From the Archives: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

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By the time you read this, the DSU has probably already held its special general meeting to decide whether we should pull out of Students Nova Scotia, our provincial advocacy organization.

The DSU has left external lobbying groups in the past, but doing so by council votes and general meetings is a relatively new phenomenon. In the 1990s we underwent some major shifts in our advocacy priorities, but only after open referendums that gave all students a chance to vote. The following articles chronicle both that process, and some of the anger the surfaced last year after our first (ultimately failed) attempt to leave SNS via a simple council vote.

Dalhousie pulls out of CFS

Jessica Berry

Volume 127, Issue 8 October 27, 1994

Sixteen percent of Dalhousie students went to the polls last week and voted to reject Dalhousie’s membership in the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Almost 900 votes were cast in support of leaving the organization compared to the 695 for remaining in CFS.

Dalhousie is one of the CFS founding members and currently one of its four largest affiliates. By leaving CFS, Dalhousie reduces the CFS membership by more than 10,000 students and its revenue by more than $60,000. Opponents of CFS claimed the association was a waste of student’s money.

Hal Maclean of the ‘No’ Committee stated in the CFS referendum supplement published by the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU): “For twelve years CFS has gotten away with taking your money and never earning it.”

In response to the election results, Maclean said he was “glad students finally got the chance to voice their opinions.” Maclean is pleased that Dalhousie is no longer a member of the CFS. He believes that there are more constructive ways and groups available to advocate the Canadian student voice. Although still in its infancy, Maclean feels the Canadian Alliance of Students Association (CASA) offers a viable alternative to CFS. CASA, composed of 23 nonaligned schools, is in the process of drafting a constitution to be presented this November in Edmonton.

The difference between CFS and CASA, according to Maclean, is that CFS conferences are “hard core, frustrating, with a structure impossible to fix” whereas CASA has the potential to achieve a “high degree of consensus not possible in CFS.”

Dalhousie is not the only school questioning the merits of membership in the CFS. The CFS faces the possibility of losing other universities.

Twelve campuses are holding referenda this year, including the four largest CFS members: Dalhousie, McMaster, York and Simon Fraser.

Candida Rifkmd, a member of the ‘Yes’ committee, acknowledged that some problems exist in the CFS. However, she did not see them as necessitating Dalhousie’s complete withdrawal.

“The way for students to be heard is not to leave CFS, but to focus on making some concrete changes,” said Rifkind.

Dal still member of SUNS till April 1996

Andrew Simpson

Volume 128, Issue 10 November 23, 1995

On November 5, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) ratified the results of the referendum concerning Dalhousie’s membership in the Students’ Union of Nova Scotia (SUNS).

Students voted to pull out of SUNS by a count of 810 to 745 in the mid-October by-election. However, these results had to be ratified by council as quorum was not achieved for that question. While the departure from SUNS is now-official, it cannot take place immediately — Dalhousie students will remain members of SUNS until April 30, 1996. This year, $2.60 of every student’s $132 student union fee will be directed towards SUNS. Dalhousie students contribute a total of approximately $26,000 annually. Although Dalhousie’s payment to SUNS has not yet been made and the exact amount remains undetermined, the DSU Executive have no plans to delay or withhold payment.

“We are obligated to pay this year’s fees. Each student has already paid their $2.60 and it would be a misappropriation of funds if we dent health, housing and employment; promoting safer alcohol consumption; and campaigning for “enthusiastic consent” (see morethanyes.ca). In 2011, SNS successfully advocated to make the full provincial portion of student loans forgivable over the first four years of an undergraduate degree—one of many achievements outlined at studentsns.ca. Are these concerns relevant? Dalhousie students thought so in 2012, when we voted in a referendum to double our financial contributions to SNS.

Despite this, last week the DSU council voted 16-15 to leave SNS entirely, based on a report it had commissioned called “Strengthening Advocacy.” The report is badly written, carelessly researched and clearly biased. Patrick Visintini, a member of the review committee, explained to council how the report failed to represent student views from consultations, and had only three authors, two of whom initially proposed the review. Worse still, many of the report’s claims are false or misleading, as SNS’ response details. Some errors and sloppy writing might be excusable. But I can’t forgive the report’s refusal to acknowledge another side to the argument, or its disregard for any solidarity with other Nova Scotia students: it argues that Dal’s student union is big, powerful and refused to pay,” said DSU President David Cox.

