voter turnout of 53 per cent.
To suggest that a government who won with 68 percent of the six percent of eligible electors is in any way legitimate or representative of the entire university’s population is simply ludicrous. There is no basis for the UTSU to make any claim about being the voice of students in regards to politics, whether it is directly, indirectly, or not at all related to matters on campus.
This is, of course, not even taking into account the issues being faced in regards to transparency and accountability in their Annual General Meetings and elections, and their affiliation to the CFS. In short: for an organization that claims to be representing students, they do not seem to do much by way of actual representation.
I have already mentioned that the UTSU ran a deficit of approximately $52,000 for the financial year ending in 2013. Regardless of the deficit, however, the union should not be spending collected student fees on bus shelter advertisements when simpler and cheaper means could do the job just as easily. Even then, why should they be spending money at all, let alone the amount required for such superfluous advertisements, when we have already established that they are not necessarily advocating for the majority of students?
If the UTSU were truly advocating for the voice of all students, they would not need to advertise to students. Otherwise, what are they expecting: for the university’s governing council to see their ads on the way to work?
So long as the UTSU does not have the confidence of the student body, and so long as they are running a deficit because of who-knows-what expenses, they should not be spending our money on politics.
What should they be doing with my $34.96 per year, then? Exactly what I would expect a student union to do: improve the quality of life for students. Special interests such as politics should be left to organizations that do not claim to represent the majority of students.
There is a saying that, in life, politics, religion, and money are not topics for polite conversation. The UTSU needs to stay out of these areas, or they will continue to waste our money, alienate our population, and get nothing of actual relevance done.
Stephen Warner is a first-year student at Victoria College studying English and political science.