Thursday, October 23, 2008

CASA membership downgrade? Really?

As you may have read below in Blake's unopinionated news brief, the AMS has decided to downgrade its membership in CASA, meaning that they now cannot vote, and will pay about half as much money to the organization. Well, here's my opinionated take on it.

AMS council has allowed itself to be convinced without due diligence by a few members of the executive. In fact I'm quite shocked that council, a typically cautious group, would so willingly and unanimously change the AMS's long-standing position in CASA due to a laundry-list of mostly minor, and partially irrelevant complaints.

Lets talk about them shall we? The AMS's letter to CASA was full of valid, but minor issues like the tone of discussions, the language used, and the social activities offered at a recent conference. These were all reasonably addressed in the response which is linked below. More substantive issues like a difference in priorities (the AMS wants to focus on tuition, for instance) and too much staff influence on policy, are things that should be addressed within the organization at some length before threatening withdrawal.

Immediate complaints, like the fact that CASA no longer funds awareness campaigns during federal elections, the lack of capacity for provincial lobbying, and the supposed Eastern focus ofthe organization are just silly. The AMS voted to stop funding campaigns during elections through CASA last year. CASA is a federal organization and was never, ever intended for provincial lobbying. And while most CASA schools are actually in the East, last year's AMS president, Jeff Friedrich was the CASA Chairperson - literally the guy setting the agenda. So it's not like the AMS is being systematically ignored. The AMS's letter to CASA correctly points out that for the ~45 grand we pay them we could hire our own federal researcher/lobbyist. But the whole point of being part of a larger association is the increased influence and resources students have collectively.

AMS VP External Stef Ratjen, as a left-wing radical who thinks that "education is a right, not a privilege" is obviously not politically aligned with CASA. Fine. That doesn't mean that AMS councillors should ignore the AMS's long history with the organization and immediately buy into a mostly frivolous list of grievances. If the AMS decides, in a wide-ranging discussion with members that our investment in CASA is not worth the value, then by all means, it should reconsider membership. I have yet to see a convincing example to demonstrate this. The fact that nobody from CASA was invited to speak to council about yesterday's motion (they were only informed of it on the day) and that, according to a good source, the previous AMS executives consulted were highly selective, I question whether this discussion is particularly fair.