What student body do you belong to? - Macleans.ca

What student body do you belong to?

The Canadian Federation of Students seems to believe there’s a homogeneous student body, of the same political stripe, pushing for the same goals


There’s an interesting discussion going on in response to Robyn Urback’s deconstruction of a recent article in the student press that supported the Canadian Federation of Students. Urback looked at an article in the Ryerson Free Press that argued, among many other things, that “students should unite to tackle ‘more pressing issues’ that affect everyone.” I think this issue is worth dissecting itself.

As I mentioned in response to Urback’s post, this line of argument seems to come up in every defence of the CFS I’ve heard in recent years. And it is frightening in its condescension. “Oh quit your whining little students; we know better!”

Many of the issues that have gotten the CFS in trouble with its members – lawsuits, Orwellian tactics, being anti-democratic – seem to contradict the ideals to which the organization claims to subscribe. The only way the CFS could justify their actions to themselves is if they believed that the end is more important than the means. They must truly believe that the cause they are fighting for – lowering or even eliminating tuition as its cornerstone – is so noble that it justifies all the “little bad things” they have to do to achieve it.

This logic doesn’t work unless they believe there is a homogeneous set of objectives all students surely would benefit from and that all students would agree on the solutions to get us these objectives (if only students weren’t so ignorant, of course). But I don’t think this homogeneous student body exists. As a commenter noted, there are people of all political backgrounds involved in the opposition at UVic. That suggests that there are a wide spectrum of students with different ideas about what university is all about who are not feeling represented by the CFS. Surely it’s simplistic to maintain that all students are NDP-voters married to the public system.

I also think it’s relevant to mention that there is no agreement on the tuition issue. I think it’s fair to say that the CFS’ central campaign is to lower or eliminate tuition (which is what I’m assuming is one of the “more pressing issues” the RFP refers to). But not all students agree that lowering tuition is the answer to improving university access. There has been loads of research that suggests that PSE access is only improved by targeted aid funding, not lowering tuition.

So what I want to know is: where do you fit into this idea of a homogeneous student body? Do you feel that your beliefs contradict with the student stereotype? What ideals would be held by an organization that truly represented you?

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What student body do you belong to?

  1. “seems to believe” – LOL

    Erin Millar 1 – Straw man 0

  2. I don’t think CFS supporters are politically homogeneous either. Hardcore CFS-ers include card-carrying NDP and Liberal Party members, and it the end, leaders of the CFS value allegiance to the organization before allegiance to a specific party. Really you could be a conservative and get along with them as far as you avoid criticizing the organization itself, and you could be a NDP supporter and get in their black book if you question the lack of democracy in their by-laws.

  3. Agreed with the last comment. One of the dumbest and most insulting ways to go about fighting the CFS’s tyranny is the “Mirror of the NDP youth!” argument.

    I “belong” to the type of student body that Millar seems to assume would support the CFS: I believe in free education and fight actively on my campus for it, I believe that students are linked to broader social struggles and should engage them, I believe that students should (begrudgingly and with their noses pinched) vote NDP to save education in Canada, etc. But I do not believe in the CFS, because I believe that democracy and grassroots dynamism are what make up a social movement. I have no problem with incorporation for the sake of defending your assets, but I do have a problem with corporatism: all loyalties are first and foremost to the corporation/state, in whom we stake our entire future.
    I believe we must defederate from coast to coast to coast from this monster, but not because students don’t want better/more accessible education as Millar implies. This logic only feeds the corporatist mentality: “Without CFS, no one will fight for students!”
    No, I believe we must leave teh CFS because it actively stifles grassroots activism and quashes any movement for grassroots reform.
    I am a socialist, but I’m glad the Soviet Union is gone. I’m a believer in free, high-quality, and universally-accessible education, who believes our cause will only be advanced when the CFS is gone.

  4. Here’s the problem. Homogeneity doesn’t exist. There’s is no one student union in Canada that thinks with one mind, and there never will be. Everyone has (or at least should have) their own opinion and their own approach to things, and everyone will always think that they could do better given the chance.

    It’s hard enough for student unions to come to a concensus about local issues let alone at a national level.

    I’m all for affordable yet high quality education, but it seems to be just a pipe dream when it comes to the CFS. Every once in a while, when someone happens to question what the CFS is doing, they trot out the “Lower Tuition” signs and appease the masses. The problem is that I don’t think they know how to acheive their goals. This is more than evident in any press release posted on the CFS website. Check the language of most of them. Most of their responses seem condescending and offer no real solution to the problem at hand. The most ironic piece of evidence is the debt clock on the front page of the CFS. Does the debt clock serve as a reminder for the Government to do something about student debt or does it show the 28 years of ineptitude of the CFS?

