That, so it would seem, is the cost of frustrating the leaders of five student organizations and igniting a heated debate amongst SRA members. It was a debate that I feel however was worthy of having, by all means. It brought up several valid issues that I'd like to address in more depth.
As an SRA Member who literally had the word "transparency" emblazoned on his campaign posters, to address where I stand on the proposed changes that would have tasked these groups with posting all of their budgetary information online: Yes. Do it.
Triennial Fee Referendums
On September 26th, an article published in the Silhouette revealed to those not in the "MSU Bubble" (read: most students) for the first time the news that the McMaster Students Union's Finance Committee intended on forcing referendums every three years to the student body of McMaster at-large questioning whether they wish to continue the funding of "external" organizations that are funded by students in addition to their tuition and MSU fees every year. The idea was primarily a project spearheaded by the committee's Commisioner and the MSU Vice President of Finance.
I have heard arguments from both sides of this debate, with those against declaring that the groups were not properly consulted in the formation process of this triennial referendum proposal— which I am inclined to agree with given the protest presented to the SRA from their respective leaders— and furthermore that they did not feel the triennial referendums would facilitate the type of sufficient feedback these organizations could hope to use to try and improve from.
From those supportive of the triennial referendum being enacted I primarily heard the declaration that by allowing the triennial referendums, we would be entrusting and empowering McMaster students to express their opinions on the relevance of these fees.
I agree with the spirit of that, students clearly deserve such an opportunity. But I disagree with the proposed process of doing so.
I think students, and my fellow SRA members, need to recognize that had we ended up passing this we would not have really been empowering students as was made out to be the case.
Three reasons: Firstly, there currently already exists a method for students to have these fees brought to referendum should they feel they are no longer relevant to them. Secondly, members of the Students Representative Assembly— the apparent representatives of students themselves— can initiate such a referendum with a two thirds vote. Finally, the majority of these external fees can essentially be refused to be paid as it currently stands if students should so wish. This is because O.P.I.R.G., one of the groups that receives $7.57 out of the $10.86 in external fees, allows all students that desire to opt-out to do so.
Even so, I have heard from proponents of enacting these triennial referendums that students are intelligent and can make their own informed decisions.
I agree entirely.
That's why I even ran for the position I now hold. I truly believed, and still do, that there was enough critical students to receive my alternative platform and think that it was worth pursuing. I believe my peers proved that to be the case.
Which is why, yes: I believe in the ability of students to make their concerns and voices heard by these groups, and furthermore believe that if they so desire to initiate such referendums on whether to continue funding these groups, they will do so, as is their rights as MSU members, of their own accord.
Because of that belief I have to say that I find it disingenuous that the proposed changes that would have forced referendums every three years were in the spirit of empowering McMaster's intelligent, critically-thinking students. What we would have truly been doing by passing these changes is deciding that students cannot make their own informed decisions.
Truly if we believe that students can make informed decisions, which I believe that my fellow students and assembly members do, I do not see why we would then feel the need to essentially coddle them by initiating referendums on their behalf.
As a parting thought, I have to say that all other things aside: I find it to be rather hypocritical that some would think it fair or just that the MSU, as an organization whose members have no ability to choose whether or not to pay well over $100 towards it on an annual basis, should feel it appropriate to require these "external" students groups to constantly seek student approval via mass referendum of their fees. It's a double standard. All or nothing, fellas. Go big or go home.