A campus without UMSU

I would like to share my experience and give students a rough idea of the larger picture of what UMSU does. Currently, I’m in my last year and I’m the senior stick (president) of the Faculty of Agriculture Students Organization. In doing my job, I have been exposed to many campaigns that UMSU works on throughout the year, and much of the world of UMSU and their student groups.

UMSU provides ongoing support to faculty councils, and each council has a say in the direction of the union as a whole. In addition, the UMSU council is made up of representatives from each faculty, residence and college student council. The “Just Say No” campaign during this year’s election was critical of UMSU, but offered no solutions. So the next time you blame the UMSU exec members for their “big-name band” choice in September, chances are it was voted on at an UMSU council meeting, and each faculty had their vote.

I believe it is impossible to go through your education at the U of M without having a student group or service help you in some way. Many students go to orientation events in their first year, some of which are planned by individual faculties. Any pub crawl or social you go to is likely organized by councils. For those of you graduating, even the photographer is booked by your student council. That student lounge that you visit in order to use the microwave would not be there if it weren’t for your council. These services are just fraction of the services provided.

UMSU owns and operates many services on campus that many students use every day. Without UMSU, what would happen to these businesses? The U of M administration would have a monopoly on everything, and would be able to charge whatever they want for the essential day-to-day services provided for students — this includes the Digital Copy Center, Archives and Answers. Without Degrees, Aramark would have complete control over food services, and could have no hours of operation past 7 p.m.. Degrees is usually full until they close at 11 p.m. for a reason. As for IQ’s, the late night study cram space that so many people enjoy would be gone.

Without UMSU, every student group would likely disappear, since all the space, funding and services that they acquire by being a student group comes directly from UMSU. Every student council has a direct link to UMSU as well through their constitution, and UMSU holds them accountable for their actions. Every contract UMSU has with the student faculty councils and U of M administration took years of negotiating. UMSU has agreements with administration to collect and distribute the fees required to every student faculty, residence and college council. These contracts are very important in maintaining council autonomy from U of M administration, as well as safeguarding student space.

As far as working on the executive council is concerned, if any of the readers have done any events programming on a large scale (hell, even some birthday/bachelor parties are hard to plan), they’ll know that 95 per cent of the work is done behind the scenes versus five per cent at the actual event. So when you walk past the UMSU offices at night, notice that the lights are on in the back more often than not. Those lights mean that they are in the back still working. These people work hard and they should receive credit when credit is due.

Before you complain about UMSU, ask “your” student council what they have done for you. Their job is to take care of their own students so UMSU can focus on larger problems that each individual student group cannot do by themselves. I’m not here to attack anyone, I just know that instability in any student union could cause the university to make a pile of changes that will most likely not be in students’ best interests when they know they won’t have anyone opposing them.

If a “Just Say No”-style campaign ever does succeed, or if anyone thinks that UMSU is useless, then here are a few questions:

How will you answer to all 23,000 students if you get rid of UMSU, especially without the network to communicate directly to those members?

How will you tell them that they no longer have student-owned space on campus? How will you explain the fact that you shut down businesses that provide essential services to students?
How will you know what students want without UMSU representatives each voicing their thoughts on behalf of their student councils?

I don’t expect any answers to these questions. But be prepared to answer them if you ever do pull together a slate. I know from my experience, if the Aggies didn’t get to carry on the traditions that have been running for the last 100 years, there would be a lot of questions for their elected representatives to answer.

Justin Bouchard is the senior stick of agriculture and co-chair of Arthur Mauro Students’ Association.