    The CFS quite often claims responsibility for tuition freezes in several provinces. I’ll give that to them if they choose to claim it as a victory. On the other hand, what’s happened in the provinces when the freeze was lifted? In BC a six year freeze was lifted in 2002-03, I believe, and since that time tuition in that province has risen to the national average and students have been hit with massive increases as a result. The same thing happened in Ontario recently.

    I don’t know if my beliefs contradict the student stereotype, mostly since I’m not exactly sure what that stereotype is anymore. Is it simply registering complaints about how much their education costs, or does it include the social issues that some student groups and the CFS tackle?

    If I had my say as to representation, I would choose someone who would speak to the issues and the issues alone. The organization that I would design would not be affiliated with any businesses, Unions in Canada, nor be involved in creating policies abou the issue of abortion or religion. Everyone knows, or ought to know, that if you are lobbying an organization for something then you shouldn’t take strong political stances in opposition to that organization to start with. Besides, when you take stances on controvestial issues such as abortion and religion you stand to alienate a major portion of your delegates either way.

    I’m not sure if the attempted mass student association exodus from the CFS this year is solely about the idea of homogeneity to start with. I think that there has been quite a few shananigans being reported by the student newspapers across the country which tell stories of CFS involvement at local levels – including Noah Stwart removing campaign posters at Concordia, their involvement with the supposed 200,000 loan/gift to Douglas College, the supposed attempted bribe of 25,000 for student campaigns from a Health and Dental provider – which has prompted these organizations to start questioning what the CFS has been doing over the last 28 years.

  5. I couldn’t agree more that the CFS attempts to stifle grassroots initiatives, including this one.

    An organization that really cared about its members would be open to a referendum that gives them the choice to stay or go.

    Not to mention that such an organization wouldn’t make by-laws that make it damn near impossible to De-federate.

    The CFS is a large corporation of the worst kind. Its only interest is self perpetuating its corrupt existence through any means necessary, and building on its ambitions of hegemony over the opinions of students, inside the classroom, and out.

    Well, I believe this might just be one grassroots – or should I say ‘Classroots’- effort that these middle-aged “student advocates” won’t be able to muzzle.

  6. I think people are blurring the difference between fighting instances of corruption in student politics and fighting against the very idea of a student movement to begin with.

    Of course most of us would agree with the former, but I resent the idea of using the problems of the CFS (or any other similar organization) to justify abolizing all student organizing.

    If we believe in a more democratic, more transparent, and more open student movement, that means that we believe in a student movement.

  7. The CFS began counterpetitions today at UVic and hit back hard with a coordinated strike in the letters to the editor section. They accused us of being part of a Consevative right-wing conspiracy (they really like to keep repeating this lie over and over eh?): http://www.martlet.ca/article/20167-letters-to-the-editor

    Which is funny, because as I emphasized earlier, the effort against the CFS actually runs across the political spectrum. We even have our own campus Women’s Centre speaking critically of the organization.

    Jose, one of our petition heads who I can assure you is NOT a Conservative, also co-signed onto a letter criticizing the CFS from a left wing angle: http://cfswtf.wordpress.com/

    As for the counter-petitions, they right now have a rather deceptive strategy of first approaching students about a petition to “lower tuition.” Then once they have their foot in the door by getting you to sign that, they then bring forward their “membership development” petition against the referendum petition process itself.

    The pressing question now remains whether they will try to use these “counterpetitions” in court in order to block legitimate petition efforts to hold a referendum.

  8. Thanks for the thoughtful comments, all.

    I just want to clarify my position on this, for Richard and Guest2 in particular. I am definitely not arguing against the existence of a student movement. I was in school during the devastating tuition hikes in B.C. In fact, from my first to fourth year, my tuition tripled. What I am aiming at with this post is a more nuanced discussion of what the national student movement should be like. What should representing students with varied perspectives look like? What are those common goals students share? (I see Jeff Rybak penned a post on this topic, so check it out!)

    What I do oppose is using the “students in solidarity” argument to justify those moments of “corruption”. I believe that the CFS has attempted to quell criticism by suggesting that the dissidents are hurting the student movement by speaking up. That’s what I resent.

