The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) is being criticized for poorly promoting its annual general meetings (AGM) after only two students attended the most recent attempted meet Nov. 8.
The AGM did not go ahead as it failed to meet a quorum of 200 members.
UMSU notified students about the AGM through Facebook on Nov. 2, less than a week before the meeting was scheduled to take place at the U of M’s Bannatyne campus downtown.
Dylan Fijal, a second-year sociology student at the University of Manitoba, criticized UMSU through a comment on its Facebook page regarding the short notice of the meeting.
In his comments, Fijal questioned UMSU’s actions as an attempt to obstruct student democracy.
“UMSU is supposedly a democratic organization. It’s supposed to be run by the students, for the students,” Fijal said in an interview.
“And for a democratic organization, the AGM should be one of, if not the, most important events for the organization where all the membership had a chance to come and put forward their own motions, make decisions, and cut things out,” he added.
Fijal said that he would have been interested in attending the meeting to make his voice heard but his busy schedule and short notice made it impossible.
“An AGM is a big thing,” he said. “It takes a while for people to get things in order. Sometimes you need to reschedule things.”
Fijal suggested that at least four weeks’ notice should be given ahead of AGMs to encourage student attendance. Fijal said he was surprised to learn that UMSU’s by-laws mandate only 36 hours of notice before calling an AGM, which he said is even worse than one week’s notice.
Because UMSU gave a short notice about the AGM, Fijal stated that it seemed like a deliberate attempt to keep students from attending the meeting.
“To me, if I didn’t know any better, it blatantly looks like obstructionism,” he said, adding, “I think they should have been better about publicizing it.”
Fijal said UMSU should give more notice to students of future meetings and sufficiently publicize them, noting that simply announcing AGMs on Facebook is not enough as it fails to reach the broad membership.
Fijal said that UMSU should undertake additional student outreach initiatives such as class talks to engage more students in the democratic process.
“Instead of just posting on the Facebook [page], they should also be posting on the billboards around campus,” he said.
Fijal noted that although low attendance could also be attributed to students’ disinterest, UMSU holds a bigger share of the blame in this.
UMSU president Tanjit Nagra speculated that students may not be attending AGMs because bi-weekly UMSU council meetings are open to students as well, and so students could have preference on which meetings to attend.
“I cannot speak to why students have consistently not shown up to AGMs,” she said.
“If I were to speculate, I would assume it is because our bi-weekly UMSU council meetings are open to all students also, so any UMSU member can come and put forward, second, or discuss motions.”
Nagra said that she was “open to suggestions from students on how we can improve AGM attendance.”
“I honestly think if UMSU did a much better job of letting people know this was happening, then I think people would be more enthusiastic about attending,” Fijal said.
Fijal said that the trend of low attendance at AGMs means only one thing: UMSU is “really bad at publicizing general meetings.”
Following the low-attendance at the AGM this year, UMSU posted Facebook events for its council meetings for the rest of the year. UMSU also scheduled and posted its winter AGM on its Facebook page, which will be held on March 27.