Today’s council meeting was both disappointing and heartening. Disappointing because the anticipated public lynching of EA Brendan Piovesan failed to materialize. Heartening because it turns out that deep down inside, we really care about committee reform. And there were several other important (University Ombuds Office!) and thoughtful (Systemic discrimination in the AMS?) decisions.

We got to find this out when an apparently simple motion about changing the chair of the Impacts committee (which looks at sustainability) from the VP Admin to VP finance. This motion was predicated by conversations in the impacts committee and executive committee about where sustainability issues fit best in the structure of the organization. Since the many of the sustainability and impacts issues have to do with businesses, and implementing the budgets of the sustainability strategy, they seemed to agree that the chairmanship would be best supported by the Finance portfolio. Basically, this was about finding a permanent home in the organization for a committee that has traditionally had… issues.

Seems simple enough. Makes sense. Consultation with the committee in question took place. Both the VP Finance and Admin already sit on the impacts committee anyway. Interestingly, this motion met with resistance. Councillors wanted to refer it to the Code & Policies committee (sometimes a bad idea in my opinion). Throughout the debate, it became clear that it wasn’t just this committee, and the trivial switch in chairmanship that was bugging councillors. It was the “top-down” nature of the proposal, the fact that it was still an executive committee member that was being proposed to chair it, and that it hadn’t gone through a committee process – essentially, it turns out that council really cares about the ideas behind Spencer’s committee reform, and the fact that this change in committee structure wasn’t integrated holistically into the whole committee reform conversation, was very bothersome! Wow!

For whatever reason, momentum is building behind committee reform. Somebody even called the phrase a buzzword today, which I had to chuckle about, considering that it’s been in negative buzz territory for numerous seasons of sitting on the backburner. But I’m very happy that people are thinking about it, even to the extent that they’re dragging it into irrelevant debates. yay!

In other notable meeting news, the long-awaited University-level Ombudsperson Office is one step closer to reality with hiring proposed for April 2008. The Ombuds Office will be an independent and confidential service for students to voice complaints against the University and to serve as a central body where students can go to seek referrals to all other campus resources. AMS Council voted unanimously in favour of a 3-year funding package in support of the initiative with the GSS and the University providing joint funding. This office has been 16 years in coming; a previous AMS attempt in 1991 failed at the Senate level. Attempts under Martha Piper were emphatically refused by that president. When Stephen Toope came on board in 2006, students saw an opportunity to try again and found encouragement from the new President. An ad hoc committee with members from the VP Student’s office, University counsel, equity office, faculty association, AMS Ombuds, AMS Advocacy, GSS Advocacy was struck, generating terms of reference, which were reviewed and passed by the University Administration. The Ombuds Office will be housed in the Student Union Building, a nod to the independent and student focused nature of the service. [This paragraph kindly written by Joshua Caulkins, Geography Ph.D. student and Chair of the Ombuds Committee]

Ross Horton has been hired as the new General Manager of the AMS. The GM is a hugely important position which oversees all the business and service operations of the AMS. The GM sits on the Executive committee, reports to the president, and is basically the boss of everyone that the AMS employs. He/she suplies important turnover for executives. Another complete post on the new GM is forthcoming. This is big for the AMS.

Other interesting motions that were carried:

  • Oversight committee (which usually evaluates the performance of executives) is to seek submissions and make recommendations about this year’s election process, in hopes of improving it for the future. This research and report will be totally separate from the process of resolving current elections irregularities, which is taking place through elections appeals committees and student court.
  • An “appropriate external body” (whatever that may be) is to be employed to look at systemic discrimination in the AMS. In the last three years (maybe since the abolishment of slates? term paper anyone? (asks Jeff Friedrich)) there has been a decrease in the proportion of women politically active in the AMS. Council seems to be disproportionately low in visible minority representation as well. This ties into the commuter/non commuter dichotomy also. This is to make a professional determination about whether there is a problem, and how to address it.