    So, here’s my next question: the CFS surely isn’t the only student group in Canada. Do you see a healthy student movement in the other organizations?

  9. The least a student can expect from educational institutions and student groups is transparency. We should be able to know what the plans are from administrations- academic, financial, extra-cirricular- and be provided with access to resources to facilitate events and other causes important to the student movement.

    In the CFS contract with my school, a section specifically states that all financial documents and records will NOT appear on our union records. To me, that denies a union member’s right to transparency when one tries to investigate exactly what the CFS is doing with our money but finds the facts swept into a secret vault instead.

    Another element essential to the student movement is the ability to think critically about such organizations like the CFS that we put our money into. When circulating petitions at my school to hold a referendum on the matter, I knew the union executives may be hard to speak to. What I did not expect was that after addressing several concerns, backed by the media or numbers or clauses or alternatives, that, regardless of the clear facts- all voiced by other students across the nation- the union execs stood their position “in solidarity” to the CFS rep working at school.

    Solidarity and duty are two seperate things. Negligence can mask the unity that constitutes solidarity. In duty, there is responsiblity that is either respected or not. Those executives failed to act responsively to the voiced concerns of the students they represent by dismissing their remarks and giving back the same arguments that were disproved several times over, in the name of solidarity.

    With no transparency and an urge for solidarity, that’s how organizations like the CFS can stay under the radar in the schools they set shop in, making best friends with the execs and hiding where the money is going from students who want to know.

    There is no place for that in educational institutions. We want to save as much money as possible and if we are spending, it will be to enhance the manner in which we receive knowledge- not to pay for an exclusive posse bound by solidarity.

  10. When I was first learning of the CFS, I, too, was incredulous that so many could hold such unintuitive positions. There is a variety of thought in the CFS faithful. Not about fundamental issues of democracy and accountability, and how we can always serve them better, but about why they do not need to serve them at all. Only the unitiated believe a priori as you suggest, that the federation’s major policies are supported by all students.
    The acolytes, who have been around the block and had some contact with the hierophants can hold any of several imaginative theodicies, often several at once.
    I have heard people say, with a straight face, that the federation does not need to publicise it’s deliberations to the whole world because it is not a public organization, and if member locals are not adequately informing the rank & file of what’s happening, that is their fault.
    I’ve heard people say that if minutes of meetings were on-line, “the enemies of the movement” would use that information against us all. Who are these enemies? The student media.
    I’ve heard people say that putting those materials on-line would be just too much work for the national executive.

    The faithful do not just believe that their wisdom is unquestionable, they often believe that to share that wisdom is dangerous, difficult, and fruitless. This is why the CFS most shames students.

  11. “In the CFS contract with my school, a section specifically states that all financial documents and records will NOT appear on our union records.”

    What Nisha is referring to is the CFS Bylaw I, Section 3.c.iii (the CFS bylaws are effectively the contract between CFS and ALL member student unions)

    “The voting member will not represent the membership fees collected on behalf of the Federation as an expense and/or revenue of the member in its budgets, its financial statements, its audits or any other documents of the voting member.”
    (‘voting member’ here refers to each local student union)

    But frankly, I don’t think it’s enforced. At my students’ union we used to receive the money from the university, including the CFS levy, then write a cheque to the CFS. So we simply wrote the CFS fees as both of a revenue and an expense (goes in, then immediately goes out). And we never had any problems.

    Even if they gave you problems all you would need to do is put the number in a separate category on your financial statements (e.g. “fees collected on behalf of other organizations) rather than in the local association`s revenue/expense column.

  12. Dear Guest:

    “What Nisha is referring to is the CFS Bylaw I, Section 3.c.iii (the CFS bylaws are effectively the contract between CFS and ALL member student unions)”

    I personally don’t think that this is quite accurate. Yes I have seen documentation from the CFS that declares receipt of the bylaws as their membership contract, but I don’t belive this to be the case.

    CFS Bylaw I, Section 3.c.ii, the one previous to the one you have quoted references this signed contract:

    “Each voting member will ensure that Federation fees are collected each year at its institution and forwarded to the Federation, according to the contract of membership and the fee agreement if
    applicable, signed when the member joined.”

    This clearly makes reference to some sort of signed contract, and even though the bylaws say that members can access all information and official documents concerning the operations and activities of the Federation and of the National Executive (Bylaw I.3.b.v), good luck trying to get any of these.

    Seriously, ask about it see if you can get a copy of it.