The student who proposed a controversial motion declaring cystic fibrosis only affects “white people, and primarily men” is back as a councillor with the Carleton University Students’ Association, bringing back memories of the scandal which tarnished the university’s reputation last year.
For those who don’t know, last year Donnie Northrup proposed a motion to replace a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis with one that is more “inclusive.”
The motion, despite being factually inaccurate and offensive to most, passed quite easily at council. The students’ association suffered through weeks of intense media coverage and public scrutiny as a result, deservedly so.
Northrup resigned at the next council meeting as students presented signatures to impeach him. It was quite clear that the students did not want him back.
Yet somehow, he finds himself sitting on CUSA council again, this time as a councillor for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
To me, this is an absolute proof of a democratic deficit that exists on many campuses today. The students would likely never support the man who embarrassed their school on an international scale.
But it wasn’t up to the students. After the last election, three seats remained vacant for Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences students. And instead of leaving them vacant until the majority of students returned to school and holding a by-election, the three seats were filled in the summer.
And what kind of fair, democratic method was there for selecting the students who would fill those seats?
Students were given 10 days to apply and collect enough signatures to get nominated, and council would vote. Well, students who walked by the CUSA office every day were given 10 days. Or those who checked obscure sections of the rarely updated CUSA website.
And funny enough, only four people applied for those three CUSA seats. Three of them, including Northrup, are CUSA employees. The other applicant was told their nomination papers were forged.
And sure enough, those three CUSA employees became CUSA councillors.
Sound fair to you? It gets worse.
Another one of the appointees was Heather Murley. She was the Chief Electoral Officer in last year’s CUSA election. Nice person, but not a very independent thinker. She was a councillor last year, voting the same way as last year’s CUSA executive on every single recorded vote. Somehow, it was decided she would be perfect to preside over an election in which three incumbent executives were running.
Sure enough, all three incumbents lost their elections after the Shinerama scandal. Including Erik Halliwell, who was a candidate for president.
Funny story about that, though. The student who defeated Halliwell in that election was disqualified by Murley, making Halliwell the new CUSA president.
And after doing a bang-up job running the election, Murley suddenly finds herself with a council seat again. Naturally, Halliwell found himself in favour of the motion for her acclamation.
Does this sound like something the undergraduate students of Carleton University would support?
Absolutely not. But for some reason, it wasn’t up to the students. And that’s a problem.
The student association is supposed to serve the students. In this instance, that clearly isn’t the case. And quite frankly, this isn’t in the best interest of the student association either. Why bring back a year old scandal by giving Northrup a seat on council? And why fuel controversy over last year’s election by giving the chief electoral officer a seat too?
Is it groupthink? Is it cronyism? Is it sheer arrogance? In my opinion, it very well may be all three. But at the end of the day, I am just one voice in a chorus of students. And all of our voices have been silenced by the undemocratic actions of our student union.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe students have forgiven Northrup. Maybe they would have voted for Murley. But it’s their right to choose. It shouldn’t have been decided in the back rooms of the CUSA office.
But this is just a small part of a big picture. There is a severe democratic deficit on campus, and it is not limited to Carleton University. In the next few weeks, I’ll be putting together a series on how democracy is failing in our student unions. I’ll be talking about subjects ranging from patronage appointments to outside interference from external organizations. But first, I’ll be trying to explain why YOU, the average student, should care.
If you have any questions, comments or ideas for the series, please feel free to e-mail me at dtesterATconnect.carleton.ca