On Sept. 24, the University of Ottawa announced that it would no longer recognize its student union as the official student representative group on campus.
The decision followed a string of allegations against the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, including accusations of fraud. But while the allegations are serious, disbanding the student union entirely leaves uncertainty for uOttawa students.
After members of the SFUO were accused of misappropriating funds, uOttawa requested a forensic audit of the group in August. From there, university administration withheld the SFUO’s budget before cutting ties with the federation entirely after additional allegations of improper governance, mismanagement, internal conflict and workplace misconduct. The decision will come into effect on Dec. 24, 2018.
At a glance, uOttawa's decision seems reasonable. The university had trouble with the SFUO in the past: two years ago, the group fell approximately half a million dollars in debt. With serious allegations surrounding fraud and misconduct, allowing the federation to continue managing millions of dollars in student fees appears dangerous.
But as of right now, there is no immediate plan to replace the SFUO with a new governing student group. That means that some services, like transit passes and student health plans, will be taken over by the the university itself. However, what comes of other services, such as certain campus restaurants and clubs, remains uncertain. UOttawa states it will maintain the SFUO's “essential” services, but the specific services this references remains unknown.
It can be easy to forget how much control student unions have on Canadian campuses, but the reality is that undergraduate students benefit from their student unions daily. Whether it's eating a bagel at The Spoke, looking through pictures from Purple Fest or hanging out in the Peer Support Centre, Western students use services provided through the University Students' Council. Beyond providing amenities on campus, student unions also allow students to participate in a democratic process that ultimately impacts their university experience.
While uOttawa's decision is understandable, three months is insufficient time to reallocate all of the SFUO’s amenities and responsibilities. The reality is that student unions play too large a role on campus to be smoothly dismantled in such a short amount of time.
Without a student union, the university risks stripping away services provided to undergraduate students — or, at the very least, the quality of those services. Though it makes sense to look for a temporary solution in light of the allegations against the SFUO, uOttawa needs to form a long-term plan to reinstitute some form of student governance.