EDITORIAL: The error of SSMU’s handbook ways

Editorial/Opinion by

Every year, the Students’ Society produces a handbook, largely for freshmen students. The handbook contains all sorts of useful information about university life, including, among other things, tips on surviving frosh, good places to eat and details on the SSMU health plan.

Normally, the guide is distributed in frosh kits, but this year production was delayed and the handbooks were not ready for distribution until today. SSMU decided that the original version of the handbook-co-produced by Sara Kipp-Ferguson and former Tribune Design Editor Genevieve Friesen-was unacceptable. Friesen and Kipp-Ferguson were let go and SSMU executives hired new editors to make the changes they felt were necessary.

We disagree not only with this censorship, but with the manner in which it was done. While we are mindful that it may seem like we are sticking up for a former colleague, we feel that SSMU erred in a number of ways.

The decision to rework the handbook is a questionable one at best. Some people might have been offended by the content-some of the “offensive” pictures can be found elsewhere in this newspaper-but in our politically correct times it seems impossible to do anything without offending someone.

SSMU executives have said that they were concerned that the handbook’s offensiveness violated SSMU’s Equity Policy. However, the content was neither discriminatory nor did it constitute harassment-the only things covered by the Equity Policy.

After executives decided that the handbook was unacceptable, they made yet another mistake in firing, or at least pushing aside, Friesen and Kipp-Ferguson. Putting together the SSMU Handbook is not an easy or quick job and they had put in many hours to produce what they thought was a top-notch resource. SSMU executives did not give them a chance to address the issues that they had with the book’s content and instead hired outside editors to redo the offending sections. Friesen and Kipp-Ferguson were not even notified until the new team was hired and were not allowed any input into the changes.

To decide that you don’t like someone’s work and bring in someone else to make changes to it as SSMU did is discourteous and disrespectful. While it may have been within SSMU’s rights to do so, that does not mean it was the right decision, or a professional one. SSMU executives should have sat down with Friesen and Kipp-Ferguson and given them an opportunity to work out the problems with the handbook.

Lastly, there is the issue of the delay that these changes caused in the handbook’s publication. Thanks to SSMU’s decision to censor the content that it deemed to be inappropriate, the handbook is several weeks late. This has cost SSMU financially-it had to pay the new editors-and it has significantly reduced the handbook’s usefulness. The portions of the guide containing tips on surviving frosh have been rendered useless, and while there are plenty of other valuable things in the handbook, distribution will be much more difficult now that frosh is over. A stack of handbooks sitting in the SSMU office doesn’t do any good to anyone.

Regardless of whether some of the content was inappropriate or not, SSMU’s decisions with respect to the handbook have shown poor judgment and an appalling lack of foresight. They represent a disappointing start for the 2006-07 executive.