There was much hype surrounding the most recent Brock University Student’s Administrative Council meeting that took place on Tuesday February 25. On the agenda was the Fed Up referendum proposal, but this would be the last time the item would be brought to the table discussion. Em Heppler has been project coordinator of Fed Up since it’s inception in 2011 and showed up to BUSAC joined by 20 other volunteers who stood- and didn’t sit down for almost two hours- on the outskirts of the room, holding signs that read, “Students > profit” and “What does the term ‘Student Union’ mean to you?”. The students simply listened and watched the ping-pong table action between Heppler and various members of council. It was a presence that could not be ignored. Especially since every person in the BUSAC meeting- councillors, BUSU executives, student media personnel’s and a few interested students, would have had to walk past 10,000 pounds of food right in front of the elevator that led to the 13th floor. In a way to put their words into action, Fed Up organized one of the largest food drives the Brock University community has ever seen, and right before one of the biggest meetings of the year.
And so began one of the most intense, informative and weighted meetings to ever take place on the 13th floor of Schmon Tower, at least, one of the most tumultuous ones I’ve ever seen take place.
Talk about walking the walk.
After asking a few more questions, a very persuasive rhetorical move on his behalf, Heppler began his presentation, “Don’t be the reason this project doesn’t happen”.
His passion was obvious, his points backed by his research, and his support unwavering from the individuals standing around the room.
“However, I want to remain cool as cucumber. The puns are free, but the project needs funding”.
Light-hearted humour aside, Heppler began to dig deeper into the real reason he made yet another attempt to appeal at BUSAC council.
To recap, Fed Up: the Affordable Food Project intended to go to referendum (through all proper channels), which was supported by BUSAC back in December of 2013. Then, the university said this referendum cannot happen in February, citing the current legal advice around the liability and legality for the collection of independent, student-run, non profit fee. Fed Up then requested an opinion poll to be run along side BUSU executive election questions, to ask students if they are happy with food on campus. BUSAC approved this, but the university then said this opinion poll cannot happen through the elections e-mail system that BUSU utilizes. Weeks of going back and forth, rallying for student support and making even more of a presence at Brock had all come down to this evening where Fed Up approached BUSAC to try to get the referendum question to run once more, this time in the scheduled referendum period in March.
“As a student union, it’s your job to support student issues. If you can’t ask a question, you know something is wrong. Student unions exist to give students a voice. Students need to have a stronger voice,” said Heppler.
This was followed by heated discussion from several councillors. A common theme was councillors asking why it had to be a referendum. From a very empathetic view, Liv Meriano, current Vice President Student Services, asked Heppler to consider whether persistently pushing for a referendum was the most effective way to approach the Fed Up project.
“I just ran a referendum and a very prominent sentiment that came out of it was that students are facing more fees, and the last thing anyone should want to do is put more fees on the students. Have you considered other avenues for your position, such as specifically look at other means of funding, or becoming a BUSU ratified club?”
Heppler’s confidence was evident in his answer. “We’re trying to do bigger things. Clubs are coming to Fed Up for support. We’re trying other things. We’re being efficient and effective at making affordable food and distributing it to students. Being under the BUSU umbrella would be folly”
In an attempt to cease the heated discussion between Heppler and the councilors, current BUSU president, Cooper Millard, motioned to move on to a presentation he hoped would bring another important voice to the discussion, that of Kim Meade, Vice Provost and Associate Vice President of the University.
Meade engaged with the councillors for over an hour and explained both her interaction with the Fed Up project, the stance of the University and what it means to support third party fees. Meade explained that what Fed Up is proposing requires much more than a few thousand signatures in order to implement changes.
“Because the university is expected to collect fees, there should be a formal review process of fees, that is the important factor. This is non-specific to Fed Up; this is specific to how does the university ensure there is accountability surrounding the collection of fees amongst students” said Meade.
Finally, after hours and hours of debate, and with baited breath, it was announced that the referendum will be held for the next election period, in March, with a voting turnout of 12-10-2 (12 votes in favour, 10 opposed and 2 abstained). It is important to know that it was BUSAC’s decision to send the Fed Up proposal to referendum, and is not necessarily the outright opinion of senior administration on the University.
Stay tuned for more details, perspectives and developments as we approach the upcoming election season.