Who does UMSU really work for?

The answer should be the students

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Welcome to the University of Manitoba: a campus that “thrives” and “grows” by disengaging from the student population via the brick walls of bureaucracy and oppressive ideology. Please do not be fooled by our school’s glittery and distracting advertisements that announce “I am a trailblazer” or “I am a rebel.” In fact, you are not a trailblazer or rebel, as a student of this university.

Instead, you are expected to pay your dues and enter into a submissive relationship with both the university administration and student union. This was shown during the 2014-15 school year when several student, faculty, and staff groups protested the austerity budget that would see four per cent cuts to most faculties and some non-academic units. Here are some – certainly not all – things to consider should you decide to continue your academic journey through this treacherous campus.

Every undergraduate student at the U of M pays a minimum annual University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) fee in addition to the UMSU Health and Dental Plan. We pay hundreds of dollars over the course of our degrees to an organization that supposedly aims to fight for our rights and interests as students of the university. Yet our current executive continually fails to do so.

In 2014-15, UMSU made little to no effort in leading a campaign that directly affected current students and will be affecting future students. In May, UMSU executives voted in favour or abstained from voting against the budget, presumably under the assumption that it parallelled student interests. However, the executive never provided the student body with an opportunity to voice their opinions on this matter. There were no surveys, no discussions, no information sessions.

The current UMSU executive is unable to represent the student population on important issues, such as the budget cuts, if they are unable to consistently educate, inform, and engage with the students on these issues. Only two emails were sent since the budget cuts were announced in November 2014; one each in January and May of the following year.

These emails sought only to educate the students on why these cuts were necessary, rather than explaining the position of many students that these cuts were unnecessary and oppressive choices on the part of the administration. The only avenue available for students to learn more about the unnecessary budget cuts and to actively engage with this issue on campus is through the Student Action Network.

An overly close relationship between the administration and the university’s student union directly harms the relationship between the executives of that union and its members: the students. If the administration’s decisions and actions are working in direct opposition to the interests of students, it is UMSU’s duty to represent its members and make the relationship with students a priority. At this point, it is not.

The mandate of a student union becomes lost and muddled when students see the administration and UMSU cooperating on multiple levels. If undergraduate students are paying hundreds of dollars for the services of the union, shouldn’t the union do everything in its power to support them? Instead of focusing on supplying the students with expensive music festivals, budget cuts should be the focus of an official UMSU campaign, alongside other important campaigns such as Divest Manitoba. Why not?

The above is not meant to provoke or create further conflicts among students groups and the student union. However, it acknowledges the absence of UMSU’s much-needed support and leadership during a time where the administration is using the students’ perceived inactivity as a means and excuse to continue their unrepresentative and neoliberal actions.

 

Yanisa Wu is a member of the University of Manitoba Student Action Network.