Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Election debacle goes to mediation

Written by Aliza Libman - Assistant News Editor
Wednesday, 21 January 2004

The ongoing York Federation of Students (YFS) elections controversy has now gone to mediation in hopes of a quick resolution.

Student Affairs’ acting assistant vice-president, Debra Glass, and assistant director Amelia Golden will be overseeing mediation proceedings between elected members of the Progress Not Politics slate and the Constituency Committee (CC) of the YFS, who are currently trustees of the YFS.

The CC, which consists of college and faculty council presidents, was granted trusteeship during a January 15 YFS council meeting. CC was felt to be a more impartial body than the outgoing YFS council since many council members had run in the November election.

“It’s a trusteeship,” explains Bethune College Council president Ryan Gonsalves, who is a CC member. “We’re handling the essential operations.”

Gonsalves notes that the CC members don’t have a personal interest in the outcome of the dispute.

“We’re doing this for the students and not for ourselves,” he says.

On January 14, the York administration released a statement recognizing the results of the November election.

“The decision we made last week to recognize the votes of the students … was based on the principle that students’ votes need to have meaning,” says Bonnie Neuman, vice-president of students.

Neuman explains that since the outgoing council was elected in March 2002, the administration was concerned that it was undemocratic for them to continuously extend their term.

“Those people who voted aren’t getting what they wanted,” adds president-elect Paul Cooper.

Cooper hopes the arbitration will be speedy, in order to ensure that student wishes are carried out immediately.
“We want to work this out so that democracy is upheld,” he says.
The CC has retained Brian Shell of Shell Lawyers as legal counsel to assist in resolving the controversy.

“What [CC is] seeking is amicable resolution,” says Shell, adding that he believes a resolution should be quick now that mediation has begun.
Neuman’s concerns are similar. She explains that the administration needs student representatives with whom to work on issues like provincial government lobbying and OSAP reform.

“We need to move forward to have people we recognize as the executive of the undergrad students,” she says. “It’s very important that we have student leaders working with us on those issues.”

Gonsalves stresses that the CC will not be holding a new trial or resolving outstanding complaints, since the situation is deadlocked. He says the mediation will provide “a resolution that is best for the York student”.

“That’s the only thing to do now,” he says.

Although some think the mediation should be finished by the end of the week, they still feel the controversy may continue.

Neuman calls the mediation “a step in a process that’s not over yet”, feeling that March may be too soon to call a new election.

“Before there can be another election, there obviously needs to be significant reform of the student election process … To get that in place, I think the timeline is too short for March,” she says.
“It is not appropriate and democratic for a group to get into their positions only to call a new election,” Neuman continues, “without the opportunity to build their credibility as a student group or not [build credibility].”

While Cooper would like to get back to a “normal rotation” of annual elections, he says that it may also be necessary to work with Student Affairs and the CC to fix the YFS by-laws first, “so that this can’t happen again.”

“There should be a mechanism … There’s definitely a conflict of interest [when] the old council can choose, based on reasons [they deem necessary], to approve or not to approve the new council,” he says.

At present, though York students are still paying levies, neither the outgoing council nor the incoming one is receiving levy monies from the university.

“No executive members are being paid on either side,” Neuman says.

Neuman also hopes to have office space for the new council by the end of the week so that they can be available to students – a move welcomed by Cooper.

“If students have concerns, I’d like them to raise them with me,” Cooper says.

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