Re-evaluating MSU services

Christina Vietinghoff
April 2, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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It’s never popular to suggest cutting services that anyone is invested in. So it’s unsurprising that the McMaster Student Union tends to add services rather than reduce them. However, although we have a growing student body with diverse needs, because of politics, we also have a redundant service situation.

The distinction between which issues receive an entire service and which ones are bunched together is haphazard. Why are aboriginal students, racialized students, and students with disabilities all lumped together under the one umbrella of Diversity Services? By contrast, three different leadership-oriented services (CLAY, Horizons, and Spark) each have their own unit and own part-time manager. I’m not saying either perspective is right or wrong, it just seems like the distinction is completely arbitrary.

Similarly, why do Shinerama and Terry Fox have entire services dedicated to their fundraising, when a plethora of other diseases and charitable causes are relegated to club status?

Some services should obviously fall under the mandate of the university. For example, the Teaching Awards Committee must be comprised of neutral, objective representatives of the MSU and oversight by the VP Admin and Services Commissioner makes sense. However, the reason why some services exist as services and not clubs is less clear.

Another question that should be asked is why we have so many more services than other universities of a comparable size.

This problem of historical institutionalism is studied in political science—it’s not new. This is epitomized by the yearly ritual of the token question asked to prospective VPs Administration during Vice-Presidential elections: “which service would you cut?”

Candidates have to answer strategically without isolating potential voters. Each year, one or two candidates actually suggest a specific service to cut, which generates drama, while others skirt around the question. The candidates have to ask themselves: which SRA members are tied to which services? Which answer would upset the fewest people?

Notably, the questions asked are not which services benefit students, or if not provided by the student union, which services would otherwise not exist?

The solution isn’t to necessarily cut excess services, but some services could be amalgamated and other services should be broken up into multiple services.

For example, both the Peer Support Line and SHEC offer peer support—there must be a way to reduce the redundancy of this overlap.

Other services like Marmor, the yearbook, which many students haven’t even heard of, should probably be abandoned.

Rarely do we ask tough questions about the services we’ve institutionalized a long time ago.

By contrast, adding new services as long as it’s on a trendy topic is a breeze.

When an issue becomes politically popular, a service is quickly conjured up by an eager leader. Sexual assault and gender-based discrimination have been around on campuses forever, and yet only now that it has become an issue popularized by the media did the SRA vote to create the Women and Gender Equity Network with almost no discussion prior to the final vote.

So I encourage the incoming Board of Directors to ask some tough questions. Why are certain services not clubs? Do we need to make a new service every time we have a new issue? What is the opportunity cost of an MSU so focused on student services? At the same time, why are certain causes lumped together when they cover very different issues? We need to look at the big picture and take a long-term approach.

Otherwise we risk continuing the status quo of a lack of critical thinking around why certain services exist.

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