You aren't an idiot for not participating in student politics
University students are ignorant apathetic dolts. At least that is the impression one gets from the latest musings of the usually insightful, newly-minted Peak opinions editor, J.J. McCullough.
McCullough scolds the Simon Fraser Students’ Society for tackling issues of no direct relevance to SFU students and that they can’t do anything about. His particular complaint is that the SFSS board used its first meeting to express “solidarity” with the 14 U of T protesters facing criminal charges for their role in a sit in at the univerity in March, whom he describes “as a gang of preening thugs four provinces over.”
McCullough then concludes that such neglect of the SFU campus “speaks volumes to how the SFSS views its mandate and priorities.” This would have been an adequate end to his column, but McCullough is not satisfied, so he goes on to bang the old drum that if only students cared, things would be different. And if SFU students “continue to remain disengaged . . . then they have no one to blame but themselves.”
McCullough writes with a sense of urgency, that now is the time for students to take notice, and, one may assume, the failure to do so would be disastrous for the idea of student democracy. It is not entirely clear why McCullough opted to close his argument this way other than that he wanted to say something profound, or maybe something stinging, perhaps to shake students from their absentia from student politics. But all he accomplished was the cheapening of an otherwise cogent argument, that student unions should focus on their own campuses.
I shouldn’t single McCullough out. Pick up any campus paper, in virtually any week, and in nearly any year from time immemorial, and you’re likely to find someone complaining about the “death” of student democracy. Every time an allegation of stolen elections, misappropriated money or just garden variety corruption, is levied at the mandarins in charge of your day-planners, it is held up as proof positive of democracy’s demise.
Commentators go back and forth between blaming so called student apathy for providing fertile ground for corruption, to blaming corruption for the apathy. Before anyone calls me a hypocrite, I admit that I have made my own pathetic contributions to this line of argument.
It is never enough to critique a policy or denounce a scandal on its own. Nope, it is rarely acknowledged that sometimes calling attention to a scandal is nothing more than proof that attention to a scandal has been called. The threat of the system collapsing, no matter how trivial the offence, is always imminent.
The problem, as I see it, is a misunderstanding of what grants student unions the legitimacy to govern student space, offer services, and represent students to a university’s chief governing bodies. The “democratization” of the ivory tower that occurred primarily in the 1950s and 1960s — and that brought us such spectacles as the tenured professor becoming acquainted with picket signs — has entrenched the notion that all areas of university life must be governed democratically.