Discussing the results of the Trent Central Student Association’s annual presidential debate with my Arthur colleagues late last Thursday night, we all concluded that this was undoubtedly the most interesting and substantial debates of the past few TCSA election cycles.
However, as I listened to the candidates outline their presidential platforms and respond to each of the many questions from the audience, I could not escape the uneasy feeling that the TCSA has become a microcosm for the broader administrative and political environment of uncertainty here at Trent.
For a number of years now, Trent’s largest student union, mirroring our university administration, has been rapidly transitioning away from its roots as a decentralized and collegiate-based political advocacy organization towards a new identity as a highly centralized campus bureaucracy.
There is nothing inherently wrong with a pan-campus student union such as the TCSA wanting to act as centralized institution. After all, the association’s mandate is to represent the its entire full-time undergraduate student body at Trent to the best of its abilities.
However, the union’s rapid expansion over the past four years—beginning with its takeover of the Trent Express bus service and continuing through its campaign for the new multi-million student centre—has led to some marked confusion over its role within the student body and the Trent community.
This was apparent throughout the debates as the candidates clashed not only over TCSA policy but over the very identity of the union itself.
Is the TCSA primarily a student service provider, as some candidates alleged, given the fact that the it runs an increasing number of important programs like transit, health benefits, and will soon be breaking ground on the student centre?
Or, as others argued, should the union return to its more traditional role as an organ of political advocacy, one whose fundamental purpose is to challenge the many financial, societal, and academic barriers facing contemporary university students?
There are certainly no clear answers to these questions and perhaps these the kinds of existential debates are healthy in an organization as broad and diverse as the TCSA.
However, what is troubling is that from this uncertainty has emerged the clearly pervasive, but fundamentally fallacious view that the union is somehow all of these things and more: a form overarching campus government, one that has the jurisdictional control over the independent clubs and groups that operate within the Trent student community.
The TCSA is not Trent’s student government. It is one of three (soon to be two?) unions serving the student body supported by student levies. In fact, contrary to its current centralized reality the TCSA was actually born out of Trent’s college system, a fact exemplified in the union’s first corporate seal depicting a tree with five leaves, one for each of Trent’s five residential colleges.
The association does not govern anything outside of itself and nor should it. It exists simply to further the interests of Trent students and to work in partnership with the many other student initiatives on Symons campus and throughout Peterborough.