Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Oh CUSA, how I've missed thee so

While it has been unfortunate to see the name of my alma matter, Carleton University, suffering so these last few days, the whole Shinerama-gate affair has reminded me of my salad days (do people still say salad days?) as a youthful reporter at the Charlatan covering the proceedings of the Carleton University Student’s Association (CUSA), and particularly the marathon council meetings that would often stretch many hours into the night.

While I've covered the IT sector exclusively for some time, I’ve had the opportunity at times to cover politics at nearly every level of government. I’ve covered Parliament Hill, Ottawa City Hall, and very briefly dabbled in provincial politics in BC and Ontario, and I can tell you no where did the participants take things more seriously, and no where were they more slaves to form and procedure, then at CUSA council.

Are you on the speaker’s list?

Adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order was strict, and sacrosanct. Do we have quorum? Is that a friendly amendment? No, this vote is on the amendment to the amendment. I’d like to amend that, let’s start a new speakers list for the amendment to the amendment to the amendment. I challenge the chair! Is that motion debatable? We’re not at debate yet, I want to speak to my motion. I call the question! Can we have a debate on the calling of the question? New speakers list! So, are we voting on calling the question or on the question? Let’s just vote to close the speakers list. No, call the question! Let’s debate it for 30 minutes.

It was many an evening I spent sitting against the windows in Baker’s Lounge listening to such debate, and dutifully taking notes for I’m sure terribly exciting Charlatan coverage. I remember with amusement when there was a push to get people to, instead of clapping their hands to agree with something, hold both hands up in the air, palm open and wave them around. Maybe 2/3s of councilors were onboard, the other third and I thought it was pretty stupid, and would clap louder in unsilent protest.

Anyway, point being I can well imagine how this debate went. I can’t find which of the umpteen news stories on this affair had it, but in one of them CUSA’s president said that the controversial and inaccurate stuff about cystic fibrosis was in the preamble, and that most people didn’t agree with that, they just felt they should rotate charities. And alas, the Whereas can’t be amended, once on the table and at debate stage the motion can’t be withdrawn, and if defeated the matter couldn’t be reconsidered in the future.

That just about sums up the CUSA council adherence to form and procedure in a nutshell, so to speak, and it led to a story that has made Carleton a national embarrassment. Well, you see, we didn’t want to look totally stupid and insensitive, but Robert’s Rules say…

In procedure lies the way

However, it appears that today CUSA has changed its mind (h/t Liberal Bag):

Carleton University Students’ Association President Brittany Smyth has indicated that CUSA council will revisit the motion to change the orientation program charity from Shinerama.

“It has become clear that there is not an appetite at Carleton to change from Shinerama,”said Ms. Smyth “The responsible thing to do is to reverse the decision.”

How can they do that, you say? Well, if procedure be the path to damnation, it can also lead to salvation.

At the next meeting of council, a motion to revisit the previous motion can be moved. Of course, as any good procedure wonk will know, a motion to revisit a previous decision will require a 2/3s vote of those present. Pass that motion, after due debate (or are motions to reopen not debatable? Let's debate that!), and then you can introduce a second motion to reverse the other one. Which will need, of course, to be debated and voted upon. Ain’t procedure fun? I’m pegging the over/under at three hours, all in. I’ll bet the over.

Of course, this all pre-supposes the motion to reconsider recieves the required 2/3s majority...

Taking the sheen off Shinerama

I’m actually a tad disappointed in the apparent reversal today. Don’t get me wrong, this whole thing has been a farce. But my issue is with the Whereas, with the mischaracterization of Cystic Fibrosis as a disease that only impacts white men, and with the idea that Carleton students shouldn’t support it because it’s a disease that isn’t “inclusive” enough. It’s embarrassing.

I have no problem, however, with the concept of rotating the charities that the students support each year with their orientation week fundraising activities. While I think the idea of looking for more diverse diseases, if there is such a thing, is the very definition of stupidity, the idea of rotating causes is fine.

Support CF or AIDS or breast cancer, it really doesn’t matter to me. Maybe it would be best though to stick with the CF status quo. I can just imagine the marathon meeting where they debate for hours which disease is most worthy, and why.

I’m just glad I don’t have to cover it.

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Dan Lynch said...

The most lamentable part of this story is that the claims made by the CUSA president regarding Robert's Rules of Order are totally false.

Mike said...

"Adherence to Robert’s Rules of Order was strict, and sacrosanct"

You should have seen it when John Nytyshyn, Ray Nytyshyn's son, was "speaker" of CUSA in the mid 80's.


A BCer in Toronto said...

So the Whereas can be ammended? Interesting. Anyway, the fact that despite their dogmatic adherence to procedure, they were wrong about the procedure, is certainly ironic. I don't think it's the most lamentable part of this story though.

Mark Francis said...

I've seen it many times when no real rules of order are followed.. Horrible.

But, yes, procedure at times goes crazy.