CUSA is unrepresentative. Oh well!

Another week, another student union controversy

Of all the complaints being levelled at the Carleton University Students’ Association, I take the most issue with the argument that CUSA is not representative of the student body.

Kevin Eller, a Carleton English student articulated this point in Carleton’s student newspaper The Charlatan:

Could someone please inform me on how CUSA year after year is able to determine what Carleton students want? Is giving former CUSA executive Isaac Cockburn (vice-president student issues) two years’ worth of salary when it seems like all he did was to plan an “All-Out Tuition Freeze Day” one of those ideas?

All I can say is: so what? Of course CUSA is not representative of the student body. It is true but it is also meaningless. In elections earlier this year, president Brittany Smyth was elected with the participation of around 15 per cent of Carleton undergrads (if someone has a more accurate number please let me know).

No organization with such low participation can claim to be democratic. Democracy refers to not just procedures and the holding of routine elections, but also to an electorate that actually participates. If you think CUSA could ever be representative, I have some pyrite to sell you.

But this isn’t just the situation at Carleton, nor is it necessarily reflective of the current executive. Student governments in nearly every Canadian school, since time immemorial, are elected routinely with 10 per cent of students voting, and rarely does participation rise above 20 per cent.

This is not indicative of an apathetic student electorate. Students are just passing through which means both that they don’t have the time to become truly knowledgeable of the union, and that their long term interests lie elsewhere.

The result is that student government tends to only be truly accountable to those who actually vote, which is often students who are highly interested in all forms of politics and who are often supportive of political activism. It is no wonder than that student executives tend to act as little more than full-time paid political activists.

Nearly every week a student government does or says something that causes onlookers to wonder how these people got into university in the first place, be it with comparing pro-life activists to the KKK, or telling students they are incapable of making their own choices regarding joining the military, or claiming that free tuition will cure cancer.

It is true, as it is with the current controversy regarding CUSA`s support for Shinearama, that students will sometimes organize to challenge the union leadership. Even in such cases, I would surprised if participation rises above 20 per cent.

That’s just the way it is.