Opinions

SAITSA working with ASEC

In February 2017, the SAITSA Board of Directors (BOD) voted to become probationary members of the Alberta Student Executive Council (ASEC), as a step towards leaving the lobby group. 

“Governance last year was really terrible. They just weren’t paying attention and they weren’t keen to details. It wasn’t using best practices,” said Rachel Moerschfelder, SAITSA VP External who sits on the current ASEC governance committee. 

SAITSA is now considering staying with the lobby group in an effort to maintain a voice in provincial politics, and to help ASEC function more effectively. 

“As of right now we haven’t made a concrete decision, but we’re confident in the direction that ASEC is moving in. SAITSA will definitely play a hand in helping ASEC and restoring it to the organization that it once was,” said Moerschfelder. 

By voting for a probationary membership, SAITSA was able to retain the right to vote in the provincial lobby group, while lowering dues SAITSA is required to pay by more than half. 

Other post-secondary student associations including lobby groups from Red Deer College, Lethbridge College and NAIT have also made motions to become probationary members or to leave ASEC. 

“Being a probationary member on ASEC this year has been very valuable. I found that probationary members have been given a voice, they really value us, they need us,” said Moerschfelder. 

SAITSA and NAITSA are the two largest post-secondary members of ASEC and provide invaluable financial support to the lobby group. 

However, ASEC has been consistently dogged by an inability to live up to best practices of governance. 

Which begs the question, if they fail to successfully function at the internal level how can students have confidence that they are being effectively represented at the provincial level. 

The bylaws for the organization could be considered sloppy at best and ASEC has struggled to maintain consistency year to year. 

In an example of a concerning lack of respect for good governance, the student lobby group used unregistered draft bylaws for a time without anyone noticing. 

In fact, the group even failed to register with filed bylaws until 2017, running meetings based on rules that were not officially recognized. 

“ASEC was working with bylaws, and they did submit them, the process was incomplete. We are currently trying to rectify that,” said Ian Lee, ASEC chair. 

The group is looking to create new bylaws by the winter. 

The next conference will be taking place in November; this is the soonest new bylaws can begin to be ratified. 

“The bylaws weren’t really clear or what drafts that members were working from weren’t really clear, causing a lot of confusion between members,” said Lee. 

The registered bylaws that the group was forced to use after it was discovered that the bylaws they were using in 2017 had never been ratified, were the only available bylaws and written a number of years ago. They have not been updated to reflect on current student expectations. 

“ASEC was working from bylaws that they had drafted and voted on but were not properly submitted to the society, which is why we had to revert back until we can get them approved,” said Lee. 

Take for example the sloppily written bylaws allowed probationary member SAITSA to retain the majority of full member benefits, while paying the lobby group $15,000, instead of the $30,000 in full membership. 

“I’m confident in the governance and the fact that we are now using best practices and in the transparency in the organization,” said Moerschfelder. 

At the February SAITSA BOD meeting it was also revealed that ASEC had been attempting to function without a clear budget that failed to be transparent in how membership finances were spent and displayed an inability to submit annual returns for two years. 

These extremely poor practices of governance lead one to question if it is worth it to stay with ASEC. 

SAITSA has spoken with NAITSA and the Red Deer College Student Association (RDCSA) to explore the possibility of creating and forming a new provincial lobby group outside of ASEC. 

These conversations with NAITSA and RDCSA are still being pursued, but the final decision to stay or leave ASEC will be based on the changes and the groups effectiveness as a student lobby group. 

“We are not leaning towards creating a new lobby group anymore. We wouldn’t look like a united front,” said Moerschfelder. 

The VP External was concerned that with the impending provincial election student interests could be lost if a new post-secondary lobby group is unable to form in time for the event. 

But given the strength SAITSA, NAITSA and RDCSA have in terms of student numbers and the financial vitality of the post-secondaries in comparison to ASEC; the idea of creating a separate group seems appealing. 

The move to create a new lobby group would take time and money, but one could aregue that it would be in students best interest to create a new lasting foundation that has not been damaged by years of ASEC’s poor governance practices. 

Given the lack of respect to students that has been displayed by past ASEC executives, one could argue that exploring a new lobby group free from the troubled history of the group would serve SAIT students best. 

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