Transparency the way to keep student governments strong

Photo: The University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society’s main office. 

Transparency is a given within student governments at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and Capilano University.

This is in strong contrast with the Langara Students’ Union, who have been accused of lacking transparency, with issues such as their cancelled election, private meetings and their lack of participation with media.

Alma Mater Society (AMS) publishes releases as quickly as possible on issues, including one on their stance on the controversial departure of UBC President, Arvind Gupta.

“If we were deceptive it would be extremely unfair to our students,” said Alex Kilpatrick, the AMS communications assistant.

In March 2015, an anonymous letter was written in the university’s newspaper about a racially motivated assault after an event at The Pit, a pub run by the AMS.

Although it happened off property, the AMS reached out and went forward to ensure events are safe for everyone by increasing security at their Pit events.

“That option was much more positive and constructive then trying to conceal or obfuscate our responsibility,” said Kilpatrick.

“My executive team this year strives to be transparent about everything we do especially in contrast with what’s going on with the university right now with the lack of transparency there,” said Aaron Bailey, President of the AMS.

If student governments lack transparency, Bailey and Kilpatrick said it’s often from lack of experience.

“You signed up for the job for a reason and if you’re not cut out it’s not a character fault. It’s just not the type of work you should be doing,” said Bailey.

01-Transparent Governments-AMS Nest2
The Alma Mater’s Society new student Nest building

Communication key when big decisions in play

Kathleen Yang, vice president of external relations at the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) said it’s problematic if student societies are not open to criticism.

In 2012, the SFSS received student concerns on an expensive proposal of a student union building and stadium project called “Build SFU”, which sparked a campaign.

In response the SFSS increased outreach to learn how they could better service students. They held socials, met with clubs and departments and were then able to pass the Build SFU vote in 2014.

“Students are ultimately the owners of the organization and should be having a say in all activities of the society,” Yang said.

The Capilano Student Union (CSU) has their bylaws, policies, budget, annual plan, meeting minutes and any decisions available online.

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Capilano Students’ Union main office lounge

The CSU invites students and the campus newspaper to all meetings. “Often the student newspaper wants to keep an eye on the student union, and they should,” said Zach Renwick, the CSU Vice-President of internal development.

Renwick said that if student unions are secretive with students, it spells warning signs.

“Often times if you give people all the information they might be more understanding of how you came to the decision,” said Renwick.

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