Guest Editorial: Justin McElroy Rants for 2,000 Words

15May10

In keeping with our commitment to bringing you the greatest news from the finest minds, Our Editorial Board of Great Truths & Unbias persuaded Justin McElroy, glistening beacon of truthiness, to write a few words on the subject of the ongoing student court debate, or, as we like to call it, What Passes for Scandal These Days.  Justin, in addition to being one of the finest political analysts around, is the Ubyssey’s Coordinating Editor for 2010/2011. He also served as Sports Editor last year, which he would like you all to forget, and as News Editor in 2008/2009; he also writes an infrequent column/blog/cranky old man rant for Macleans on Campus.  Justin is indeed the cousin of Jeremy McElroy, VP External, and possesses a similarly-sized but not expressed dose of the Patented McElroy Charm.  Also, if you pester him, he can show you family baby pictures on his iPhone.  There are at least three Justin McElroy Memorial Items, none of which have anything to do with this article.

Full disclosure: Kai not only works with Justin (at the Ubyssey) and is dating Jeremy, but has also been told by Justin that the prospect of her attendance at theoretical future family events is, and I quote, “uncomfortable.” It’s uncomfortable to us all now, Sparky.

HOUSECAT, HOUSECOAT

Oh, hello.

You may know me as “the guy from The Ubyssey,” or “McElroy who isn’t Jeremy.” I am writing here because a) This entire AUS election/Student Court judgement pile of stupid has annoyed me greatly, b) I did not feel it would be responsible to publish a sarcastic 2000 word diatribe on this stupid little fiasco on the website I oversee, and c) I want to a choice curse word or two, just for kicks. It’s fucking irritating and I want it to go away. Also, I may have been promised a tasty beverage or two for doing this. And Kai asked me to. So there’s that. [ed. note: Oh, he loves the attention.]

That disclaimer out of the way, let’s go ahead with the ranting and the shaking of fists.

Because I’m a pale, lonely masochist/journalist, I have keenly observed the AMS for around three years now, attending virtually every council meeting, and learning more about the history/controversies that come with students playing pretend-government with millions of dollars than any sane person would want to know. And the one thing that is more infuriating than anything else is when council wastes plenty of time and money in debating an issue without any resolution.
See: AMS Whistler Lodge.
See: Trying to figure out how to punish Blake Frederick for being a bad bad man.
And see: Student Court.
The AMS looks silly when it spins around in circles figuring out how to be more legitimate instead of tackling student concerns, and nowhere does this narcissistic incompetence rear its ugly head more than with Student Court debates.

I’m of two minds on the issue. On one hand, on the actual merits, council seems to be right in their analysis that the court’s ruling was flawed. At the same time, they’ve decided to go down the rabbit hole of Student Court Controversy yet again, a very stupid thing to do, which, if history is any indication, will lead them nowhere.  But my third mind is pissed off at this whole fiasco for a number of reasons, very few of which have properly been discussed. So we’re going to go down that road. Aren’t you excited?  (It’s at this point I would sarcastically say “Ok, maybe not”, but as this is Confidential, everyone here is irrationally excited about the Hack+Unicorn Combination that is sure to commence.)

Huffpo infographic?!? NEEDS MORE UNICORNS

So, without further ado:
Three Things People Should Consider While They Happily Lambast Student Court

1. This controversy with the court could all be because Naylorism has defeated logic.

From 1977 to 2007, Student Court existed happily, puttering along, with the AMS accepting the rulings of the court each and every time. At which point, a threat to its survival emerged from the shadows. It was big. It was bearded. It was obsessed with the AMS.

It was Naylor.

yes, this man.

Now, this may be a bit of an exaggeration. But only slightly. In 2007, Naylor championed council overturning the court’s decision on defining who is a UBC student. In 2008, he was the councillor who most passionately urged his fellows members to ignore the court’s ruling which disqualified Alex Lougheed from becoming VP Academic 12 votes blah blah blah. And this year, he led the attack against this ruling. Now, given that, we are left with several amusing possibilities:

  1. The relationship between council and court was fine before, and Naylor is an evil Naylorite bent on domination for his own nefarious Naylorish needs;
  2. Council was too docile before, and now is standing up for itself, thanks to the enlightened ways of Chairman Naylor;
  3. These modern court decisions were clearly flawed, and Naylor just happened to speak for the majority on them, and is no way a shadowy figure who not-so-secretly controls everyone.

But the point is, when much of the last three years of drama over accepting Student Court rulings is due to one person’s opinions after three decades of relative peace, one wonders whether it’s the person and not the institution that is the reason for the sudden shift. Just thinking out loud here.

