LSU transparency lags behind other student unions

Distinct difference in transparency levels among student unions in B.C.


By Marilyn Reichert

The Langara Students’ Union, a student-funded society whose official aim is “Advocating for Students’ Rights” has yet to come through on a 2019 commitment to become more transparent.

After the Societies Act was amended in 2016 to improve student union transparency, the LSU made some changes to keep in line with its obligations. The amendment allowed the request of records related to student unions which had routinely been challenging to obtain.

That said, the LSU still requires students to jump through hoops to obtain information and documents that are posted online for all to see at other post-secondary institutions in B.C.

A news article in the Voice on Feb. 11, 2019 stated that an email from the LSU to the Voice was received on Nov. 1, 2018, asserting the societies’ financial records and meeting minutes will be posted “very soon’’ at their website launch.

Currently the LSU meeting minutes and financial records are still missing from their website. Students who pay mandatory membership dues must submit a request online or email to obtain copies.

Website updates made, yet still no minutes

In 2017, the LSU approved $15,000 for a new website which went up in November 2018. Currently, a search for “minutes” on their website brings up a “coming soon” message.

Requests by the Voice for meeting minutes and financial statements were fulfilled within 24 hours of the request. The LSU state on its website that they provide requested documents within 72 hours.

However, many students’ unions, including those at BCIT, UVic, Douglas and UBC, make their meeting minutes and financial records public on their websites.

Cole Evans, president of the UBC Alma Mater Society, said that it’s important for student unions to be transparent and accountable to their members.

“All of our meetings are public,” Evans said. “So any member of the society or any of the members of the public, for that matter, is able to attend those meetings and view. This year … we’ve also started live streaming our meetings.”

“The UVic Student Society regularly practice transparency by putting their meeting minutes on their website and have shown students how their student society fee is broken down,” said Paarth Mittal, a former director of the UVic Student Society.

“When I was serving as a director, they made strides to improve transparency, like when the director of finance and operations made a video for the annual general meeting explaining to UVic students how the SS finances work.”

The secrecy of student societies

Stanley Tromp, FOI journalist and researcher, in his oral presentation to the B.C. Legislative FOIPP Act in 2015 in regard to FOI-exempt bodies, stated “there is an overlooked but extremely serious problem: the secrecy of student societies.”

“In the worst example, the Langara Students Union passed changes to its constitution that could allow LSU to bar students from attending student society board meetings, prevent in camera meetings, and prevent students from making copies of student union records,” Tromp said.

The Societies Act was then changed to allow students to request records related to student unions.

The LSU office is currently closed for renovations and emails from the Voice to the LSU president and vice-president on Feb. 28 remain unanswered by the Voice deadline.

When the Voice emailed the LSU media team on March 2 requesting interviews, it received an answer within minutes, saying board members do not do “in-person, phone or video interviews.”

The LSU media committee said that to include online access, boards must revisit bylaws.

“This is currently not the case,” it wrote. “The Langara Students’ Union continues to be transparent by hosting annual general meetings, responding to members’ requests, working with various community stakeholders to provide services to the LSU membership and Community.”

LSU who?

David Tomkulak, a second-year computer science diploma student at Langara College said he didn’t know a lot about the LSU.

“I think they help out with campus security things,” he said. “I think them having an increased presence on campus … would be a good idea.”

The LSU annual general meeting is held in September.

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