Societies press DSU to reject 5-year referendums

DSU executive unanimously opposes current proposal, discusses alternatives

Representatives from levied societies packed a Dalhousie Student Union meeting room Wednesday to oppose a referendum that could mandate a review of their funding every five years.

The DSU event was a response to growing concern about a proposal that, if passed, would allow the student population to vote on holding a referendum every five years on the status of societies that receive student levies.

The meeting was held in a larger-than-usual room in anticipation of the turnout. Still, many representatives of the levied societies had to stand as they waited to voice their opinions.

“If you guys [DSU] have questions about how our organizations are run, if that hits to the heart of this, then I would suggest chatting to us,” said Jean Ketterling administrative and volunteer co-ordinator for the South House Gender and Sexual Resource Centre.

Other representatives from the South House Gender and Sexual Resource Centre, DalOUT, CKDU and NSPIRG took turns discussing their issues with the proposed referendum.

They spoke from different perspectives, but voiced many of the same points:

  • the amount societies get is very small per student
  • the societies, in some cases, represent the voice of a minority and therefore shouldn’t be threatened by the approval of a majority
  • students don’t know they need some societies until they need them (such as the South House Gender and Sexual Resource Centre and DalOUT)
  • societies would expend crucial resources defending their levy each referendum year

DSU council members listened quietly while each representative passionately discussed the importance of their society.

Anna Bishop, a board member for NSPIRG, said she understands the desire to have a review process for levied societies, but disagrees with the current proposal.

“Bringing up this motion without even talking to any of the societies that it affects is undemocratic in itself,” said Bishop.
Justin Dubreuil, the vice president of DalOUT, reminded council how little some societies get from each student.

“I keep hearing people say that it’s a couple of dollars or three dollars per student. It’s actually 25-cents per student per semester. Students pay 50-cents for DalOUT,” said Dubreuil.

Other societies get a little more. Students pay $9.00 per year for CKDU, $5.00 for the Dalhousie Gazette, $4.00 for NSPIRG, $3.14 for the South House, $2.00 for the Loaded Ladle, $1.50 for W.U.S.C., and $0.50 for the Sextant.

DSU’s response
The actual vote on the proposal won’t take place until the next meeting, but DSU president Jamie Arron said the DSU executive unanimously opposes the current proposal and is working on an alternative.

The alternative could include: a process for critics to voice their concerns to council, then meet with the levied societies to discuss how the DSU can be more supportive and how the societies can improve their programming.

Arron went on to call the issue “a distraction.”

“We’re talking here about one- or two-dollar levies and it’s dividing us. It’s a divisive issue,” said Arron. “Meanwhile, we’re talking about a $17.5-million deficit to the university.”

“What we should be focusing on is uniting, as students, towards the real issues and getting away from these distractions,” said Arron.

However, he also conceded that the lack of a complaint process for levied societies was a valid criticism.

He said if students expect the administration to be accountable with their spending, then the students should do the same. But, it must be done in collaboration with societies and not in a way that threatens their existence.

The current proposal came from council member Andrew Mecke.

“This is my motion,” said Mecke. “And I hope I don’t get lynched when I leave this room for saying that. A lot of very passionate people here.”

Mecke said the goal of the proposal is to review both the mandate for societies and the very emphasis of why societies exist and what their goal is.

The discussion will continue next week.

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