Time for better union accessibility

A little more effort or will ought to be put into making needed information findable


I remember a few quarrels involving our student union and St. George’s about the contract that determines the exchange of student fees between them—it was a bit of a theme last year, actually, the fact that our money flows first to UTSU and then, in a high but unknown proportion that the two unions repeatedly refused to disclose, back to UTMSU. Towards the end of the year the precise figures were requested, mostly by downtown groups who considered it unfair that we at UTM can vote in downtown affairs despite our money not staying there. The unions became bizzarely tight-lipped. It’s our contract, they huffed. Would you expect to see a contract between two parties?

Well, yes, if it concerns my contribution as essentially a shareholder then I do. Besides, this is exactly the same argument these folks use when requesting documents from the admin, which is often equally unwilling to share. For example, UTMSU was given a copy of the Chartwells contract last year and a number of lines had been censored, and they raised a small outcry. This wasn’t in students’ best interest. But hiding their own contract apparently was.

Who knows if that will ever be released. Currently I’m perusing a series of emails from the Student Society Summit Review, a meeting of a few groups who have concerns about the admin’s recommendations made to student societies at the end of last year, and the pace seems to be that of a continent. Bureaucracy is a great way to say “no”.

But anyhow, when I say “accessibility”, I don’t mean only the intentional denial of access to documents but also the denial that stems from mere incompetence (and apathy about rectifying the matter).

For example, if you’ve visited good old utmsu.ca lately, you’ll see that it’s more or less unnavigable. Fireworks explode in the background. Pages’ URLs are a random number determined by kabbalah. The sidebar links change on every page. One of them has links to both “Student Centre Expansion Referendum” and “Student Expansion Centre”, the latter of which urges you to contact president Chris Thompson (2012/13) and includes a 2011 proposal that happens to be astonishingly badly edited. The staff pages are outdated. The latest bulletin board post is from January.

This makes it difficult for new students to research the biggest student group on campus, but worse, some important documents are straight-up not to be found. The latest board meeting minutes I can find are dated July 2013. The latest AGM minutes are from 2012. Those are crucial for understanding and tracking the decisions that can have far-reaching consequences for the services we get and the fees we pay. This is embedded in the union’s own policies and bylaws, which stipulate more transparency.

Moreover, we at The Medium have a mandate—and are paid—to find and analyze this information for the student body’s good. (It may often be dry, but one or two news items crop up now and then.) Not only has the union been lackadaisical, but their lackadaisy is an impediment to us. We have two measures available to us: ask the execs to release documents, which often yields a “yes” and no result, and writing pieces like this one.

Of course, I’ll qualify that. As journalists we realize that we have to go out and get information; it won’t be handed to us on a platter. And we realize that not everybody opens up when asked for information that could reflect poorly on them. Sometimes it’s surprising to see just which players won’t, like the administration, the national newswire, or our own Campus Police, who just this week said there were reports of incidents that they wouldn’t give us to put in print. Don’t get me wrong; those folks are great and generally cooperative. But now and then a barrier comes up. Someone will be eagerly telling us about a development, but when we ask what it cost, for example, they’ll frown and tell us that it isn’t relevant to the story. (I beg to differ.)

And sure, we all have our reasons. But it’s unfortunate when those who claim to be allies are, by design or not, impenetrable.