Past members of the executive reflect upon their time at the CSU, how it’s changed, and what they hope for its future
Bridget Stringer-Holden (she/her) // News Editor
Back in 1975-1976, when Duncan Brown was on the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) executive, the campus looked very different than it does today. The current library building used to be offices and the Cedar Courtyard was full of school portables—where the science classes were held. The current Student Union building, Maple, used to be the cafeteria and the hub of campus. “That’s where we had student pubs every Friday night, and it had a big pit too so that people could sit around and watch a lecture there,” said Brown.
Originally, Brown was hired by the CSU through a grant to have a student housing office. He described his job as mainly writing things down on index cards when people phoned in. “We had ads in the North Shore News and people would phone in and say, ‘I have a basement suite’ and whatnot, then students would come in there and look for places to live,” he said. After working in that position for a while, they asked if he’d run for ombudsperson, which is how he got involved in the executive.
As the ombudsperson, a new position at the time, Brown was someone who students could come to for information, help navigating problems with the administration or for support in meetings. He was also an elected member and student representative of the College Council—equivalent to the Board of Governors today, as there weren’t separate Senate and Board.
Through his involvement with the CSU and College Council, he gained confidence. “I’m one of those people who kind of just steps up, you know, if there’s something to do, let’s just do it, and I think part of that came from my involvement in the CSU,” said Brown, noting that his time on the CSU really helped him become one of those people that aren’t afraid to speak in class, or if they are, they do anyway.
“I was quite active,” he says. “We got quite involved in provincial and federal student politics and I had to drop back my course load during that year, but it was a great year.” Back then, there was an NDP government, “the premier’s name was Dave Barrett, and they significantly expanded the post-secondary education system,” recalled Brown. “They were expanding funding, but then weren’t funding education the way we thought that they should, so we got involved with other student unions across BC and started a campaign to pressure the government to increase student post-secondary education funding.” Brown described going to Victoria and meeting the Premier and the opposition leader at 18 years old, as well as organizing a one-day shutdown of the college—not in protest against the college, but against provincial education funding.
Other involvement through the CSU for Brown included advocacy for housing and international student tuition—two issues still very much at the forefront of student advocacy. Housing wasn’t as much of an issue, since many CapU students came from North Van and still lived with their parents. However, there were students who came from elsewhere in Canada, or abroad, for specialized programs, and the CSU was looking into housing options for them.
“I think that the student population is more diverse—both in terms of what they’re studying and in terms of where they come from,” he said, noting that some issues remain the same, but some that are different.
The beginning of separate fees for foreign students was happening during Brown’s term. “I recall that the student movement opposed that, and of course, now the government funding model of the post-secondary education system is essentially that foreign students pay differential fees, and it’s substantial,” says Brown. Since he’s been on the Board of Governors, the university has kept the same percentage increase for domestic and international students, but obviously there is still a large price difference, and the increase for international student tuition isn’t regulated or capped—something the current CSU is lobbying to change. “That was an issue then, and I know it’s an issue for CSU now.”
As the present Board of Governors Chair, Brown had made an effort to invite current CSU board members to share their perspectives on relevant student issues with the Board of Governors. “I respect them because I know it’s something that they’re taking time out of an otherwise busy schedule in their education to volunteer work on behalf of people,” he says. “The people that I’ve met are intelligent and articulate, and I’m sure they do a great job of representing the students.”
Brown is still in touch with fellow board members to this day, occasionally running into the VP of External Affairs, who now runs a company that makes sailboat masts.“I’m having dinner tonight with a friend of mine—she was the first full time staff person for the CSU—several years later she ended up marrying the president of the CSU,” he mentioned. “All those people are still around—the guy who was president, I run into him. He was a North Van City Councillor for years and lives near me on Lonsdale.”