The Federation of Students allegedly acts in the interests of the student body. But due to a lack of interest in the general student population special interest groups have been allowed controlling power over the Federation of Students. Groups such as the fraternity ΣX and the Progressive Conservative Party have in the past worked to gain control of FedS in order to push their own agendas. These groups represent only a very small minority of the student population and yet have been allowed to gain disproportionate political power over the student government.
This would only be a minor concern, except that the Federation of Students is the only official student organization on campus. Every other club, society, and organization must in theory be recognized by FedS to call themselves an official UW student group. Recently, the beloved theatre troupe, FASS (Faculty Alumni Students and Staff), discovered that by predating FedS, they lacked formal recognition. At the council meeting where recognition was sought, student councilors with nothing better to do debated irrelevant points of procedure and after wasting everyone's time deferred the issue to a later meeting for which The Chevron can find no public record. This was an exceptional case, and the troupe's history and position in the community left little question of its ability to function regardless of what FedS decided. The story is not the same in more mundane cases.
In order to form a FedS club one must get it approved by the Internal Administration Committee. This committee consists of the FedS VP Internal, 2 members of the students' council and 2 students at-large (elected by the students' council). This appears to be a reasonable and sane group to decide what constitutes a legitimate club and what does not. That is, until one checks the voter turnout. Well, one could look at voter turnout if the numbers were posted. The only numbers that can be found for last year's summer by-election, where the winner of the contested math seat took 52 votes, and this past winter's by-election, where the contested architecture seat was won with 98 votes, and the science seat with 33 votes. The Chevron would provide numbers from the winter 2010 election proper, but all we could find was a press release listing the results and congratulating all candidates on a well run election. Considering there are over 25,000 undergraduate students, finding enough votes to steal a council seat for a special interest group now suddenly seems very feasible. It is even likely that two positions could be claimed with enough campaingning (and a ready corps of volunteers.) Add to the mix a bit of political horse trading and all of a sudden you have the Conservative Party operating 5 shell clubs each marked as an official group. A smaller scale (the sources seem to indicate 2 or 3 shell clubs) action of this very kind was taken by Conservatives several years ago, and discussed again at a workshop the Progressive Conservative party organized for students to educate them on the minutae of governmental takeover at the student level.
At this point it may be asked "why bother with recognition at all?" Recognition is vital to a club's existence. Without it, booking on-campus rooms becomes much more difficult (often impossible), funding harder to come by (all recognized clubs are given $75 per term), and raises the cost of many services (booking the Bomber, poster runs, and other FedS services) or renders them totally inaccessable. In addition to these life-giving services, a recognized club receives legal protection. FedS provides a legal umbrella for student organizations on campus, protecting club organizers from liability (to some degree) and providing representation when needed. Without this, a controversial or fringe group must run the risk of being prosecuted out of existance in a manner resembling the anti-communist witchhunts of the Cold War.
The current state of affairs is deplorable. Some will clamour that it is due to student apathy, and no doubt that plays a part, but the problem is further exacerbated by an opaque and cliquish student government that communicates via press releases. Every student must now realize the real danger posed by vocal minorities and take action. It is important to ensure the impartiality of our Federation by opposing any special interest group which seeks to gain disproportionate power within it.
by Arthur Miller