Thursday, April 5, 2007

AMS meeting skinny

disclaimer: No, AMS is not the earth and sky. I'm just writing about it this week because I have stuff to write about. More general-interest stories to come.

For those of you that wonder what-all goes on during AMS meetings, but have never bothered to show up and eat the free food every other Wednesday night, here's a little primer on the goings-on at the highest decision making body of your student union. For currency and convenience, I'll use yesterday's meeting as an example, with the added bonus that you won't have to wait god knows how long till the minutes are posted to find out what went down (note: the most recent minutes on the AMS website are from January 24th 2007 - five meetings ago). As detailed in the previous post, much of this meeting was taken up by committee appointments, which only take place once a year. Still though, the format was typical (as it always is).

Meetings start in a friendly manner. People mill about gathering sandwiches, fruit and cups of coffee. When the meeting is called to order, everyone introduces themselves.

The first things on the agenda are usually presentations to council: from the university, external advisers, AMS services, etc. The last few weeks' meeting have been taken up by presentations from all the AMS services, who need to report to council on a yearly basis about their doings, their finances, and their user statistics. Yesterday there were presentations from Safewalk and the Sexual Assault Support Centre.

Next is Exec reports. Each of the execs (President, VP external, VP academic, VP finance, and VP admin) get a few minutes to talk about what they are up to, give council a heads up about motions they put together, and address any specific business in their portfolio. For example, last week VP admin Sarah Naiman did a show-and-tell for the new fabulous events calendar that is now situated in the SUB nook (large, yellow, between blue chip and PiR, check it out). I'm not gonna lie, I can't remember anything the exec said in their reports yesterday. It probably wasn't too exciting. Oh, actually president Jeff Friedrich welcomed the new Communications Manager. She's got a cool job.

Allison, the new Communications Manager (by Gina)

Next is constituency reports. This is when the representatives from the various faculties and schools around campus say things like "Arts county fair in 8 days!" and "Awesome big-screen TVs are being installed in Ladha!" and "nothing to report!" and "We're having another beer garden!". Updates are usually brief and always cheery.

Now we come to the meat and potatoes of the meeting: executive motions. This is when the execs present motions to council about a wide range of topics. Individual council members, constituencies, and committees can also put motions on the agenda, but most of the important motions go through the exec first and are presented at this time. Yesterday, there were two interesting executive motions: one to approve spending up to $8000 on a "student-wide poll," that's going to gather information about student's views and awareness of AMS-related issues, as well as some university-related issues. Look out for the broadcast email asking for your participation. The other one was a motion brought forward by VP academic Brendon Goodmurphy to create the ad-hoc academic quality committee tasked with basically taking NSSE, compiling it with more student complaints and recommendations about academics, and shoving the whole package down the administration's throats. This is a current "hot topic," due to Stephen Toope's alleged enthusiasm for all things teaching and students. These motions raised some good questions and healthy debate. Both were carried.

Look for the rest behind the jump.

Next were committee motions. Though normally, these would be policy motions brought forward by a committee, yesterday they were mostly motions to appoint members to all the committees for this year. To find out about these in detail, read a few posts down.

An entirely different motion having nothing to do with appointments also appeared in this section, though I'm not sure why it did, as opposed to 'executive motions'. In any event, VP external Matthew Naylor presented a motion that the AMS should join as a petitioner in a lawsuit that is constitutionally challenging Bill-C31, which is currently going through the Canadian Senate. The Bill requires that in order to vote in federal elections in a given riding, voters must have current government-issued photo ID with their current address in that specific riding. Since so many students come from elsewhere, live in residence, and are renters, this requirement would effectively disenfranchise a large chunk of UBC students, unless they went through the flaw-ridden process of asking for an away ballot from their home riding. This lawsuit is being headed by the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre. There was alot of debate on this motion. It centred on the possible financial liability the AMS would incur if the case was lost and legal fees were assigned by the judge. Debate also focused on the fact that legal advice had not been sought. Some councilors felt that they did not have enough information to enter into a court challenge. Others felt that the spirit of the motion justified it, particularly due to the time-sensitive nature of the bill passing through Senate and a possible spring election. In the end, the policy was amended to include a requirement that the executive seek legal council, and power was given to the executive committee to decide whether or not to join as a petitioner or support the lawsuit in some other way. This one motion took about an hour and 15 minutes to amend and pass. This is because certain council members saw fit to repeat the same sentiments over and over, without suggesting any amendments. Others made lengthy, non-specific, and generally vacuous comments. But mostly, Matthew and the other executives should have anticipated the uneasiness of council over the lack of information, and brought in one of the other petitioning groups to supply more detailed monetary and technical information ahead of time. A strange gaffe, and one that let alone wasting alot of council time, nearly cost the failure of this important initiative.

Some more appointments took place after that, with a few non-pressing ones delayed till the next meeting due to the lateness of the hour. Normally, there would be discussion topics, and notice of future motions after that, but there weren't any this time. Also, normally meetings are supposed to last till 10, so this one was extended twice: first to 11, and then indefinitely. sigh.

A few observations:

Generally, the level of discussion and debate is good: understandable and reasonably lively. I do lament the lack of eloquence. Not many people seem inclined to really ham it up these days (though Craig from Education gave a pretty sonorous motivation, I admit), and are satisfied with disjointed, un-prefaced remarks. This is fair enough, but when combined with the sometimes-repetitiveness and unselfconscious rambling that sometimes surfaces, it can make for uninspiring debate. Another thing to note is that there are relatively few people who speak often, and almost dominate the discourse. This is probably just a fact of life, but worth noting.

The tone of council is not formal, but Robert's Rules are rigorously implemented by the incomparable chairperson Dave so things run quickly. Looking around the room, there are often side-conversations and peanut galleries along the sides where quiet (but no doubt slanderous and radical) discussions also take place. Not intimidating at all.

So, for everyone that's never thought about where and how exactly your student government actually functions, I hope that gave you a taste of what the AMS meeting is like. Come out every other Wednesday (but less in the summer) at 6:00 PM in the council chambers, SUB room 206, to see the democracy at work!!