An Open Letter to My New SMUSA Governance Team

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Dear Director-Elects and President Elect of SMUSA,

Congratulations on being chosen to represent your fellow students on the Board of Directors or as President. Since I’m writing this before the votes are counted, I don’t know who you are yet. For my purposes, that doesn’t matter. Whether or not you received my votes, I have the same things I want to say, and the same expectations for you as my representatives.

I expect three things from each of you, and from the remaining members of the Board, and from the executive, whenever they are hired and whoever they may be. Those three things are transparency, accountability, and communication. Since I started at SMU in September 2014, I’m not sure I’ve seen any of those things. That’s not to say that the people of SMUSA have not done wonderful things during that time: I too love using debit at Tim’s and an Atrium that is open 24/7. But I expect far more from you than that. I expect you to be transparent about your dealings as a board and as President. By that, I mean I expect honesty and openness about what occurs within the organization, in a way that is easily accessible to the majority of the student body. That means putting them online. Board meeting minutes have not been published on the SMUSA website since January 2015. Claiming that there have been technical difficulties for two years is not an excuse: PDFs can be converted to JPEGs and uploaded to Facebook in a matter of minutes. I expect policy and procedure to be clear and consistent. In the SMUSA Governance Policy, “member” refers both a regular student association member (as defined by the SMUSA constitution) and a member of the Board of Directors. Members of the board of directors are also referred to as Directors. There is a failure to consistently define and use terminology.

Transparency also means being open about the hiring process: all four VP positions in 2016, and both the CRO and DRO of the 2017 election, were internal hires with experience in multiple SMUSA positions. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this, and all six individuals seem more than capable of fulfilling their responsibilities. The problems arise from the circumstances. A seat on the Board sat empty for a year because a member resigned after the election. Only three VP positions were advertised, but four VPs were hired. The position of VP Equity and Wellness was never advertised to all members of the association, and ultimately filled by a member of the 2015-2016 executive. The CRO of the 2016 election was hired to an executive position the same year. Could you trust the results of the Canadian election if the CRO was appointed Governor General after the fact? The potential for conflict of interest here is astounding, and the fact it was never publically acknowledged undermines my trust in SMUSA.

Part of rebuilding that trust between students and SMUSA is a renewed commitment to accountability. We need you to demonstrate that you really have our best interests in your minds and hearts when you make decisions (with our money) about our present and future. But as you are accountable to us, we are accountable to you. I think that is where we, the students have failed. We have grown apathetic instead asking more questions. We have been venting to our friends and anonymously online (#SpottedAtSMU) rather than coming to you. We need those forums, but we need to direct our concerns directly to you as well. That requires communication: whether by Facebook message, twitter, email, phone, or in person.

We need to communicate our concerns, questions, and issues to you. But we also need you, our elected representatives, to communicate with us. 

Since July 2016, I have sent emails to 8 different SMUSA employees about board meeting minutes, the possibility of support for a student conference, and elections policy. I have also tried communicating with the general association page via Facebook, with the same issues. Only the CRO and the DRO of this election have ever replied to my emails or validated my concerns. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect my representatives to address my requests and concerns in a timely matter – that’s just common courtesy. So are regular updates to the SMUSA website and social media, with listings for current policies, societies, and events.

If I sound angry or upset, it’s because I am. I am not only angry with your predecessors, or with the system. I am angry with my fellow students and myself. We have enabled this poor behavior and opaque, confusing system, by not making our dissatisfaction open and not pressing for the facts. But I am doing it now, because I love this university. I love the friends I’ve made here and the professors who bring donuts to class. I love having Fridays off and how I can get almost anywhere on campus without trudging through snow in the winter. There are countless other experiences I’ve had here, from Open Mics to Battle of the Floors, that I want for future SMUdents. For them to have these experiences, we will need a stronger relationship between the people that run SMUSA and its entire membership. To rebuild that relationship, you will need the three things I have asked of you: transparency, accountability, and communication. Are you ready for that responsibility? I hope you are. You have been elected, in part, because of your willingness to put the interests of the student body ahead of your own. So good luck over your term – we’re waiting to hear from you.

Sincerely,

Lauren Perry

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