When exactly the York administration should get involved in student politics was in debate at the February 12 Student Issues Roundtable (SIR) meeting.
A number of student leaders, including members of the newly-formed Student Voice for Democratic Choice, urged SIR co-chair and vice-president students Bonnie Neuman to step in after the York Federation of Students (YFS) passed a motion to change when elections should be held.
The motion, passed February 10, allows council one year from the time they are ratified to hold an election. In the past, the bylaws stipulated that elections must be held every March. With the amendment passed, council can delay the next elections until January 2005.
“I’m asking [you in] your role as Provost to step in and ensure democratic change occurs,” said Student Voice member and vice-president of Atkinson Students Association (ASA) Shamini Selvaratnam.
Selvaratnam presented a petition, signed by approximately 4,000 students, demanding a March YFS election. She is one of many students angered over the postponement of elections and believes that the council is going against the agreement they made with the Constituency Committee, which stated they would follow their bylaws, which then stated that a March election will take place.
“I knew what my term was when I signed up,” said fine arts councillor Randy Orenstein, who agrees that a March election should take place.
Representatives of the Graduate Students Association (GSA), the Transgendered Bisexual Lesbian Gay Alliance at York, and the Student Senator Caucus also expressed their concerns.
“It seems as though the university is in no other position but to intervene,” added Darryl Hobbs, vice-president of the GSA.
Though Neuman acknowledged the concerns raised, her response was that the university will not step in. At that point, some student representatives walked out of the room.
“It’s not the university’s role to run YFS,” said Neuman. “That’s essentially what you’re asking us at this point.”
Neuman explained that the reason for the administration’s interference in January was concern that the YFS had not seen a new council for over a year.
“It was only when we hit the 18-month marker [without an election],” she says, that the administration stepped in. She added that the university waited as long as possible before intervening and took only minimal steps when it did.
Neuman was also concerned about the precedent she would be setting if she took the position that it was alright for the university to intervene in student government.
“Student governments want to be and are respected to be autonomous,” she said. “When we last intervened, I was being barraged with complaints by some of the people in this room.”
Instead, the only solution Neuman offered was telling students to exercise their democratic right and vote, or to lobby the YFS if students are unhappy with the current council.
“The problem essentially is back in your hands,” Neuman said, adding that she would ensure that elections be held within 12 months of the council’s ratification.
YFS vice-president academic and university affairs Stefan Santamaria was also present at the SIR meeting. He defended the council’s need to delay elections so that no similar problems would reoccur.
“There have been some serious problems within the YFS,” said Santamaria.
Santamaria also questioned the validity of the petition presented by Selvaratnam because of allegations of coercion, but said he would speak to any concerned student who visited his office.
“I will be willing to speak with every person who signed the petition,” he stated.