Letter: Carleton’s board is silencing student representatives

This week, the Carleton University Board of Governors (BoG) held elections for undergraduate and graduate representatives to the board. Unfortunately, Carleton’s administration did everything possible to make those elections meaningless by silencing debate on issues important to students.

The BoG is the university’s highest decision-making body. It makes decisions about tuition fees, new buildings, and other important issues that affect all students and workers on campus.

And yet, the students running for the BoG are not allowed to talk about any of this.

Unlike elections in previous years, candidates were told they were not allowed to campaign on any platform points, or in any way tell students what they would do on the board if they were elected. Candidates can have posters, but those posters cannot mention student issues, such as tuition fees. Candidates can give class talks, but they cannot answer specific questions from students. Either of these things can result in disqualification.

This is a clear extension of the “gag order” the BoG introduced this past year for governors, which prevents elected representatives from speaking freely with the people who elected them. Now, Carleton is enforcing the gag order even before students are actually elected, preventing them from informing and discussing with their electorate whether they share the same goals and priorities.

There is a word for what Carleton is doing here: censorship. By banning students from discussing student issues, Carleton is denying students the possibility of an informed vote. Students should be outraged.

If nothing else, this demonstrates how important it is that student unions run their own elections. For example, the Graduate Students’ Association already runs elections for graduate representatives to the Senate and the Graduate Faculty Board. Graduate students are able to democratically determine eligibility, campaigning guidelines, voting procedures, disqualifications, elect an Electoral Board for oversight, and appeal unfair decisions.

Under university-run elections, students have none of these rights. Instead, Carleton’s administration is given absolute and arbitrary control over all electoral processes, and students are not given the ability to appeal any decision.

Carleton is using its absolute control over elections to ensure student issues are not election issues. It is obvious the BoG has a vision for student representation in academic governance that is tokenistic, narrow, and meaningless. This is consistent with the regressive and anti-democratic bylaws passed by the BoG at their March 21 meeting, which further closed the BoG off from the campus community.

The recent case of censorship in BoG elections strikes at the heart of the democratic process, and is an attack on the collective power of students.

Carleton’s senior administration and the BoG have a long history of refusing to listen to the voices of students and campus workers. They have repeatedly ignored the pleas from students that they cannot afford higher tuition rates. They have stalled as long as possible to address the issue of sexual assault on campus, and continue to refuse to acknowledge the existence of rape culture. They have flat-out rejected recommendations from campus groups that are calling for an “open” and more democratic BoG.

By silencing students in the BoG elections, Carleton is trying to prevent our voices from being heard at the table, so they can ignore us indefinitely.