2. The craptacular AUS Election is a much bigger issue

You know what the real issue of this election was, one that actually affects students directly? The running of the election itself. Let’s see here…around $40,000 was spent by Arts on horribly attended events with no oversight? Check. Less than 500 students voted, meaning one vote cost anywhere between $50 and $80 dollars? Check. Look, I really enjoyed my free Said the Whale concert. I got free beer, all my friends were there, it was great times. A colossal waste of money for thousands of students who don’t know/care about undergraduate faculty elections, but good times. For me and my friends. So kudos for that.

And then there’s the counting of the ballots. According to People Involved Who Talk To Me When They’re Drunk [ed. note: well, there goes the credibility debate], the ballot sheet was burned while elections officials were drinking after the initial count. They then messed up their original count of ballots. The message to come out of this debacle shouldn’t be “Student Court is mean and evil and doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” it should be “The AUS is terrible. How the hell is it going to get better?” That’s something that blogs should be talking about [But they don’t pay us for that!], and council as a whole should care about. That discussion has gotten lost. When it comes to public statements, the AUS’ main concern after this debacle is telling people the Court was dumb and mean, which is unfortunate but not all that surprising.

3. There was no balanced and informed debate at council.

“Matt, I kind of lost you five minutes in, but thank you for your speech; I’m sure it was very good and articulate”—Bijan Ahmadian

Naylor was both the person directly implicated by the court for the running of the election and also, as previously mentioned, the student politician most against court intrusion for the last four years. Both of these facts are well known. So perhaps the debate beginning by his talking for TEN WHOLE MINUTES about why the court was flawed wasn’t the best way to make sure an impartial debate happened. Of course, such is the case when student court cases are debated by council, which from my experience, go something like this:

AMS Councillor or Person criticized in the court ruling: “Councillors, you must repeal this ruling because it is flawed.”
Council: “You make a strong point, good sir that I know and trust! What do you have to say, Student Court representative?
Student Court Rep.: “Um, you didn’t invite me here. I’m a literary device used by Justin to illustrate that you don’t invite me to meetings, which makes debate and information mostly one-sided and turns me into a literal strawman. Carry on.”

I talked to a few councillors after the meeting. They all said they were uncomfortable with the debate beginning with Naylor giving his defense, and council immediately voting in favour. Um, then why didn’t you do something about that? When you’ve spent thousands of dollars and two years of debate to establish precedents, maybe breaking them should be a bigger deal.

It’s easier to attack strawmen, and deliver George Bush style scare tactics (my favourite Naylorism: If you agree with the court, you accept a descent “into a rule-by-judges nightmare, the scourge of Kritarchy“). This has been common with Naylor, and accepted by council; the court is attacked as a singular body time and time again, rather than being given critiques of the individual judges’ rulings. So here’s my secret bonus consideration:

4. Make up your mind already if you want a Student Court or not

There are plenty of good reasons why having a Student Court doesn’t make sense. The name itself is stupid and implies more power than it should, the AMS isn’t an actual government, it’s difficult to have an arm’s-length body in student politics that knows enough about the peculiarities not to miss things, etc.  And each time in the last three years a controversial measure has been ruled on by the court, council has found reasons to overturn it. So kill it. Have a big discussion, create an appeals committee instead; if it needs a bylaw change, make a referendum, whatever. Council clearly hates having an oversight body that makes decisions they disagree with, so stop pussyfooting around and be done with it.

Or.

Understand that it’s important to have a separate body to deal with electoral issues, and that law students, rather than councillors, are probably the best people to impartially interpret code. Realize that even though you’ll be annoyed with another body having final say, courts are set up with strong powers for a reason. Have consultations, hire in a professional, and devise a system where the two sides live side by side.

Here’s the thing: You have to choose one of the two. The problem is, council has done both these things in the past three years, simultaneously promising to make sure the Court works and has legitimacy and tearing them a new one everytime they actually do something. If I were Kai or Taylor, I would compare council to some sort of Glee or Twilight character who is indecisive. But I’m not that clever.

[ed. note: LIKE HELL YOU DON’T WATCH GLEE. Okay, but seriously, this totally reminds us of Gossip Girl—specifically, how Serena can never choose between Nate and Dan. Except, which one is ‘full judicial power’ and which one is ‘suck it, we’re Council’??? We can’t tell.]

except neither alternative is this attractive, or pop-culture-y. or a GAP ad.

“But Justin,” you rhetorically say, “Can’t you just understand that the Court’s decision was flawed, and we had to overturn it?”

