What will the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) look like in 10 years? Five years? Next year? We don’t know because UMSU has no long-term plan.
The lack of a long-term plan was obvious at the March 23 meeting of UMSU Council when incoming vice-president external Astitwa Thapa introduced a motion for a fossil fuels divestment campaign.
Students were left wondering why this motion was brought before council. It wasn’t in response to any climate change crisis on campus, nor was there mention of fossil fuels at preceding UMSU meetings. While climate change is an important issue, it wasn’t clear to students why UMSU should suddenly take an interest.
Having no long-term plan leaves UMSU with no long-term direction. This makes UMSU vulnerable to the whims of councillors with pet projects.
The lack of overall vision is seen in the hodgepodge of campaigns that UMSU currently supports. Campaigns for gender-inclusive washrooms, fair trade, universal transportation, resisting all forms of oppression and discrimination, and ending blood donation bans further the aims of the individual campaigns. But when taken together, the campaigns don’t measurably contribute to a central goal.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union doesn’t know where it’s going, and it doesn’t know how to get there.
A long-term plan would formalize what UMSU wants to achieve over the next few years, and what specifically UMSU needs to do to achieve it. With a long-term plan, UMSU could avoid impulsive motions, and instead focus on agreed-upon priorities.
A long-term plan would add stability to UMSU, even as leadership changes from year to year. The recent election showed the problems of continuous turnover constantly reinventing UMSU. While one slate favoured investment in infrastructure, the other slate preferred increased services.
Capital projects are multi-year commitments that cannot be supported by one executive and council, only to be cancelled by the next. The same holds true for UMSU services. Students can’t make plans around services that may or may not be there next year.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union wouldn’t be the first organization on campus to use long-term planning. The University of Manitoba has a new five-year strategic plan. It identifies five priority areas, with goals and supporting actions for each. The priority areas are broad themes like innovative and quality teaching. The goals within each priority area are more specific such as enhancing student mobility. The supporting actions for each goal are tangible and measurable. To enhance student mobility, a supporting action is to increase the number of transfer-credit agreements with other educational institutions.
The student union is not totally without guidance. The provincial University of Manitoba Students’ Union Act of 1975 defines the objects of the union. These include promoting the interests and welfare of students in all matters respecting their common interests, and encouraging student participation in cultural, athletic, intellectual, and social activities. While the objects are intentionally vague, they do provide UMSU with an outline of a long-term plan.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union further refines its mission in the Declaration of Principles. Self-declared principles include building a socially just education system, fighting discrimination and inequality, and mobilizing around issues that affect members and their communities. These principles are more specific than the provincially legislated objects, but they are still not specific enough to constitute a long-term plan.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union needs a long-term plan. It needs to establish goals and work towards reaching them. Each motion before council needs to be viewed in the context of how it furthers that long-term plan. Only then can UMSU’s resources be co-ordinated effectively to achieve something tangible and meaningful.