Just forget the words and sing along

Friday, April 28, 2006


"Enter the beuracrats...the real power of the senate." - Sentaor Palpatine's plea for change in Episode I.

My fascination with Athabasca University is making me nostalgic for my college days. Having done this post-seconday education thing twice now, plus my $20,000 student loan debt, makes post-secondary education an issue close to my heart. If I ever go for public office, that'll be a key part of my platform.

A key part of student life has always been the Students Union. Well, a lot of them are called Students Associations now. This is because of a law that was proposed about 5 years ago. About 5 years ago, there was a proposal put forth in the Alberta Legislature to give the Alberta Learning the same kinds of powers and controls over post-secondary students unions that they have over school boards. So, Alberta Learning would have had tighter controls over how students unions spent their money - and the authority to fire a student council.

good example: My old nemesis Brad Goertz. When he was President of the Augustana Students Union, he held a massive protest on the front steps of the legislature calling for a tuition freeze. If these proposed changes had become law, Learning Minister Lyle Oberg would have been able to march down to Augustana, fire Brad Goertz from his position as president, and appoint someone like Rob Nichols to be the new ASU president, until the next democratic election.

So, seeing as to how this reform would have only applied to students unions, a lot of students unions revised their constitutions to turn themsevles into student's associations. A minor name change, but enough to skirt the law. The Augustana Students Union became the Augustana Students Association, and NAITSU became NAITSA.

Luckily, the reforms never went through, but the name changes have remained.

Anyway, when I first started covering NAITSA, the first thing that amazed me was what a huge beuracracy it has. A general manager, an adminisrative assistant, a communications director...a massive collection of people hired by NAITSA to keep things together. What does the Augustana Students Association have? A little ol' office manager.

On the one hand, I found it good. With NAITSA's beuracracy, they could ensure that things were fairly consistent for the students from year-to-year. There were people around to say, "Hey, we tried to do that 10 years ago, but the students weren't for it. They might be for it now."

On the other hand, I started feeling that NAITSA's beuracracy was where NAITSA's true power lay. The occasional conversations I'd have with NAITSA's general manager would eventually lead to him revealing agendas he was pushing through, reforms he wanted to make, and his grand vision for NAITSA. This year, NAITSA added a senate to their student council. That was part of the GM's grand vision. I wanted to interview him several times, and always asked him if he'd sit down for one, to share his vision with the students. But, he'd always throw up his hand and say, "Nope. No comments on the record. This is a students association, so only the representatives elected by the students can talk to the press. That's our policy."

That's right, he wasn't a student. Well, he was a student...back in the 1980s. He got hired in the early 90s and remained ever since. But here he was, with grand visions, shaping NAITSA, and I couldn't talk to him.

Kind of reminded of this yesterday.

I covered my first county council meeting. People were stunned. This radio station hasn't covered the county council meetings in ages. They're still figuring out how to deal with a radio reporter. The reporter from the local paper would ask for a moment of time to ask a few questions, and they'd say yes. I'd ask for a moment of time to ask a few questions, and they freaked out. I was given lectures about how they don't do news conferences, and that protocals have to be laid out and a policy put in place for dealing with the radio media. They've asked me not to record anything. They've told me that they're far too busy to give me five minutes of time to talk about the issues at the end of the meetings.

So, at the end of the meeting, I just kind of sat in the corner, too scared to talk to anyone for fear of violating some protocal that hadn't been worked out yet, while the reporter from the paper skipped around the room, doing everything I was told not to, enjoying the freedom of the press that I wanted.

Oh, well. I can play by their rules. I can just show up, take good notes, and prepare a 30-second summary of the meeting for on-air. I can keep things vague if they refuse to answer my questions and clarify things. When it comes to news writing, it's as lazy as hell, and I really don't want to do it, but I'll do it if that's the rules that are laid down.

As I said, we haven't covered county council in ages, so they're probably thinking that, like many a reporter before me, I'll eventually brand the council meetings to be boring and un-newsworthy and stop showing up.

but I'm the kind of guy who doesn't let bad first experiences stop me. I'm going to keep going for a long time. At least, as long as I'm here.

I once asked one of my instructors at NAIT when I should give up...when does persistence become harrasment? And he told me to never give up. "Ya know, sometimes persistence has to become harrasment for things to start paying off."

If I let bad first experiences stop me, I would have stopped covering NAITSA meetings after the first one. I eventually learned which people I could talk to, and which ones would give me the good stuff.

I can do this. I know I can. This won't be learned overnight.

But I'm here for the long haul, baby.

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