by Jane R. Davenport
The Concordia Student Union's drive for accreditation as the official representative of the undergraduate student body has encountered vocal opposition from two Faculty-based student associations during the February 1-11 polling period, which ends today.
"This is a big battle that pits students against students and divides this university, and it has become the nastiest battle that I have ever been a part of," said Chris Palin, head of the Commerce and Administration Student Association.
Both the Engineering and Computer Science Association (ECA) and the Commerce and Administration Student Association (CASA) are opposed to representation by the CSU. The battle for votes in the drive has been heated, with accusations of misrepresentation flying between the student association heads. CASA and ECA have run high-gear publicity campaigns, as has the CSU. Mass mailings by CASA opposing the referendum were countered by mass e-mails from the CSU, refuting CASA's point of view.
Accreditation would mean that the CSU would be recognized under provincial law as the official voice of the entire undergraduate student body, and that the University would collect $60 student fees from all full-time undergraduates for use by the CSU. Currently, the CSU only collects fees from students in Arts and Science, Fine Arts andindependent students. In order to win the accreditation drive, the CSU needs a majority of the undergraduate student body to vote "yes."
CASA president Chris Palin has two major problems with the concept of CSU accreditation.
He says that since CASA already provides most the services provided by the CSU, Commerce students should not have to pay two sets of fees for two similar sets of services. He also cites executive salaries as an unnecessary use of student fees.
"The CSU offers no services we don't, other than a housing bank," he said. "A housing bank is a good service, but it's not worth $60."
Finally, Palin argued that the CSU's philosophy as a representative body differs from CASA's. "If you look at CASA's approach to working with the University, it is very collaborative and co-operative," he said. "Generally, the way the CSU has functioned is simply to protest, 'This is no good, this is unacceptable.'"
CSU president Dave Smaller said there is a difference between the services provided by a university-oriented association and a Faculty-oriented association, and that Engineering and Commerce students stand to benefit from both. He insists that many CSU services are already used by students from both Faculty associations.
"You have the [CSU-run] job bank, which all students can use to find a part-time job, and CASA helps students find full-time career-oriented jobs. That's not duplication," he said. "We have lots of services used by all students; they're getting the benefit of two services and they have a responsibility to pay for both."
He also cited the precedent at other Canadian universities, most of which have an accredited university-wide student association, as well as faculty associations.
Smaller objected to the reduction of the accreditation issue to a discussion about services. "What is an organization beyond services? There's a larger aspect here, and the benefits are explicit and implicit," he said.
According to Smaller, there is much to be gained from having a voice that speaks on behalf of students as a university.
That voice could be applied externally, in terms of lobbying, and internally on university issues, as well as general policy-making for students, he said.
"Commerce students are members of a Faculty, but they're members of a university too," he said.