This year’s DSU Executive has identified what we consider to be an important need for the future of our Union

, and has developed a plan to fulfill this opportunity. One of the primary activities of the Student Union, in addition to service provision, social programming and leadership development, is about advocacy for students. We regularly work with the university’s governing bodies and administration, as well as municipal, provincial, and federal governments to raise student concerns and formulate proposed solutions for these partners. Whether it be about improving WIFI access on campus, lowering tuition fees, increasing university funding, improving student assistance, enhancing quality of education, or promoting the creation of a summer UPASS, the issues of advocacy are at the core of the Student Union’s purpose as an organization. Many of the key issues involved are complex and involve multi-year processes, especially given the time horizons of government and administrative decision making. However, student union executives typically serve only one-year terms, almost always carrying out their jobs while learning on the go. The result is that Executives spend almost their entire terms coming to grasp the truly complex history of issues and trying to define their own perspectives, making it difficult for them to advocate with true power on behalf of the students of Dalhousie. We as the student union need to establish a new position for a staff member who would be on hand, full-time to assist with advocacy research and strategizing. We would hire a staff member that has a detailed understanding of ins-and-outs of the key issues, that has practical hands on experience with community organizing, that has the skillsets and job flexibility to do in-depth, independent research as needed and that can provide this critical sense of institutional memory. This will provide a sense of continuity, confidence and intensity to our advocacy efforts. Nothing could be more needed in a time of rising tuition, university cuts, and overhaul within our university’s structures. Presently, our student union relies primarily on external organizations to lead our advocacy efforts. At the provincial level we are represented by Students Nova Scotia and federally we are represented by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. However, as the largest school in the Maritimes, we believe we have to do more than simply outsource our advocacy, we need to pursue ‘by Dalhousie, for Dalhousie’ solutions on the issues that most directly affect our campus (eg. via establishing a research and strategy coordinator). We propose that to fund such a position we withdraw our membership from the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (equivalent to almost $50,000 when considering membership fees as well as conference costs) and redirect these resources into hiring a full-time staff member with the skillsets previously described. OUR CURRENT SITUATION: There are no particular benefits we would be missing out on by dropping out of CASA. The federal government has a very limited mandate with regards to education matters and over the past decade has demonstrated a severe resistance to exploring any of the fundamental changes that are needed at the national level (eg. a return to mid-1990s level funding), despite the calls of both federal advocacy groups. There are three primary areas where the federal government is directly involved in education: research funding, aboriginal education and the Canada Student Loans Program. However, in these areas there is limited opportunity.

Both federal student lobby groups have been calling for years for the removal to the 2% cap of the PSSSP program for aboriginal students, with no progress to show. The CSLP continues to see small policy adjustments, while the underlying issue of student debt continues to worsen. The issues of research funding, while continuing to be important, relates almost exclusively to graduate students. Our federal advocacy group’s underlying values and decision-making structures do not support the proactive, persistent and creative efforts that are needed to make the changes needed most. Given that the alliance represents schools of all sizes, from all regions, and of all cultures, our stances typically become watered down to the lowest common denominator. In a time of crisis for our universities, we cannot continue down this path. For instance, one of the key issues facing Nova Scotia schools is related to the federal government providing funding on a per capita basis rather than per student basis. However, this is not an issue we have ever been able to advocate on as it is not supported by CASA’s membership as a whole. The majority of CASA’s expenses go towards four full-time staff who spend much of their time researching, preparing and organizing in preparation for an annual advocacy week where Student Union executives meet with political representatives. For no cost we as the DSU are able to meet directly with MPs in our own constituencies, represent our own issues, and have them relay our concerns federally as is their democratic duty. This is a process we are already engaged in and can continue to build upon with greater capacity and support. Rather than continue with the model of a membership organization, where significant time is spent on organization-building and political positioning rather than on core functions of research and campaigning, we should embrace the nimbleness and cost effectiveness of internally led, locally focused efforts. Via our provincial partnerships we have access to most the national groups’ information and resources regardless of if we are official members or not. Additionally, given advances in communications technology, Unions have greatly enhanced their ability to gather, share, and communicate across regions. We are no longer dependent on a few semi-annual gatherings to connect with other Student Unions but rather are able to be in ongoing, seamless contact with them as needed. Like us, many student unions across Canada are coming to the realization that in the current context of federal politics, our Union’s energy, time and resources are best directed through internally-led efforts. In recent years, some of CASA’s largest members have dropped out of the organization, including the University of British Columbia’s Alma Matter Society in 2009, the University of Saskatchewan Students Union in 2006, and the Students Society of McGill in 2005. These Unions’ cited reasons similar to what is being proposed by our Executive. We believe it is now time for our union to follow suit and take ownership over its own advocacy efforts to represent our membership with ‘by Dalhousie, for Dalhousie’ solutions. We believe that in fact, an independent voice on the national scene would be beneficial to the student movement as a whole to raise critical issues from a nonaffiliated perspective.

MOVING FORWARD Given these factors, and others, the DSU Executive is unanimously recommending that our Union pursue the following plan of action: 1) Through our budgeting process, allocate funds to hire a highly qualified, full-time researcher within the DSU to focus on in-depth investigation and lobbying around key issues affecting Dalhousie students 2) Through a decision at DSU Council on March 13, vote to drop down to Associate member status within CASA for 2013/14 with the intention to exit the organization entirely in 2014/15 to fund the researcher position NOTE: As research funding relates almost exclusively to graduate students, we welcome and encourage the Dalhousie Association of Graduate Students (DAGS) to independently join the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations if they so choose, as many other graduate associations have done across the country. 3) At our March 2013 AGM, adopt constitutional amendments that would put strict measures and processes in place around the DSU joining any further external organizations. [We want to make clear that in no way is this proposal about switching support to an alternative federal advocacy group (eg. Canadian Federation of Students) but rather about strengthening our internally led efforts. We believe both federal advocacy groups to be equally problematic, and to be highly partisan and divisive for the student body at large]. Specifically we propose amendments that outline the following:  The DSU will not join any external organizations’ whose polices contradict or propose to supersede those of the Unions’ itself.  Membership within any external organizations should not be excessively strenuous to exit from.  Any proposals to formally join any external organization will be subject to a review by the Board of Operations and Council within appropriate timeframes to ensure these conditions are met and that all alternatives are evaluated.  Specific structures and conditions will be included in the constitutional amendments. Input and feedback from Council is requested to establish the strongest and most effective parameters possible in these regards. We understand the proposal outlined above challenges traditional assumptions of past Executive teams. We respect these perspectives but strongly encourage Councillors and students at large to think critically and independently about the proposal based on its merits and rationality. This proposal has been developed unanimously by the DSU Executive and we believe this year’s team has the unique and diverse perspective needed to develop a new and improved approach that establishes a new standard of excellence and engagement in our advocacy efforts. We look forward to hearing your questions, ideas, and concerns in preparation for our Council vote on March 13th. Questions in the meantime can be sent to president@dsu.ca

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