By Kristy Koehler, February 11 2021—
At a largely uneventful Students’ Legislative Council meeting on Feb. 2, Students’ Union president Frank Finley gave a special address, his second of the year.
“I think it’s important that at least two times a year, the president speak directly to SLC, the public and gallery members to update them on happenings in the SU,” said Finley.
He began his address by noting that some might find his opening statement surprising.
“I do not think that being elected in and of itself is a merit. Being elected is not a merit. Being elected, again is not a merit,” he said. “I worry that many student leaders in the past have seemed far removed from the student body, even if they are doing good work. There has been the past perception that those in the SU think that the nature of holding office is good in and of itself. I disagree. If there is merit in holding office, it has nothing to do with the position itself and everything to do with what you achieve with your powers.”
Finley noted that, when he and the 78th SLC took their oaths of office in May 2020, the elected officials found themselves in a situation that was radically different than what they’d expected. Nine months later, they’re still in the midst of what Finley called, “perhaps the largest crisis of our lifetimes.”
“We hoped that things would get better, that the pandemic would subside and that our governments would do what was necessary to protect and support students and institutions of higher learning at a time when they are needed most,” said Finley. “But instead, we find ourselves at a time where existing hardships have been worsened by the pandemic.”
He continued by noting that education is already out of reach for many and the pandemic has compounded the problem by making it nearly impossible to find employment or to access necessary supports. Massive cuts and rising tuition fees, he said, have made it imperative that students have people willing to fight for them.
Regular meetings, he said, have been had with ministers, Members of the Legislative Assembly, City Councillors, the Mayor’s Office and the university administration in order to advocate for student needs. Those meetings have resulted in several successes that Finley highlighted, including a reduction in the price of transit tickets, reduced barriers for accessing the fair entry program, partaking in the Alberta 2030 strategic review of post-secondary, advocacy for student access to technology and fighting against “invasive and often stress-inducing proctoring.”
“We have found new ways to push back against reckless government cuts,” he said. “We have been creative and innovative in our methods of protest and communication. We have made our voices clear.”
Adding two million more dollars to direct, needs-based support through the continuation of the tuition reinvestment bursary and fighting back “against hatred and prejudice on campus through workshops, events and activism” were also among the wins Finley recapped. He also cited moving forward on votes of confidence for SU elections and successfully advocating for a credit received grading system in both the fall and winter semesters as wins.
Finley lauded the 78th SLC, telling them that “at a time when student power could have been reduced, we have found success after success.”
“We have faced those with more power and have held our own. […] You have hosted events, answered emails at all hours of the night and ensured students are listened to. I have no doubt that this SLC will be remembered as one of the strongest ever. You’re truly an exceptional group of leaders.”
Finley said it wouldn’t be unfair to say that “for years, the Students’ Union has been disregarded by students as being powerless, feckless and spineless.” He believes that, while “spectacular work has always been done in the background, it has often gone unnoticed” but that this year has changed that.
“Students have gone from largely feeling that they were alone in their fights to knowing that there was someone there who had their backs,” he said. “A lot of our wins this year have been as a result of conflict and so I tell you this: Fight, and then fight some more. You are strong and you are smart and you probably know students better than someone with great wealth who went to university during the Nixon administration. Fight for students and win.”
Wrapping up his address, Finley made sure to remind SLC that their actions have a direct impact on the lives of thousands.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said.