Cox admitted that the loss of Dalhousie students will be a big blow to SUNS. “Dalhousie students comprise approximately one third of SUNS’ membership and one third of their budget,” said Cox. Despite having a large percentage of the membership, Dalhousie only has one vote at SUNS. “They (SUNS) operate on a one vote per institution policy, regardless of the number of students at each institution” added Cox.

DSU’s decision to leave StudentsNS ill-informed

Amy Donovan

Volume 146, Issue 20 March 7, 2014

In my first year at Dalhousie, I was Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) secretary. I was impressed, then, to learn about the Alliance of Nova Scotia Students’ Associations (ANSSA) and its work to advance student concerns. In the previous year, 2008, it had successfully lobbied for the creation of Nova Scotia Student Grants, as well as a tuition freeze. Five years, a brief stint in England and a move to a master’s program later, I continue to applaud the work of the organization, now Students Nova Scotia (SNS).

I’m tremendously disappointed by the DSU’s decision to leave SNS. Rash and poorly researched as it was, this decision doesn’t represent my views. Had the appointed review committee properly consulted with other Dal students, I suspect they would have found it wouldn’t represent theirs either. SNS, an alliance of post-secondary student associations, advocates empowering students and making post-secondary education in Nova Scotia accessible, affordable and high quality through policy-oriented research, lobbying and public campaigns. Current projects include researching student health, housing and employment; promoting safer alcohol consumption; and campaigning for “enthusiastic consent” (see morethanyes.ca). In 2011, SNS successfully advocated to make the full provincial portion of student loans forgivable over the first four years of an undergraduate degree—one of many achievements outlined at studentsns.ca. Are these concerns relevant? Dalhousie students thought so in 2012, when we voted in a referendum to double our financial contributions to SNS.

Despite this, last week the DSU council voted 16-15 to leave SNS entirely, based on a report it had commissioned called “Strengthening Advocacy.” The report is badly written, carelessly researched and clearly biased. Patrick Visintini, a member of the review committee, explained to council how the report failed to represent student views from consultations, and had only three authors, two of whom initially proposed the review. Worse still, many of the report’s claims are false or misleading, as SNS’ response details. Some errors and sloppy writing might be excusable. But I can’t forgive the report’s refusal to acknowledge another side to the argument, or its disregard for any solidarity with other Nova Scotia students: it argues that Dal’s student union is big, powerful and wealthy enough to advocate for its students on its own.

While numbers, unity, professionalism, continuity and neutrality to student politics give SNS a strength far exceeding that of even a better-funded DSU, this position is callous. SNS exists because students share concerns, and it will be severely weakened without Dalhousie. Even if we could effectively advocate alone, does sheer might permit us to eschew our responsibility—as human beings with common concerns—to the larger student community? Nowhere does the 69-page report mention that Dal students voted less than two years ago to drastically increase our support to SNS. Last week, the DSU council— supposedly our representatives— voted, on the basis of a flawed and biased report cobbled together to reinforce its authors’ pre-existing opinions, to completely leave the organization. The motion passed by a margin of one.

Is this democracy?

Amy Donovan served as DSU secretary in 2009/10. She is currently a social anthropology MA candidate at Dalhousie.

2 Comments

  1. Kaley on March 2, 2015 at 9:48 am

    There’s something weird in the cut and paste here, FYI:

    “We are obligated to pay this year’s fees. Each student has already paid their $2.60 and it would be a misappropriation of funds if we dent health, housing and employment; promoting safer alcohol consumption; and campaigning for “enthusiastic consent” (see morethanyes.ca). In 2011, SNS successfully advocated to make the full provincial portion of student loans forgivable over the first four years of an undergraduate degree—one of many achievements outlined at studentsns.ca. Are these concerns relevant? Dalhousie students thought so in 2012, when we voted in a referendum to double our financial contributions to SNS.

  2. David Cox on November 21, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    i would love to reconnect with the DSU and Gazette to reflect on my term as President. it was an amazing experience.

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John Hillman

John Hillman is the Gazette's Opinions Editor. John is a second-year law student, but he has been at Dalhousie for much longer than that. Recently discovered cave paintings indicate he was first observed lurching around campus by Halifax’s original human settlers some time during the late Pleistocene epoch. He started writing for the Gazette back when you were in elementary school, but he unexpectedly went off the grid a half-decade ago to concentrate on helping found Punditry.ca, a DSU-focused political blog. Where exactly was he hiding between the years 2009-2013? Certain individuals would prefer he not comment. Why has he returned? Not because of a top-secret Illuminati indoctrination project known only as the Omega Initiative, that’s for sure.

You can email John at opinions@dalgazette.com.

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