For this post, as promised, we are going to delve into some of the many promises from the UMSU Executive candidates.
First up, the slate called “Strong UMSU”, led by current Vice-President External, Astitwa Thapa. With Astitwa running as President and being from the current Executive who made a lot of promises last year to get elected, let’s take a quick peek at how that went. Did students actually get anything they voted for?
We can link back to a post from last year where we reviewed a number of Astitwa’s promises under Jeremiah’s “Your UMSU” team. As we can see, they promised outside companies (namely Shawarma Khan and Green Carrot) taking up UMSU space on the third floor – this did not happen. Astitwa and his team promised a new patio for the Hub. Not one thing happened here. Yes, their original promise was criticized for being very expensive, on University property, and not available for about 8 months a year. So, that’s a good thing it didn’t happen, but really, his team could have at least made the current Hub patio a nicer space for when it is usable/nice outside. Jeremiah, Astitwa and the other “Your UMSU” members also promised renovations to expand GPA’s Convenience Store, and we recall a promise to add some Jenna Rae cakes, but again, nothing happened here.
Astitwa’s team also promised a “Student Access and Initiative Fund”, which we mentioned last year was already happening before the election, and it was just mostly smoke and mirrors to reinstate some of the funding that Jeremiah had cut to these student services and awards the year before. They also promised a 3-day reading week, and this did get approved through Senate, but for 5 days. Yes, they did some work on it, but this was something the University had in the works already, they were in the know and decided to promise it, and lucky for them it happened to get approved for 5 days (as Clear Slate had actually promised last year).
Astitwa also promised a few “green” initiatives, including a waste audit of all UMSU businesses – this did not happen. Last April, before starting his term as VPE, he got a motion passed at UMSU Council to support the Divestment Manitoba campaign to encourage the University to take their investments out of fossil fuels (oil and gas stocks) in the market. However, UMSU continues to invest our money from the Endowment Fund in stocks most likely connected to unethical funds, and nothing has been done or reported about this by Astitwa and this year’s Executive. His Executive also gutted or cut many of the policies regarding sustainability, and unilaterally decided (no motion to Council) to start selling bottled water in UMSU businesses in contradiction to these UMSU policies. The UMSU Green Team under Astitwa was directionless and the students involved often felt frustrated that there was no leadership (or actual purpose) for their group. They all got nice t-shirts though.
Oh, and let’s not forget “Your UMSU” and Astitwa’s promise to spend our money on an UMSU app for students. This again, is another promise that didn’t get done, and surely it would have been easy enough to do under the Vice-President External position, as what else actually got done with respect to that portfolio this past year? Oh wait, he’s promising it again this year. As we said last year, do students really want or need an UMSU app? Not unless it improves Wi-Fi on campus and does our taxes for free, then maybe it will be useful.
What else did the VPE do with respect to his portfolio, namely communications, this past year? Well, the new UMSU website was approved by last year’s Council and most likely designed before he started. As we noted before, the new website is not very functional or user-friendly, it takes about 10 clicks to find anything, especially Council documents, and there is no UMSU financial information (not even a fee breakdown or budget) on the website anywhere, so financial transparency with respect to our money is non-existent. It looks pretty though. That’s about it for communications for the year. Poster boards were rarely updated, and those TV’s seemed to play the same loop of the Executive’s faces and a few ads for UMSU campaigns and businesses. Students have complained that UMSU’s social media presence was sporadic and disorganized at best, with no central posting of what UMSU does and what the Executive have done all year on any social media accounts. The only communication members received from UMSU were emails from Jeremiah, mainly to provide excuses for their fee increase and lack of transparency.
Looking back, there are certainly a lot of promises that Astitwa and “Your UMSU” didn’t keep this past year.
