CSU Councillor Speaks Out Against Student Union Building

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a Concordia Student Union councillor. I ran and was elected to this position on Prince Ralph Osei’s Fusion—the successor to a slate called Vision. One of our platform points during the election last March was to support a Student Centre, and even though I wasn’t its biggest proponent, I ran on it and I’ll be called a hypocrite for opposing it now.

That being said, I also ran on a platform of accountability and transparency, and that’s more important to me than any multi-million dollar real estate deal. It’s more important to me than staying on the good side of the CSU executive or the university administration, and it’s more important to me than next year’s election.

The truth is that proponents of the Student Centre were anything but accountable or transparent. In my mind, this referendum is an outright scandal.

It’s possible that the Student Centre is what they say it is, but the facts don’t line up.

Either CSU VP External Adrien Severyns has been taken for a ride by the administration (and is dragging students along with him) or has knowingly misled students.

Confessions of past and present CSU representatives serve to reinforce what should be obvious to everyone by now: the student centre you’re being sold is the Faubourg—and students have the right to know.

Your union is being used to persuade you to pay for a rotting structure that’s effectively a glorified shopping mall. The contract that governs the project explicitly states that it will be owned and controlled by the Concordia administration—not by students. Above all else, and despite my own concerns, I understand that students may have voted for this building in a free and fair referendum, but this one hasn’t been either.

Despite the constant claim that the Yes campaign is a “grassroots” movement, those campaigning in favour of a Student Centre are almost exclusively members of the CSU Executive and Council. The campaign is strongly supported by members of the administration and the university’s corporate Board of Governors.

Though there is no official opposition, Yes campaigners have broken major electoral rules, including abusing their access to privileged contact information and the use of paid staff to further their campaign.

So how is this project “grassroots” exactly? Looks like astroturf to me.

Many of the students who have attempted to oppose the fee increase over the last few weeks have been immobilized due to a lack of familiarity with the rules that govern our student union. For example, they were unaware of their right to register a No committee with the chief electoral officer (which would have allowed them almost $400 in campaign funding and the right to promote their case on campus).

Students who did attempt to participate not only unintentionally broke election rules, but also didn’t even know that there were rules to break. Why? Because they’re normal students, not seasoned CSU politicos, staff or lawyers. And if the sudden uprising against this project—be it student-led research, handmade signs or Facebook groups—is any indication, then there is a grassroots campaign taking place. It’s just that it happens to be against the $50 million corporate building project. Go figure.

The fact is that there is immense social and political pressure on student representatives to support this project, but information is difficult to access and uncomfortable to ask for. Legitimate concerns from those brave enough to express them have received dismissive, confrontational or completely irrelevant responses.
It’s hard, and sometimes impossible, to speak out against a campaign of this nature when your friends and colleagues are organizing it, and many who have expressed their reservations privately feel unable to speak publicly about them. I’m going to lose some friends over this, and it’s hard.

Ultimately, a Student Centre has been falsely presented as a solution to critical issues on campus—a lack of student-run food services, the need for wheelchair-accessible clubs offices and the ongoing struggle to protect prayer space for Concordia’s Muslim community. But resigning ourselves to a university-controlled ghetto for student organizing isn’t a solution to these problems or a victory—it’s a capitulation.

On Nov. 23, 24 and 25, Vote NO.

—Lex Gill

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 15, published November 23, 2010.