The Carleton University Students' Association (CUSA), the student union that can't make up its mind whether it's a Gestapo or Politburo when it comes to its pro-life subjects, is at it again. They have released proposed referendum questions for this year's general election. Not every proposed question deals, directly or indirectly, with the issue of abortion or campus pro-life clubs, but #4, specifically, does:
Are you in favour of banning groups such as Lifeline, the Genocide Awareness Project, Campaign for Life Coalition and other organizations whose primary purpose is to use inaccurate information and violent images to discourage women from exploring all options in the event of pregnancy from Carleton University campus?
This particular vendetta against campus pro-life organizations goes back 5 years, when campus women's groups complained that a debate on the legality of elective abortion was held on campus. CUSA immediately passed a motion declaring itself "pro-choice" and denying funding and resources to "anti-choice" student organizations. Carleton Lifeline, the pro-life organization that sponsored the debate, was decertified as a student club, although it was reinstated the following term. In October 2010, some members of Lifeline were arrested for setting up the Genocide Awareness Project in the Tory Quad, a prominent outdoor public space, instead of the obscure lecture room they were offered. A month later, the club was decertified again, though they were told they could be reinstated if they rewrote their reconstitution to be effectively pro-choice. The trespassing charges against the arrested students were thrown out; a lawsuit against the school is pending.
Apparently fed up with dealing with campus pro-lifers who won't just roll over and play pro-choice, CUSA has now elected simply to try and ban pro-life thoughtcrime wholesale.
Non-qualification #1: English skills
Proposed question #4 now has one of my favourite examples of a misplaced modifier: the alleged purpose of the pro-life groups is "to discourage women from exploring all options in the event of pregnancy from Carleton University campus." Apparently, the very campus itself is a real Lothario. The question should have been written, "Are you in favour of banning groups from Carleton University campus . . ." It's a bit awkward, but still grammatical, and much clearer that female students don't risk their virtue merely by setting foot on the grounds.
The next question reads:
Are you in favour of rescinding the levy of the Carleton Academic Student Government (CASG), a group whose sole purpose is to elect students to departmental boards, but spends half of their annual budget on honorarium?
I learned about the difference between singular and plural in the fourth grade. Admittedly, that was probably years before any of CUSA's current councillors were born. Nonetheless, I'd expect someone who was accepted to university to know that a group spends its budget, and they spend it on honoraria or, if there is indeed only one, an honorarium.
Non-qualification #2: Critical thinking ability
The ability to detect nonsense—and, more significantly, the ability to avoid using it—should be a prerequisite for anyone who desires to set policy for a large body of people. Obviously, though, the ability to think rationally is not a requirement for CUSA, as these ridiculously biased proposals demonstrate.
Question 4 is a transparent example of the fallacy of the complex question, also known as the loaded question. It poses as a simple yes/no question, but it actually contains an additional presupposition that is assumed to be acceptable to the respondent. In this example, the presupposition is that campus pro-life clubs' "primary purpose is to use inaccurate information and violent images to discourage women . . ." Now, if I were a pro-choicer and an eligible student voter, I might very well agree with that assessment, in which case I might simply find it unremarkable and vote anyway. But what if I don't think Lifeline, GAP, and CLC are up to no good? In my mind, then, the question would be based on false premises, and I could not truthfully vote either Yes or No.
The Writ of Referenda is full of these leading questions. In order to honestly vote on many of them, students have to swallow questionable premises presented as plain facts: for example, that BAE Systems and Northrop-Grumman are complicit in illegal war activities, or that a club that promotes target shooting is discriminatory. (Whether any of these presuppositions are, in fact, objectively true is beside the point—but they are far from settled questions.)
None of these questions are, as yet, on any ballot. Nomination requires signatures of 1,000 or 10% of eligible voters, whichever is fewer. Hopefully, students at Carleton are endowed with better sense than the buffoons that govern them. They deserve better than to be manipulated like this.