Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why can't we all just get along? the executive dynamics post.

Once upon a time amidst the tacky coloured walls of the Almar Mater Society’s student union building, executive council was dominated by slates (basically political parties). Back then, elections were in some ways more colourful (in both the literal and figurative sense). Brand names were recognizable from miles away – the extreme conservative “The Right Choice” in navy blue, the centrist “Students for Students” in a lighter hue, and a communist resembling “SPAN”, not to be confused, though understandably often mocked, as SPAM. I need to insert here right away that I am a political product of the latter, though my political career took me past the great era of formal slates. Anyhow.

I have seen my share of executives interact with one another over the years, since 2002 until 2007, both before and after slates existed. By being a peripheral nuisance around the office, and having inherited some institutional gossip, I find myself unable to feel the same degree of outrage over recent events as the visitors who comment on this and other blogs

The reason I bring in slates into the picture is because they were a key vehicle through which politics was driven at the executive and council level. And I also include petty bickering into the term ‘politics’.

When I was running with SPAN, I experienced for the first time the true viciousness that is brought out of individuals during the electoral process. For instance, a colleague who I had previously considered a friendly acquaintance, sprayed me intentionally with water in order to get to a key postering spot before me. At another instance, physical threats had been posed. By the time the elections were over, the atmosphere was so tense that it was difficult to separate the personal from the professional. I personally got over it. And because my slate had swept the election that year, I did not experience the tensions that threaded through the year before.

Apparently (and this is a one sided claim) within executive council, it was an iron rule that each member of one slate would vote one way, and the other slate would oppose. Frequently the minority slate was voted down in their endeavours to the point where it was suggested that it was purely for the sake of sabotage. How valid this claim is I cannot assess, but I am willing to entertain the notion.

Enter the banning of slates. Former AMS president Spencer Keys championed this project primarily from an inclusiveness standpoint –individuals, no matter how qualified, who do not gain access to slates are severely disadvantaged in an election. This is true in “real life” as well, and in the AMS especially so.

Others would claim that there were other reasons why they supported this motion. For one, they found the blind loyalty towards a strict party line excessive and tiring. They may have felt like a footsoldier than a free thinking individual. There was enormous peer pressure within one slate to oppose the other parties.

Whether slates should in some way or form be reinstalled is a debate I would like to see on a different post. If I have one last comment on this, it would be that emotional baggage is an unfortunate part of continuity of a slate and its agenda. It’s the nature of the beast. It happens in the real world too.

And it’s this emotional baggage inherited from all these previous years which may have culminated into bitter executive dynamics, which is more the topic I would like to focus on. From the comments seen in previous posts, there seems to be a romanticized ideal of ‘executive cohesion’ floating around, the purpose or exact definition of which has not been elaborated by anyone so far. My guess would be that the executive should achieve a certain amount of reliability and trust among one another, as well as the ability to collaborate on joint executive projects. Personal squabbles should not sabotage the job they are elected to do, as in “I hate A so I am going to vote against anything A wants to do”. I don’t think anyone expects AMS execs to be best friends, or wear the same T shirts, or have brunch together every Sunday, or engage in a communal brainwashing program such that they become the same person (although I wouldn’t be surprised if these things have been done before).

This idea of ‘cohesion’ has been brought into conflict with an individual’s political agenda. The question here, then, is if there is a degree to which an executive (and I would argue council member) should limit her/his own politics in order to achieve cohesion with their (potential) colleague(s). This question has become especially pertinent in this particular case regarding the photo we published, where the political agenda antagonizes the very position of their colleague. I suppose it is a sticky situation. I can see how it could be taken personally by the individual affected. But should it? And will it?

Is it too naïve to believe that in our post-slate era, we should still be allowed to charge with political valence while allowing others to do the same? Removal of official slates did not equate political lobotomy. In the past few years we happened to experience little slate-like activity and consequently, a relatively quiet year. However, political assembly is a right everyone can exercise, and it is inevitable and arguably necessary at times. Kudos to A-Lo fans who mobilized to launch a poster campaign. Kudos to Knolligarch(s?) for mobilizing to deface them. I suppose I expect a sort of cordial professionalism once in office, which allows for a working rapport while their own individual politics still manifests into defacing each other’s posters.

In the end, and from the practical perspective of a former councillor, I would sprinkle enough of this “cohesion” ingredient into the executive bunch in order to achieve productivity from them – as individual executives fulfilling their elected portfolio, and as the group that is at times required to present some sort of unified front. It seems to me like the latter point is threatened for some readers here. From a very systematic point of view, the people have picked their representatives and all the strings that come with these individuals. The political passion which I see in both team Lougheed and team “Knollarchy” does not have to be squashed just yet for the sake of executive cohesion, or pleasantries, or platitudes. Not yet at least. It will be the role of AMS council to watch the progress of the executives and decide if some or all of the executives are unable to splice out the personal from professional well enough to meet council’s standard. I have a feeling it will become obvious soon enough.