Before I started writing for The Peak, I admittedly paid very little attention to student politics. When I voted for my preferred Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) candidates, I read their blurbs and made the decision without giving it too much thought. How much could my vote influence things at SFU? What difference would that make to my experience on Burnaby Mountain?
When the SFSS shuttered the food and beverage services (FBS) in April, I was suddenly struck with the realization that they can do a whole lot.
FBS, which includes the Highland Pub, on-campus catering services, and the Ladle, has long since been hemorrhaging money. Since 2008, the enterprise has lost over $800,000, so it’s natural that the decision was made to close it. How that decision was communicated and rolled out, however, makes me nervous that whatever underlying causes led to the huge deficits haven’t been addressed.
For example, when the SFSS made the announcement in early April, it wasn’t immediately clear that the staff that worked at FBS were notified in advance. Job-ending news isn’t exactly something you want to learn from reading a tweet or even a news article. So, it was pretty natural, then, that many FBS staff started calling in sick en masse.
Later that month, the molecular biology and biochemistry department was having their annual conference, which brought together researchers in the department to present their work. The plan was, like in previous years, to host the dinner social at the pub. However, since the SFSS bungled their announcement, the organizers had to scramble and make a backup plan last minute because they couldn’t count on the pub being open until its actual closure date.
What is particularly frustrating is that the SFSS has a history of doing good work with student money. The ubiquitous U-Pass, a venture between the SFSS, the Graduate Student Society, and Translink, saves students as much as $1,500 a year in transit costs. Students can also take advantage of the health and dental plan, which can sometimes be the only cost-effective way for students to access dental care. The SFSS also distributes student money to incredible organizations like the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus.
Then there are also signs that the SFSS needs to really focus on getting their act together, like with the Build SFU campaign that reneged on their promise for a new sports stadium and then reversed their decision again. But I digress.
I’m not trying to argue against the merit of closing FBS; I’m glad that something tangible was finally done about that huge waste of student money. But at the same time, it serves as a reminder that how the SFSS operates can actually change things on campus. Their annual budget is about $2.7 million, and with that kind of money comes complications and all sorts of mistakes.
As we pay that kind of money to students that are working on our behalf, we need to pay attention to their actions and make sure they step up to the plate.