Astitwa graduated in May 2015 with his Environmental Science degree (from the Clayton H. Riddell Faculty), as you will see from his Facebook post below:
But, according to the “Strong UMSU” policy platform document, he is still pursuing his Environmental Science degree with a focus on Sustainable Development. We know you can pursue a second degree, but shouldn’t it be from a different faculty? Or, maybe what happened is he realized he needed to be a student to run for UMSU, so he applied to University again and registered for a course, or just “opted in” to be a member of UMSU.
Also, if you happen to look through Astitwa’s Facebook page, his year as Vice-President External certainly included a lot of traveling and excursions across the country, as well as campaigning for the Liberal Party in the last Federal election. Here he is with Jeremiah campaigning for the Liberal Party candidate, Terry Duguid.
Was any of this partisan campaigning done on UMSU time? As an elected representative of all students, how does he separate this partisan activity from UMSU? We also wonder if any of the travel over the past year was associated with and/or paid for by UMSU, and if so, did UMSU Council receive full reports on the purpose and costs of such travel? We’re just wondering, as there’s nothing in the UMSU Council documents. But again, Astitwa’s reports to Council were pretty minimal to more recently non-existent if you take a quick look in the Council packages on the UMSU website.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the “Strong UMSU” platform and a few of their big promises for the upcoming year. As you will see, they promise quite a bit, but not much detail about how they plan to do any of it. Astitwa’s first plan is to cut the executive’s salary, no indication of how much, but this also brings up many questions and concerns from students. If they are cutting the salary, doesn’t that just mean these executive positions will continue to be filled by students (or non-students who just “opt-in” to UMSU) who are relatively wealthy, don’t need to work and don’t have huge loans to pay for school, and who can just buy UMSU elections and then do little work all year, not be accountable (no office hours, no reports to Council, etc.) and not fulfill many of the election promises? Just an observation. If the executives are actually doing their job properly and doing all of the work required representing students (consulting, providing detailed report, attending meetings, being accessible with office hours, organizing events, and so on…) in a 40+ hour work week, 50 weeks a year, they will likely be paid less than minimum wage. However, we can certainly say we’ve seen executives over the past three years doing very little, taking off countless days and generally not being available to students, and were neither transparent nor accountable to UMSU Council, but still got paid their full salary. Our fear here is that by reducing the Executive’s salary, this will mean they will do even less work (by current standards) and be even less accountable to students. How about they just break down their salary into monthly stipends and then UMSU Council has to approve them receiving their pay if they have done adequate work and provided detailed reports, which may help to ensure they are accountable to students all year? However, we have received concerns from several students about Executive members, including Astitwa, taking “leave of absences” from their position to campaign for faculty council elections to stack UMSU Council with friends and supporters. So, this doesn’t make for a very strong UMSU Council if they are just there to nod along and rubber stamp everything the Executive says.
“Strong UMSU” promises a Sexual Assault Support Centre, but as many students have pointed out so far, this sounds so stigmatizing. Why not have resources in conjunction with current mental health resources on campus? Where is this Centre going to be? Will there be trained staff? How much will this cost? Who will be involved? At this time, it appears to be classic lip service to the cause, with no real intentions of actually doing the work. More details would be helpful.
“Strong UMSU” promises free “feminine” hygiene products on campus, apparently because it is 2016. Well, first of all, if they recognize that it is 2016, they should also recognize using the word “feminine” to describe hygiene products is not the best terminology. How about we just call them hygiene products or personal care products instead? It is 2016, and from what we understand, you don’t have to be “feminine” to use such products. Second of all, how does this promise fit into any sort of sustainability platform? Why not promote healthier and better for the environment options at no cost for students? And finally, as many students have pointed out, this service is already available through the Womyn’s Centre on campus, and has been for decades. Astitwa claims they plan to put these free products in washrooms across campus, which will not only be a huge cost, but Womyn’s Centre members have told us this will undermine and take away from the community built within the Centre.
