FSU seeks a new kind of leadership
Credit: ANGELA MCINNES
The Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) is seeking new students to fill its leadership seats.
Meanwhile its overseeing board, the Student Administrative Council (SAC), has been inactive since mid-August, with only two directors currently at the helm. As Sept. 16 approaches – the opening date for presidential and directorial nominations of this fall’s by-election – the FSU is counting on its 2019/2020 students to step up as leaders in uncertain times.
In March 2018, Abdullah Qassab won the union’s annual presidential election by nine votes against runner- up Jennifer Iannessa. The win was significant as Qassab was one of the first FSU presidents to come from a regional campus (Woodstock). Despite having no previous experience in student governance, Qassab’s persistent campaigning and tenacity paid off.
Qassab began his official presidency on May 1. But by July 11, the SAC announced he was officially deemed to have abandoned his position. Neither Qassab nor the SAC commented further as to why.
“I was shocked,” Iannessa told Interrobang. “We all ran really tight campaigns…it was surprising to see the post was vacant. I was disappointed for the students because they’ve been left without a leader.”
The FSU typically runs presidential and board elections every spring. All full-time students are eligible to vote, while any full-time student who is graduating, or willing to take a year-long hiatus from the program, is able to run for president once they meet the required criteria. The winner then takes up the role in May, trains alongside the FSU executive during the summer, and continues to serve as president full-time during the academic year.
When Qassab left the position, it was up to SAC chair Cole Ayerst to weather the storm and lead the board at the time.
“It’s a lot of responsibility for anyone,” Ayerst said of handling the situation. “Unfortunately, it came basically immediately after I was elected chair. It was overwhelming.”
It took time for the board to decide its next move. The SAC consulted with a lawyer and gauged student feedback from social media before settling on a fall by-election for a part-time president. Soon after making the decision, the SAC shrank from five to two members – Cole Ayerst and Christine Belanger.
Because there needs to be at least five to remain active, the responsibility of appointing a chief returning officer to oversee the by-election has been handed off to the FSU’s executive committee. Because of his longstanding personal relationship with the College as a student, peer tutor, volunteer and ambassador, Ayerst said he originally joined the SAC because he is determined to make the school better than he found it for future students, such as his nephew. Dealing with the unexpected departure of a president-elect may have been stressful, but Ayerst is nevertheless hopeful that the by-election will see a positive turnout of both voters and eager candidates.
“There’s always room for improvement no matter what kind of organization you’re in,” he said. “I know the FSU is planning on building awareness. I would love to hit 40 to 50 per cent [in voter turnout].”
However, FSU presidential elections see an average turnout of 20 per cent of its eligible voters, max. According to the FSU’s general manager, Paul Masse, these numbers are in line with the rest of the province, with one exception.
“In my 20 years here, the highest turnout I’ve ever seen was not in the years we’ve had referendums on yes/no issues. It was when we had five candidates for president and quite a few for the executive and board. When you have multiple candidates, you get the excitement and you get the different opinions and different platforms,” Masse said.
Winning that election was Carlie Forsythe, who reigned as FSU president in the 2016/2017 term. During her time in the role, she transformed the FSU to its current format, wherein the SAC serves to hold the president accountable for their actions.
While Forsythe said she commends the now inactive board for its swift decision-making, she worries that the presidential role will be too much for a full-time student to take on, even on a part-time basis as planned.
“It’s a full-time position for a reason,” she said. “It’s meetings, managing your team, working with administration, helping to reach an objective, speaking at events… the new president will need to be incredibly committed to hitting the ground running. They need to balance school with this. And then learn everything to they need to in a short period of time.”
Ayerst acknowledged the challenges, saying that this year’s circumstances require Fanshawe’s student government to come together as a team. Not only will Ayerst be taking on a larger role than usual for the SAC chair, but the current executive members – advocacy and communications coordinator Chelsea Bancroft, student life coordinator Joey Langdon and finance coordinator/interim president Julia Brown – are prepared to assist the new part-time president however they can to make the year run smoothly.
“We all look at Fanshawe as our community. This is where, no matter what aspect of life we originally came from, we all ended up at Fanshawe, we all had amazing times here, and now it’s just time to give back,” he said, adding that “students definitely should take note that it will be a responsibility. Both the director and president aren’t figurehead positions.”
So why should students care to take on the responsibility, or even vote for a new leader who will?
“You should care. It’s your money,” said Julia Brown, who admitted that she has noticed a dying interest in student politics across the province as students set their sights on the upcoming federal election, as well as politics in the United States.
She said rebuilding a community feel among students may be the best way to generate interest in the role the FSU plays in their lives, from facilitating entertaining activities to managing their health plans, bus passes and clubs. For her, the key strategy is to show a greater appreciation for FSU volunteers in the hopes they will develop a strong relationship with the organization before completing their programs, which usually span shorter than those of a university.
As the temporary president, she hopes to pass along the torch to a student who understands that there’s no place for ego in the role.
“You’re representing the student body. You can’t just represent yourself. It’s an interesting thing that you have to get grips with pretty early on, is that you need to balance your personal biases,” she said.
Brown added that even though she ended up getting more than she bargained for when she took on her main role as finance coordinator, the experience has been worth it.
“Even though you’re here to have a great time and learn, when you leave you’re looking for a job. It’s experience that can translate to any sector because it basically says you understand structures and might be good for management at some point. It’s good experience, and most times, it’s fun.”
Nominations for the FSU by-election close on Sept. 27 at 4 p.m. To learn more about the nomination requirements for president and director positions, go to fsu.ca/elections.