Of course you think so, hypothetical person/Kylian Plattwick. [ed. note: ‘Kylian Plattwick’ sounds like an obscure Star Wars character.]  Of course you implicitly don’t like another body telling you that you’ve erred, asking you to make changes. That’s why you overturned it. Every court case that’s been overturned has been done so because “they made a flawed decision”, or in this case “a flawed unanimous decision”. Yes, all five judges came to the same conclusion. While we can pick apart how stupid or not the judgement was, until I see council uphold a decision made by the Student Court which forces them to do more work, I’ll be forgiven for thinking they’re simply against it, but don’t have the balls to say so outright.

While I’m forgiving myself, sorry if I’m skeptical of the wizened powers of AMS Council to interpret code correctly. They do tend to suck at it. I recall a certain instance in December when council thought they knew how to navigate through AMS legalities. It ended with them being schooled by Blake Frederick, and cost the society another few thousands of dollars, resolving nothing. Ah, fun times.

But where was I? Oh right. Point being, if you’re always casting doubt on the court’s rulings, then what’s the point?

Also, what’s the point of hiring justices year after year, law students who are smarter than you (despite what your big ego might believe), if you’re just going to smack them down after every decision they make? Really, what self-serving person would sign up for a low-paying job with a silly student union if they don’t think their work will be respected? What if Bijan went down to the Pendulum, and criticized the management for making piss-poor quesadillas? He wouldn’t of course, because the Pendulum makes excellent quesadillas (full disclosure: Kai works there [fuller disclosure: for forty hours a week, THIS IS MY HOUSE]), but you get my drift.

In any case, I’ve begun to repeat myself, and have gone on far too long to the point where even the Great Naylor himself is saying be done with it. Point being, the court ruling was probably stupid, yes. To overturn it was questionable, but defensible. But the way the Powers That Be responded to it is indicative of why the AMS is the punchline it is. Self-important flagellation about “being directors of the society blah blah blah” and continuing an endless procedural debate without any real change is about the antithesis of the whole “getting things done for students” schtick. Which is why it’s incredibly annoying to see it being repeated.

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11 Responses to “Guest Editorial: Justin McElroy Rants for 2,000 Words”

  1. 1 michael

    i enjoyed reading this. (random disclosure: i’ve never seen Kai at the pendulum </3)

  2. This is actually pretty fair. I do like the “Naylorism has defeated logic” part of it. And while the election perhaps could have been run better, I do get to hang my hat on the fact that the participation more than doubled over the past year, and I would consider that the counting error was a single, rather than a signal, failure.

    I think the rejection of each of the rulings was not because they were wrong per se, but more that they did things that the court shouldn’t be doing, and Council was correct in striking them down (my alarm just went off and the symphony that was playing made this seem epic and righteous). And it’s not like I was machinating behind the scenes here – other people were supposed to speak, but they wanted to watch the Habs. The debate around the first to be struck down was actually thought of more procedurally, ie. that Council has a interpretation that it could make binding if it wanted, but instead used it as a frame of reference to change its bylaws. The other two had the same issue (actually, they had this because one infected the other).

    Mind you, I don’t think we should have a Student Court at all.

  3. It should also be noted when council postponed the “who is a student question”, it was on the recommendation of the entire executive. I think Friedrich, President at the time, moved and motivated it.

    Also, the court has met four times in the past two years. Prior to then it’s met about five times total in the over-ten-years of existence. It’s a relatively new body.

    The recent bylaws amendment tried to make SC’s decisions binding, while at the same time restricting its mandate, and that referendum actually passed… it just didn’t reach quorum (see: http://blogs.ubc.ca/ubcinsiders/2010/01/30/2010-preliminary-election-results/).

    My own thoughts? If the body wants itself to be taken seriously, it needs a larger amount of institutional support, as well as standardized administrative practices to ensure procedural fairness. When my case came up, it was unclear who the action was against, I wasn’t summoned to make any claims (I had to proactively contact them… they never contacted me), and it was a bizarre case against the absence of a ruling… wherein the ‘defendant’ flipped sides and agreed with the plaintiff. I somehow ended up playing the role of defense. If it can’t meet that threshold, it should be scrapped, and final appeals should be up to constituencies.

  4. 4 pierce

    Me wonders what’s going to happen to the Student Court without the above two technocratic muckrakers around to dictate the terms of the Court in order to fit their own agendas and understandings of how the world should revolve. Yes, no more “I’m smarter than you- law student!”. The UBC student world no longer revolves around ‘Naylorism’, so what are the ‘Naylorites’ to do? Oh dear, all those years in power and not much to show for… reminds me of New Labour.

