If free pizza isn’t enough to lure students, then what is?
Near the end of last semester, on Nov. 7, the Dalhousie Student Union held its annual general meeting. The meeting failed to meet quorum – the minimum number of people required to pass new business.
At the meeting, executives discussed their plans for the year and vice-president (Finance and Operations) Chantal Khoury presented the DSU’s audited financial statements. There was a discussion of proposed bylaw amendments and the DSU conducted straw polls, but nothing could actually be passed.
The quorum requirement was changed during the DSU AGM in 2016, from the previous requirement of 75 members to one per cent of the student population. That roughly equates to 185 people.
A DSU AGM has not met quorum since.
In November, an estimated 150-160 students showed up. During a routine DSU council meeting on Nov. 21, DSU president Aaron Prosper asked councillors to send him suggestions for AGM times and possible incentives.
“I believe this is the third time in a row our quorum has failed,” he said.
Prior to the rule change, quorum was met somewhat consistently. Between the years 2000 and 2016 it was only missed twice: in 2003 and 2010, according to the DSU’s Policy & Governance coordinator, Meghan McDonald. However, this is without taking the year’s 2011 and 2012 into account, as the minutes from all past AGMs are not publicly accessible and their quorum numbers could not be confirmed.
“Before the change in quorum, when it used to be 75 [members], we used to reach quorum all the time,” said Prosper. “Mind, it was a lower threshold, but I don’t disagree with the higher threshold. It just makes us more cautious in how we’re engaging students and finding ways to build that foundation.”
Prosper explained that the DSU has begun experimenting with new tools in hopes of increasing student engagement with the DSU. For example, they’re focusing on using technology as a communication method. This past year, for the first time ever, they advertised their AGM through mass email and text campaigns.
“We’ve done a lot of work on where students are going to or how they’re hearing about our services, and so that’s something, when we present to council, our communications team will be using to target certain media outlets or forms of communication.”
For Prosper, the goal is to use “really significant broad student consultation” as a means to achieve greater engagement and meet quorum at future AGMs.
“I think moving forward, it’s what worked,” he said. “For the students that came, how did they come out, how did they hear about it, and how do we engage students and make our AGM as accessible as possible.”
Last fall, as a step towards greater student consultation, Prosper’s office organized what he hopes to be the first iteration of an annual survey conducted by the DSU. The was incentivized by entering students who completed it in a draw to win a flight anywhere in Canada, valued at up to $1,500. That survey was filled out by 25 per cent of students, according to Prosper.
Former DSU councillor and presidential candidate Kati George-Jim, however, believes the DSU’s student engagement issue can be credited to multiple problems.
“Why don’t people want to participate in the DSU? So many reasons,” she said.
She suggested that student turnout is increased based on what is or is not being discussed in an individual AGM, as students from certain faculties will be more likely to participate if a bylaw being voted on affects them directly.
Another issue may be that students are not seeing the change in the DSU they hoped after voting new members to council. Therefore, they do not feel inclined to be engaged in AGMs.
Prosper said that although it has been a struggle to meet the newly set quorum requirements so far, Dalhousie’s current level of attendance is still encouraging.
“If you look at [current attendance] comparatively with, nationally with other student unions, they’re actually on the decline. Some of them lucky to get 50, some big schools comparatively like The University of Victoria, they were lucky to get 100, and even bigger schools are lucky to make the number we make.”
The Dalhousie Gazette reached out to the respective student unions of The University of Victoria, St. Francis Xavier University, Carleton University, Western University, McMaster University, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Toronto to ask for the numbers for their annual general meetings.
Tyler Biswurm, of the University of Toronto Students’ Union said, “the UTSU does not record statistics pertaining to attendance at its annual general meeting.”
None of the other institutions responded before print deadline.