On October 22 the Federation of Students (Feds) held their Annual General Meeting in the Great Hall. Before the meeting began, attendees took a picture holding signs that read ‘Won’t Rent Schembri’ in a show of support to students who are still attempting to get back deposits for unfinished apartments at 1 Columbia.
The first debate was about a student motion to reopen the meetings of the Feds Board of Directors. The Feds Board of Directors announced that they would be closing their meetings this past April, a move which drew criticism from many students and sprouted concerns about the lack of transparency within the organization. Students arguing for the motion were concerned that the Feds Board organization is responsible for $2.5 million dollars of student funds annually and thus their decisions shouldn’t be made behind closed doors. The argument for keeping Board meetings closed seemed to be based in the idea that meetings are more efficient if they are not subject to public scrutiny. This argument was made consistently despite an acknowledgment that even if meetings are public, very few students actually attend them, as evidence by the low turnout at Board meetings last year and Student Council meetings which are open. The motion failed to pass by 1 vote, with 25 members voting for it and 26 voting against. It should be noted that the vast majority of students present at the meeting voted in favour of opening the meetings, yet Feds staff and several councillors present at the meeting voted against it. The results of the vote have drawn criticisms from students regarding the ability of Feds staff to vote against student interests in an organization that is meant first and foremost to be a student union. Feds VP of Operations and Finance (VPOF) Ben Balfour also voted against the motion, citing that Feds is also a corporation that needs to run efficiently, while both the VP Education and VP Internal abstained from the vote.
The next agenda item was also a member submitted motion to ban credit card companies from being allowed to advertise in Vendor’s Alley. Shifa Abbas, the student who presented the motion cited concerns about the increasing tuition costs and the high amount of debt many students face. She argued that the SLC is meant to be the centre of student life on campus and allowing financial companies to encourage students to sign up for credit cards which would result in further debt implies a lack of solidarity between Feds and their constituency. Other students mentioned that as there is already a CIBC branch in the building, students who need a credit card can easily access one in the SLC and there is no need to have further advertisements in Vendor’s Alley. Arguments against the motion mentioned that the agreement with these companies provide around $15,000 of revenue for Feds (which is less than 1% of Feds annual budget) and that students should be responsible for their own financial decisions. After a failed attempt to amend the motion to limit the days the companies were allowed to advertise in Vendor’s Alley, the motion passed, 35-18.
The final member submitted motion was regarding the need for an accessibility audit to be completed for the SLC and for the entrance facing the PAC parking lot to be upgraded and made accessible. The main debate for the motion focused on the timing of the completion of the audit and the costs incurred by the upgrades. In the end the motion was amended to say that a progress report would be presented by April 1 and that Feds would advocate for funding from the University of Waterloo. The motion passed with almost everyone in attendance voting in favour of it.
The meeting continued with regular Feds business and ended in just under two hours, a record time when compared with the last two Feds general meetings which went on for around 5 hours. The quickness of the meeting could probably be attributed to the small turnout, with attendance just slightly above quorum of 50 members and almost half of that was made up by Feds staff members.
While the reasons for the low attendance at the meeting are hard to determine, last year’s incredibly well attended general meetings can put to rest the idea that students do not care about Feds. It’s been proven that when General Meetings discuss issues which are relevant to them attendance is strong. When asked why they didn’t attend the meeting, students cited midterms, general lack of time, a feeling that Feds is irrelevant to their lives and a lack of knowledge that the meeting was happening at all. Students at the meeting also mentioned that they had an incredibly difficult time collecting proxies from friends as the forms were posted late with no official deadline.
The impact of low student turnout is clear when items such as the motion to reopen Feds Board meeting lost by one vote and lost despite having support from nearly all the students present at the meeting. It is hoped that Feds will do more work to encourage students to attend the next General Meeting in the winter.