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Mismanagement from student union boards hurts student body representation on campuses

Over 500 students banded together in a gymnasium in 2012 to vote in favour of removing the Kwantlen Student Association’s board of directors. Photo courtesy of Link Newspaper

Reported by Bonnie Lee La Madeleine

For students and faculty in tune with the recent news about the Langara Students’ Union, Desmond Rodenbour’s termination by a new student union board may sound familiar.

It was the third time Rodenbour’s contract was terminated by a newly installed student government. The first two times the scenario played out he was the general manager for the Kwantlen Student Association.

By the second termination in 2011, KSA was at the centre of boycotts and firings. As a result, the student union’s scandals became fodder for the other schools in the Lower Mainland to mock. They were also on the line for nearly $750,000 in unsecured loans.

Questionable conducts from other student union boards

According to a report from the Ubyssey on Feb. 1, 2012, by the time the KSA had called a special general meeting to impeach every member of the elected student body, it was in court more than it was in session.

Jeremy McElroy, the current general manager of the KSA, was hired after that general meeting.

“When a group gets elected and then unilaterally decides to terminate the student’s senior leadership which was the case here, that’s not good governance, that’s very much political,” he said.

The scenario McElroy outlined is not uncommon, especially when students are not engaged in campus issues.

A group of students may run for office under an unofficial slate or party platform, a practice that is not allowed on most campuses.

If this group secures a majority of seats on a student council, they can control the direction of student union funds and representation for more than one academic school year.

They could, until recently, change the bylaws to reduce transparency and communication with staff.

Relations to the student body is key

Lack of transparency and mismanagement of funds at student unions is not uncommon throughout Canada as 2012 was not a good year at Concordia University.

“It was an extraordinarily dysfunctional year for us,” said Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis, general coordinator of the Concordia Student Union.

It was in that year that student elections happened during a student strike on campus. It was also the year that one of the elected representatives wrote cheques to herself. Over the course of the year, she took more than $200,000 from student funds.

Marshall-Kiparissis said the campus reaction was swift.

“We can no longer write cheques to ourselves,” she said.

The student union also took steps to increase its transparency in reporting and finances.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University also took steps to protect student funds and the KSA from further exploitation by group run councils. McElroy said they have changed the way elections are run, the power of the executive, and how staff interacts with student representatives and students.

“We have much more comprehensive written financial policies and procedures,” he said. “Everything is posted online. We’ve really been pushing the envelope in terms of good governance, best practice since them.”

Langara also had scandals in the past. Four years ago, five per cent of the Langara student body voted the entire student population out of LSU board meetings, effectively excluding themselves from the democratic process on campus.

This year, Langara students voted in a set of student representatives who appear to be following a similar path of the two KSA administrations.

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