Following the Federation of Students General Meeting (GM) on Oct. 28, the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) at the University of Waterloo would like to clarify our actions at the meeting.
First, we want to sincerely thank the hundreds of supporters who attended to show support for WPIRG and demonstrate their opposition to a referendum. In what was the second largest turnout for a Feds GM in history, students from every faculty and from numerous campus clubs and organizations — including the Muslim Students’ Association, Engineers Without Borders, the Conrad Grebel Peace Society, Students for Justice in Pakistan, UWBASE, and others — came out in cross-faculty unity to respond to the referendum motion.
Second, we would like to clarify the issues surrounding the proposed amendment to the motion. Supporters of WPIRG put forward an amendment suggesting that WPIRG members, rather than a student council representing non-members and members, be empowered to decide the wording of the referendum question. WPIRG members are full-time undergraduate students and do not currently include part-time students. In no way was this to suggest that WPIRG, as an organization, should be empowered to solely decide the question, date, or process for a referendum, but rather that only members of the organization — students who have paid the WPIRG fee — be empowered in such a way. Our intention was merely to amend the motion to require the question’s wording be mutually agreed upon by Feds and WPIRG.
We regret that discussion of the amendment detracted from discussion of the motion itself. Our intention was to engage in meaningful discussion about the motion as proposed. We spent hours preparing for this discussion, with many of our members preparing their own personal statements as well. We are also disappointed that the forum for discussion was closed so quickly when a proponent of the motion called the question before more student concerns could be addressed.
Further, we regret that discussion of other issues was cut short by the meeting being adjourned early. Some have put forward the claim that WPIRG ended the meeting, but we reject this assertion: the motion to adjourn was not put forward by a WPIRG volunteer, nor was the motion seconded by one. The identities of these individuals are not known to the WPIRG board or staff, and a significant number of our supporters had left by that point.
Immediately following the meeting, a Feds student councillor dismissed the students present in attendance as “not representative of students.” Let’s not forget that this general meeting saw a historic level of participation by students in their student union. Voting on the motion at a GM was put forward as the appropriate process to decide the question of a referendum. Students gave their elected leaders, including council, a clear message that a referendum on WPIRG is not wanted at this time. We hope that student council and the president will respect the democratic process and the will of the members as expressed at this historic GM.
We encouraged students to come out to the meeting and express their beliefs. Yet these students are now being dismissed, not only by councillors, but also by various other members of the campus community. Writing on behalf of the Engineering Society, David Birnbaum addressed this very same issue with regards to student participation at July’s general meeting: “For students who are engaged and care about what is happening in their university and student union to be dismissed as puppets and told they are uninformed is highly offensive, and begs the question of whether the organization wants engagement from the general membership at all.” WPIRG strongly believes this level of student engagement should be celebrated, and not dismissed or disrespected.
WPIRG has learned a lot in these past few weeks, and we acknowledge that we can improve upon our commitment to serving our student membership. In the coming weeks, keep watch for statements on our website addressing student concerns over our visibility, budget, and student involvement. We are confident that our place on campus is important and necessary, but we also welcome the discussion that students have recently demonstrated a desire to have with us. We are committed to continually improving our organization and will be taking steps to address your concerns. Thank you again for all of your support and feedback, and feel free to visit us the next time you’re in the SLC!
-the WPIRG Board of Directors