Democracy inaction: The SFSS’ toxicity is spilling out of its meetings

Executive members are becoming less productive while billing students for it

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SFSS Board Office
Who’s paying for all the SFSS drama? PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By Andrea Steveson, SFU Studen

The SFSS has power over student life, policies, and our money. It is cause for concern, then, when we have several councillors and executives alleging the Society has become toxic and is abusing their power and by extension, our money. 

The SFSS plays an important role in advocating for undergraduate student rights and providing many of the essential services students need. Besides managing the Student Union Building (SUB), they also provide students with free legal services, an emergency food bank program, an extended health and dental plan, as well as the U-Pass program. All these responsibilities, and the power associated with them, means the Society deserves scrutiny. That scrutiny must include the SFSS workplace. 

Students pay hefty fees that go towards supporting the SFSS’s initiatives. Fulltime students cough up over $300 each semester to the SFSS. That’s a lot for cash-strapped students. You might assume the responsibility associated with managing student money would make for a solemn environment, but you’d be wrong. Increasingly, SFSS meetings are scenes of devolution. 

But don’t just take it from me. The SFSS will admit their meetings have fallen into disrepute. Vice president equity and sustainability Rea Chatterjee and vice president external and community affairs Eshana Baran recently released a statement condemning the SFSS’s work environment. They claim that meetings can devolve into personal arguments and they have tried to remind members of community guidelines and etiquette.

They note at the June 3 executive meeting, that “concerns were raised on multiple occasions about the importance of having respectful dialogue and work environment.” In other words, the governing body of SFU’s most powerful student society is looking less like the seat of student government, and more like a playground.

So, in light of a toxic work environment, what has the Council been able to accomplish since the new executives took over in May? Well, according to their Notices of Motions page, fixing typos in policy documents. I can’t imagine many students cast a ballot during the 2022 election thinking they were voting for the person that’d be best at tackling typos. Instead of devoting time to passing a motion to correct something as straightforward as a spelling error, we need a student government that’s legitimately concerned with advocating for students. SFU’s student body has any number of concerns that extend beyond typos. With the SFSS’ $3.1 million budget, they could make a real difference on climate change, climate justice, protesting the Trans Mountain Expansion, fighting for Research Assistant rights, and, of course, pushing back against the school’s routine tuition raises. 

SFSS arguing about petty issues from those personal issues to questions of etiquette and typos are ridiculous issues to devote any energy to, particularly when students are paying their salaries. We want student services, not meaningless debates on the most insignificant issues. 

No one else but Council knows what goes on behind closed doors and in-camera meetings, but, at its core, the SFSS should exist to serve the student body. An Executive Committee that’s rife with infighting isn’t working in the best interests of the student body. The current executive team needs a reminder that the students who are critiquing, asking questions, and demanding answers are the ones paying their bills. They work for us and right now, they’re underperforming.