The last thing on the agenda was a discussion topic about the elections period that has just concluded. The discussion topic was added to the agenda by AUS president Stephanie Ryan, in order to discuss a submission she had received from a constituent. But immediately as the agenda item came up, it immediately went in camera (ie. nobody except councillors (and anyone specifically invited)) allowed. “I came specifically for this though!” said “Che” Allison, a candidate in the President race, as he waited outside the council chambers for the in camera session to conclude,” I can understand where they’re coming from, but there are people that have personal experience about the HR issues they’re going to discuss. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting through AMS meetings [dripping sarcasm] … They invited Chris and Stef [the VPs finance and external elect], but not two other candidates, one of whose election is still unresolved! And they should have invited the VFMs – since that was a shitshow too”. In any event, it seems that some councillors have vowed to move to discount any and all elections results that include the results from paper ballots, which were not conducted in sectret on Jan 25th, when the elections results come to council for approval. This won’t happen until the various sundry official complaints are resolved.

The whole question of in camera session when you’re talking about employees’ performance is a little mysterious to me. All students are members of the society, and should be able to participate in a conversation about HR issues in something as important as an election. Anyone care to enlighten about what libel/lawsuit worries drive council into in camera sessions? Particularly when the agenda item is just a discussion period as opposed to a deicsion-making topic?


23 Comments so far

  1. Peter on January 31, 2008 7:41 am

    It is usually not legal to publicly publish details of contracts without the other party’s permission. This is especially the case with employment terms and resume postings, comments on hiring processes and the like. Privacy is very important and very easy to get a lawsuit slapped on you for. Its also bad to publish such info when you’re in the middle of hiring someone who you want to be on good terms with for a while.

    So, that in-camera session was totally understandable.

    Was there another one?

  2. maayan kreitzman on January 31, 2008 8:01 am

    Just want to apologize for all the spelling mistakes – for some reason the blogger spellcheck wasn’t working just as I was posting, and my spelling and typing are both truly appalling. Fixed now.

    There were two – one about the new GM, and one about the elections (I’m assuming about EA/VFMA problems, but don’t know)

  3. Jesse Ferreras on January 31, 2008 8:12 am

    Does this post mean that the in camera session was meant to discuss the performance of the Elections Administrator?

    I’m wondering how easy it might be for the AMS to establish an investigative inquiry branch. That way it could have a devoted group of people like Student Court look into allegations of mismanagement, ineptitude or other problems related to the running of the Society. It could even investigate elections improprieties and make recommendations to avoid such bumbling in the future as we’ve seen in 2008.

    Sure would make for an interesting campus newsstream, as unfeasible as the idea might be. Just something that came to me and wanted to share.

  4. Jesse Ferreras on January 31, 2008 8:14 am

    By the way Peter the last in-camera session I remember was in 2005, when councillors argued over whether to force the AMS President to resign after she fired Bernie Peets and had him escorted out of the building by security. He was later reinstated and the President came under fire for making the decision among the executive and not consulting council.

  5. Peter on January 31, 2008 8:18 am

    I’m pretty sure that there have been more in-camera meeting since then. Today’s was at least my 2nd, if not my 3rd in a little over one year.

    That’s not saying much though. There have been a few minor in-camera things that haven’t really been note-worthy.

  6. alfie on January 31, 2008 11:43 am

    Jesse, you may not be here back then. Last year, I was kicked out of a council meeting right after I got elected. The in-camera session was about the financial condition of the AMS businesses. It was meant to be confidential to maintain the competitiveness of the business.

    As for the minority issue, Maayan, I regret that I was not there for the discussion. My general feeling is that many Asian students simply dont know much about the AMS. Beyond “resume padding” and some white people’s club, most of them simply do not know enough to make the informed decision. Also, culture is a major barrier. Not all of my friends are outgoing and know what they can do. Cultural background is simply different. In the Oriental education system, obedience and academic excellence are what one values. Here, what Canadians value are confidence, leadership and innovations.

    The gap is simply quite large and it’s not entirely the AMS fault to fail to reach out to these minorities. Lots of students, with a different cultural background, suffer academic problems and go to the Senate for appeals. In fact, there’s an ad hoc committee looking into the issue of equity and advising.

