Wednesday, January 30, 2008

AMS Council Meeting, Jan 30, or how much we care about committee reform, deep down inside.

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?