“Strong UMSU” promises to cut University parking pass fees. This is more lip service to appease those students upset about having to pay for a UPASS and for a parking pass on campus. We all know, and they know, this parking fee reduction is not possible. The University and their business model (of making money off of students for parking, food services, etc.) will not allow for any cuts in these fees. In fact, we will most likely see another increase in parking fees this coming year and there’s nothing that “Strong UMSU” can or will do about it. Actually, as we reviewed all the promises in their platform, we noticed that many of them are unattainable or outside of their control.
“Strong UMSU” promises a meditation and relaxation space for students in University Centre on the first floor. Where is this going to be? Maybe the Manitoban student newspaper office behind GOSA, now that the previous and current executive made a side deal to get them to move their location in exchange for a motion in UMSU Council to increase their student levy without having to go to referendum. This could explain why the Manitoban has done very little critical reporting of UMSU executives over the past couple of years, and also why students are rightfully upset that they have to pay more fees and UMSU executives once again just bypass the referendum process for students to decide where their money is spent. As we said before, why is it that UMFM and WUSC have referendum questions right now, but the Manitoban and UMSU does not for their fee increases? In UMSU’s case, the $64 per year is a drastic increase, and as we have found in the supposed “consultation” survey, students were hardly supportive of the idea of paying $30 more to the Endowment Fund. Here’s part of the current Executive’s submission to the Board of Governors to justify their $64 fee increase.
So, assuming they didn’t inflate the numbers by any means, only three students were the difference between yes and no, but another approximately 1/3 were unsure (likely as they had little information on the proposal to increase these fees). Also note, that the question to students was flawed, as they claimed the Endowment Fund hadn’t seen an increase in over a decade. This is clearly false as it did see a $1.50 per semester fee increase as we found in Board of Governors minutes from May 2013, during Al Turnbull’s first term as UMSU President.
On a final note about the “Strong UMSU” slate, many students wrote in with concerns about two of the slate members (Adam and Benedicte) currently in a relationship, and wondered if this could pose a conflict. Well, we are not aware of any rules against this, but it does bring up some questions around ethics and accountability. The executive candidates are elected individually, meaning that each executive is meant to be independently accountable to all students, and not just show blind loyalty to their executive slate and president. So, like we’ve seen this year, the current VPA and the UMSU President are reportedly in a relationship, which has and continues to create a dynamic where they automatically support each other in votes on Executive and Council, with little to no constructive feedback, discussion or debate. This is a concern, and a major reason why it is highly questionable and concerning for executives to be in such a close relationship. How do they even try to keep each other accountable? Although, to be fair, regardless of relationship status, we really haven’t seen any executive keeping each other accountable in the past few years.
And, one last major point. We’ve had quite a few students tell us that the “Strong UMSU” campaign video is cringeworthy. While we applaud the effort to get their message out there, it just seems so satirical and fake at times. And why does it feature a professor? But, one of the most important things to note, this video was produced by Avery Steadman. Who’s that you ask? Well, he’s a good buddy of Al and Christian, and they claimed he “volunteered” his services to do their campaign video for the “Refresh” slate and again for “Your UMSU”. Although the UMSU Bylaws clearly state that all campaign materials donated or provided for free must have a “fair market value” attached to it, the CRO at the time claimed that they could use this campaign material at basically no cost. This created (and continues to create) a huge disadvantage for other slates that obviously do not have access to these normally high priced resources. In this case, the video, which is over 3 minutes long, and created and edited by a professional, should cost at least $2,000, or more. Other slates or concerned UMSU members may want to call around for quotes on this, but our sources in the industry say that it would be very expensive to create, just factoring in their time alone. And furthermore, Avery is not and never was a U of M student, which clearly violates the UMSU election campaign rules as all volunteers must be UMSU members.
That’s all we have for now regarding Strong UMSU’s campaign and platform. Next up, “UMSU For You”. Yes, we will cover all platforms. Stay tuned.
Keep sending us info and your thoughts and insight. And, we will meet again.