    However, the AMS still share some of the blame. Obviously outreach and engagement have been poor, even among the international students from the South. It’s also worthy to gain a consensus from the Council to take positive steps toward constructive dialogue from various groups. We have tons of clubs in the AMS that is specially dedicated to a specific culture (ie CVC, UBC Taiwanese association, african awareness, muslim, etc). In addition, the AMS should work with the University to develop policies to avoid conflicts and lack of engagement, both from the academic area and extra-curricular area, in the culturally diverse student populations. (i.e. It can be as simple as submitting a few feedback to the Senate ad hoc committee just mentioned, which has received no attention from the Council when it was brought up in the Senate report in several AMS meetings). Perhaps, Brendon, do you want to add a few things on this?

  7. Anonymous on January 31, 2008 5:11 pm

    1) Excellent use of the Oversight Committee. It was always intended to not just review personnel but any activities of the Society (could include communications, Safewalk, or elections, amongst others).

    2) Regarding women in the AMS, it’s relevant to point out that (as best as I can remember) no female candidate running seriously for an Executive position(from the beginning of the race) has been defeated by a male candidate since 2003 when Brian Duong beat a girl that didn’t know the AMS was more than five people.


  8. Peter on January 31, 2008 6:22 pm

    No Spencer, you don’t understand.

    The arrogant white males (of the Arrogant Males Society) are repressing and structurally discriminating against the female victims of socialized repression through our prototypic hierarchical and regimented governance structure.

    It is the abominable structure of having executives, especially a president, who dares speak for everyone else and is a premodern residue in our post-revolutionary democratic modern present that is the problem. This clearly arises from the white man’s traditional Restorationist and Monarchistic Canadian sympathies.

    So, clearly Spencer, it is white males like you and I that are the problem. In fact, I think we should go drown ourselves immediately.

    Anyone else care to join?

    (Note: the above nonsense was mostly taken from the Knoll and rehashed in the form of a satirical reply to a good comment. I just couldn’t resist putting the two together.)

  9. Patrick on January 31, 2008 6:53 pm

    Peter = hero.

  10. Anonymous on January 31, 2008 8:34 pm

    Well, if we’re going to blame the AMS for visible minority underrepresentation on Council, then I reckon we could also go ahead and blame the Faculty of Science for the underrepresentation of white males in the student body. Something must be done to increase the outreach efforts to white male students!

  11. Andrew on January 31, 2008 9:01 pm

    A review of the AMS for systemic discrimination has nothing to do with laying blame, especially on the part of individuals. The whole purpose is to look into whether the structures of the institution itself discourage or inherently discriminate against minorities on campus. Lots of other student unions go through this process every few years because it is valuable to understand whether societal structures are discriminant, which they can be regardless of the knowledge or awareness of people within that society.

    If we’re going elections at UBC, let’s look at the number of times Asian students (who represent almost 40% of UBC student population) have run and won in the AMS Elections. The answer is almost never, which may be an indication.

    Also, Darren brought out the fact that another group unrepresented at Council are students who still live at home with their parents and commute. Many students do this, yet only one current Councilor was identified under this category. Sometimes, “visible minorities” aren’t entirely visible, but may still be discriminated against, such as long AMS meetings making it less likely that students who commute to and from Surrey can stay for the entirety of AMS meetings without some sort of help from the AMS (ex. arranging for alternative accommodations in Vancouver).

    Again, this study is not about laying blame, it’s about better understanding the nature of the AMS, and how it can change to better serve/be open to more students.

  12. Patrick on January 31, 2008 10:40 pm

    To be fair on the asian representation issue, Fan Fan’s gotta represent like 90% of the asian students that attempted election at the AMS in the last several years, and he ran for like, 12 positions. Thats gotta count for something.

  13. Mike Thicke on February 1, 2008 12:51 am

    Spencer: This is incorrect. Jeff Friedrich beat Mariana Payet for VP Academic.

    Peter: I believe the correct term is “White Male Fascists”

  14. Alfie on February 1, 2008 1:57 am

    Sigh, one cannot use one bad apple to represent the whole bushel. There are still quite a bit of Asian representation at many constituencies level (i.e. SUS) and they do a great job,too. Patrick

  15. Peter on February 1, 2008 1:58 am

    Ah, sorry there Mike. I was only using the Knoll’s populist language, which I understand now, is clearly code. I’ll let the fuhrer in the klavern know.

    Also: yes, Jeff beat Mariana, but there were two women running in that race. So maybe that affected things.

