Volume 95, Issue 76

Friday, February 15, 2002
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A problem with the presidency


A problem with the presidency

The following is the third and final installment of a three-part series exploring student government at Western.

By Aaron Wherry

All things considered, the University Students' Council isn't that important.

They can't fight wars, lower income tax or revolutionize health care. They lack the power of a national or provincial government and the local relevance of a municipal administration.

So you're excused if you periodically yawn at the mere mention of those three lovely letters – U, S and C.

Of course, the USC doesn't do much to help the situation. As previously noted, an obsession with the "corporation" (part one of this series) and general council laziness (part two) have done much to make the USC less-than-important, if not irrelevant, to the average student.

The third piece of the puzzle can be found in the plush, spacious office of your USC president.

There you will find one of, if not the most disturbing trends – that of the "timid, play-it-safe president."

Long ago the USC president's office became a sanctuary for monotonous stability.

Last year's president Dave Braun was a self-described master of "calculated fluff" whose exit was graceless, if not, embarrassing.

His predecessor, SzeJack Tan, hung his hat on the stability of Orientation week, something president Ian Armour had already established a year before.

In fact, in recent memory only Armour commanded a "presidential" image of power and confidence and only Dave Tompkins (1996-1997) left a legacy of risk-taking and bold (though often ridiculous) decisions.

Mike Lawless (your current president) has kept the ship on course and has exhibited a heart not seen in years.

The USC Front is quite possibly the best initiative in three years. Still, it's difficult to not be left yearning for something greater.

Some of these chaps have been upstanding individuals and some have even done a decent job interacting with the student body. But their greatest collective fault has been a complete inability to take stands, act aggressively and use their position as a public platform.

When do great politicians shine? When do great leaders take hold of the public conscience?

When they make bold moves that prove their critics wrong. When they speak powerfully and decisively on behalf of the students they have been elected to represent.

Conversely, we have been treated to a string of "no comment" presidents who avoid risk and oratory passion, in favour of middle-of-the-road, mistake-phobic stagnancy.

Such tactics do pay political dividends. Never screw-up, avoid criticism and you survive your year unscathed. Get a B+ on The Gazette report cards and its all good, right?

But, with such leadership, how can we ever expect the council to work harder or the student body to actually care?

The issues and controversies abound – Engineers vs. The Code, the Social Science Students' Council's fall from grace, the national Day of Action, women's safety on campus and so on.

Instead of dispatching a vice-president to ward off questions or simply ducking the issue, the president should ensure his or her voice is among the loudest on campus, but all too often there is only silence.

The current state of affairs may work for the corporation (there's that word again), but if this council is ever to move forward, leadership must come from the top.

Only then will Western have the students' council it deserves.

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Copyright The Gazette 2002