    In any event, to those wayward and confused students not affiliated with the AMS clique who happen to stumble upon this post now or in the distant future must understand that the people who championed for student involvement in this comment section were actually stifling your own involvement through their pointless banter about mundane topics of hyperbole in our imaginary student government. Their ridiculous meandering on topics of which had no concern to your daily life or to anyone as a student alienated you from the process.

    If the AMS wants to rid itself of this malarkey, I’d say the best option would be to have term limits that dictate just how long you can be in the system. Term limits would avoid our student kings, queens and lords, which Mr. McElroy valiantly demonstrated in his essay as the underlining systemic problem of the last decade.

    Regardless, student politics on the UBC campus is such a waste of time and the black hole of our existence, that the majority of students on this campus now see the entire process as either a self-serving exercise or a meaningless make-believe government that expresses a total disregard for the student and their beliefs. And worst of all, the complete disengagement of AMS student politics on this campus has led to some students not even being aware of the student body’s existence.

  5. 5 taylorloren

    Pierce-

    the absence of Sir Matthew Naylor due to his pending graduation is why the Naylorites of UBC club was created. If you would like to be a member, please send me your student number (and anyone else, for that matter!)

    Thank you,

    Taylor
    Naylorite President

    (full disclosure: I am an editor of this blog, but seeing as I did not write this post I feel comfortable promowhoring myself further here.)

  6. 6 ~*~Sexy Brunette~*~

    Pierce..
    I don’t think AMS Council is making students disengaged…while there exists an apathy on campus towards the AMS, one only needs to look at the UN fail to see all 400-500 or however many students there was who came to the emergency council meeting that was moved to Hebb.

    While that’s all not fantastic, it did get people noticing and perking up, and voter turnout again increased in the last elections.

    It’s not perfect, but student engagement is an issue facing every student union across the country.

  7. 7 Brian Platt

    “The message to come out of this debacle shouldn’t be ‘Student Court is mean and evil and doesn’t know what they’re talking about,’ it should be ‘The AUS is terrible. How the hell is it going to get better?'”

    Actually, that doesn’t sound very far off from what my campaign slogan was.

    This article is pretty fair, except it annoys me a bit that Justin writes “…on the actual merits, council seems to be right in their analysis that the court’s ruling was flawed,” and then later writes “Of course you implicitly don’t like another body telling you that you’ve erred, asking you to make changes. That’s why you overturned it.”

    Or maybe it was overturned because it was flawed, as you yourself stated at the beginning. What are we supposed to do when SC makes a “flawed” (again, your word) decision that effectively invalidates the ENTIRE ELECTORAL FRAMEWORK of a constituency? Just let it stand?

    I’m sympathetic to your frustration that this whole process is a little ridiculous, but as I’ve argued to you from the beginning, it was necessary that Council put this to a vote.

  8. 8 pierce

    Taylor-

    Thanks for the offer, but I am my own island. The idea of continuing a legacy seems rather silly to me, and it’s also one of the reasons why I have just ‘touched’ the AMS water rather than jumping into it. As a friend of David Cameron’s said on a BBC interview back when he became leader, “I think David didn’t get involved in student politics because he saw that the potential was there to peak too early…”

    Sexy Brunette-

    In evoking the ‘winter of discontent’ or the UN debacle, which in the end was just a by-passing of a parliamentary procedure, as the reason for student disengagement, just appears to me that you are playing partisan politics. The AMS has been disengaging the student population for years and decades, what happened in December did not cause this problem. The problem lies within the institution itself.

    I like that you brought up Hebb. Granted I wasn’t there, as I was on a Ubyssey retreat that I no longer remember due to box wine and whisky, but from the people we at the paper used as our informants suggested that this was a ‘party coup’ within the AMS clique. Out of all the partisans involved, throughout the entire debacle, I did not see one single name that was not attached to a known belligerent. Whether it be on the pro- or anti- side of the aisles.

    In the end, all of the people at Hebb were friends of someone within the clique and did not come at their own accord or out of passion–if you will. Every person on the facebook pages, too, were interconnected through each opposing group. Yes, people not affiliated knew about it, but in the end, what ever cause this may have stirred within them did not behove the ‘student’ to get involved. Instead it only spurred the partisan hearts and minds who were already opposed to the executive. And the reverse would be true if the ‘shoe was on the other foot’ as the saying goes.

  9. 9 Commodore Cuddles

    Aww does someone need a hug?

  10. Wait, hold on everyone. Did Pierce just seriously suggest term limits?

  11. 11 pierce

    Yes.


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