Radio silence: The SFSS shouldn’t have kept SFU’s SUB legal challenge from us

Want students to get invested in politics? Share information and don’t punish whistleblowers

Student Union Building
You can’t be selective about the type of information you share: give us the good, the bad, and the ugly. PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By Isabella Urbani, Staff Writer and Luke Faulks, Opinions Editor 

Boredom, if not outright animosity, is a common reaction to SFU politics. The most explicit example of our distaste for student politics is th low turnout for student elections. Case in point, the 2022 Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) elections saw just 8% of SFU students cast a ballot for their choice of president. But it’s worth mentioning there are still plenty of interesting twists and turns our politics holds — it’s just that they’re hidden from us. SFU’s potential lawsuit against the SFSS for the Student Union Building (SUB)’s closure is an example of the chilling effect withholding information from students can have. 

Let’s recap the high-level politics that were denied to us. Back in March, The Peak reported that legal action was being threatened by SFU after the previous SFSS Board voted to close the SUB from January 24–February 18 to protect staff from contracting COVID-19. The school argued the closure breached the lease agreement made between SFU and SFSS by withholding access to the SUB during normal operating hours. 

That was stated in the first of three letters SFU sent to the 2021/2022 SFSS Board starting on January 20. By the third and final letter, SFU was threatening a default on the SFSS’ lease on the SUB. Two days later, as The Peak reported, the SFSS voted to re-open the SUB. 

Now, my gripe isn’t with the SFSS for closing the SUB. It’s not with SFU for threatening a student organization. It’s with the fact that a culture of secrecy around SUB decisions stifles students’ conversations about student politics. Although this was a few months ago, the private predicament unfolded while an online petition for online learning was circulating at SFU, and just when BC had just removed capacity limits. As a student body, we were engaged on the issue of the SUB’s closure, but were denied information about issues that might have contributed Board’s decision. As constituents, we should have been made aware of factors, including the lawsuit, that might have had an influence on the process. 

The SFSS also censured three councillors, and later impeached one of them. This is another extension of the problematic culture of secrecy in student politics. The punishing of leakers, as apparently enshrined in SFSS’ bylaws, chills the dispersal of information to the student population. While letting violators get off scot-free is not a good option, impeachment ensures that potential whistleblowers will be forced to choose between losing a career in student politics and informing the student body. The SFSS has yet to release a report on the incident. The same goes for the current Council’s recent motion to remove Rea Chatterjee, vice president external and community affairs, from her position. We’ve been kept in the dark there, too,

The SFSS needs to be transparent. You may be getting sued? You’re our student representatives, let the people know! We want the good, the bad, and the ugly. Send emails! Post it on social media! List out all your concerns and conditions on a piece of paper and stick it on the SUB door! Just address the situation. Don’t let the problem snowball and then proceed to brush it under the rug. 

SFSS is supposed to be for the students. By making the factors that contribute to their decision-making public, they can better involve the student body. As it stands, the group is doing less to enhance political discourse at SFU, and more to stifle it.