  16. Peter on February 1, 2008 2:00 am

    Interesting note though… there were actually 3 women running against Jeff in that race. And he got 51% of the vote.

    Clearly, the system works. White flour!

  17. Anonymous on February 1, 2008 2:39 am

    Mike: good call. I had completely forgotten about that race. One could arguably have said Karen Ward as well in 2005 but she didn’t give the impression that she was campaigning seriously until much later.

    Nevertheless, the essence of the point was not that there are electoral issues surrounding AMS exec positions but getting women to run in the first place (i.e. once they’re nominated and commit to running, women do very well).


  18. Patrick on February 1, 2008 5:59 am

    Umm… alfie, I was being firmly tongue in cheek.

    I miss Fan Fan.

  19. brendon goodmurphy on February 1, 2008 7:00 am

    on the election issue:
    – the AMS is taking 3 important steps to deal with this: Oversight, an official committee of Council, is soliciting feedback from the community and looking into the issues; 2. an HR position is in the works of being hired, to provide more institutional support for the hiring process and training/transition; 3. Working with the current EA and other members of the society to write a detailed transition report.

    on HR issues:
    – its just bad form, inappropriate and illegal to deal with HR issues in that forum. The AMS is an employer, and we want to attract people to our positions – if we treat our employees unprofessionally, it sets a very bad tone for other people considering to work for us.

    on systemic discrimination:
    – Patrick and Peter: I’m having trouble separating the tongue and cheek from the serious…
    – I really just don’t understand this defensive response to these issues… WHY!?! What are we so afraid of hearing? White man have more power and are better represented in positions of power than other gender/culture groups? Are we really so shocked? The world would be a much better place if WOMEN ruled it…
    – is there any reason NOT to look into this issue at the AMS?

  20. Sunshine on February 1, 2008 7:39 am

    I like Andrew’s idea about alternative accomodations in Vancouver. Enter sleeping pods in the SUB! Wow, that would be an amazing way to get more people involved in the AMS.. “Sit through an AMS meeting, get a free coupon for a night’s sleep in the sleeping pod. Coupon has no cash value and must be redeemed within a week.”

    – Sonja

  21. Peter on February 1, 2008 9:16 am

    Brendon, it’s all been tongue-in-cheek for me.
    I was just making fun of the Knoll as I had a perfect opportunity. I wasn’t at the discussion on discrimination last night, so I have no idea what the debate was.

    From what I’ve heard, its a good idea and an interesting report to look forward to. Just as long as it doesn’t cost too much ;)

  22. a minority member on February 1, 2008 7:37 pm

    Yeah, that’s kinda the impression from the AMS on this issue. It’s been very defensive, reluctant to change and really indifferent about the issue of engagement with the women and the minority. Sigh….

  23. banjo-ist on February 3, 2008 1:17 am

    In-camera moments should be minimized for the sake of transparency, especially when dealing with something as important and public as our elections (with one of the lowest turn-outs in our history).

    There are, however, legal constrictions that prevent council from discussing personal issues in public, such as contracts with details about individuals and their backgrounds… thence ‘in-camera’- it should be specified in ‘our’ code…

    Some issues brought forward by potential and concerned voters:

    -campaign period: too short

    -online voting period: rushed, too short, and not well advertised
    [why not an elections BZZR garden with a debate after classes, and not during a busy studying period?]

    -debates: under-attended, under-publicized, confusing and badly designed (and, usually NOT debates, but quick and dirty Q&A sessions not reported in full, but actually meager ‘detail’).

    -Systemic discrimination against newer candidates, who were assumed at face-value to be ‘jokes’ even if stating they were not. [This attitude must change, and everyone should be given equal credibility for running, and judged according to their actions, backgrounds, plans and ideas; moreover, this attitude does not encourage people to vote or to participate, especially in the middle of the representation, participation, and communication crisis we are experiencing]

    -The absolute lack of information on candidates platforms during paper balloting (unlike last year when polling people presented a short write-up on everyone’s platforms for voters to make a decision)

    -Multiple paper ballot irregularities, including observations of polling station people telling voters who they should vote to…

    Now back to fun TA work for 80+ students, and congrats on the VFM award! This is a blogified information/discussion service that should be valued,


    -rodrigo (now mellower [music & arts can cure all evils, if you so wish])

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