UMSU board reform delayed by representation concerns

Exclusion of community representatives raises questions

Changes to UMSU governing documents which would see the reduction of voting members of the board of directors from over fifty down to 21 have been delayed following a Jan. 6 meeting in which concerns were raised regarding representation for marginalized communities in the union.

After a formal debate session, the motion and an amendment to grant representatives of marginalized communities voting rights were tabled for the board’s next meeting Jan. 20.

The motion, motion 0525, is the product of efforts to enhance the efficiency of the board, following the recommendations of a report by Susan Rogers Leadership commissioned by UMSU in Nov. 2019 and completed in March 2020.

It was expected that the reforms would come to their conclusion Jan. 6, following nearly two years of work from UMSU’s governance committee — tasked with carrying out the changes — for which UMSU president Brendan Scott has been present in varying capacities.

At the Jan. 6 meeting, governance committee chair Lauren Slegers gave the board of directors a presentation outlining the changes in motion 0525.

These changes included restructuring the board so that it is composed of representatives from each faculty for a membership of 21 voting members.

Also included are rules around the attendance of meetings — board members would be required to attend meetings, facing possible removal from their positions for missing five meetings in a year or three meetings in a row.

Thirdly, the reforms would formally create the Black students’ representative position that the board voted on in 2020.

Representation or efficiency?

Community representatives such as the Black students’ representative position would be required to attend board of directors’ meetings, albeit only with speaking rights — to which all UMSU members are entitled.

Following the presentation by the governance committee, recently appointed accessibility community representative Calleigh Guillou-Cormier raised concerns on behalf of the community representatives regarding adequate representation for marginalized communities if their representatives cannot vote on issues.

“[The community representatives] do not believe this motion can be voted on in good conscience without an amendment to reinstate our voting privileges,” she said.

She argued that the assumption that students from marginalized communities will be represented adequately through their faculty representatives is wrong, pointing to existing rules that the community representative positions can only be filled by people belonging to those communities.

“Nobody can wholeheartedly represent a community that they are not a part of,” she said.

Guillou-Cormier further argued that without voting rights being extended to community representatives, the reforms would be a step backwards in terms of the union’s own values of equity, diversity and inclusion.

In response to the debate, Scott cautioned that an amendment impacting governing documents should be tabled for another meeting.

UMSU vice president student life Savannah Szocs pointed out that extending voting rights to community representatives would make the membership of the board an even number, with 28 members.

“To me, it just feels like change for the sake of change, and I’m never for change for the sake of change,” said arts student body council (ASBC) representative Jaron Rykiss.

“There’s always things you can improve on, but I’m not sure this is where we start.”

Other members of the board, including ASBC representative Dario Duque Giraldo and international community representative Tolani Olanrewaju, also voiced opposition to motion 0525 without the inclusion of voting rights for community representatives.

In an interview Jan. 10, Scott said that with the current structure of the board, an UMSU member can technically be represented by numerous different directors depending on what various communities they belong to.

“The biggest thing that Susan Rogers outlined was obviously board size [is] too big, but then also just having too much representation,” he said.

“I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. No other board really does it the way we’re doing it.”

Scott also argued that prior to the pandemic — before UMSU board meetings were conducted remotely — there physically was not enough space for members at the tables and that reducing the member of board members would make the space “more equitable” in terms of speaking rights.

“I do think the board we have now is broken, but if you want a representative board, that’s what we have now,” he said, going on to explain that it is a question of having an efficient board.

On top of concerns about physical space with a large board of directors, Scott raised concerns that historically there has been low engagement from the board, with struggles to meet quorum for meetings and issues arising from uninformed students standing in for directors as proxies.

Scott said that the governance committee has reached a decision regarding extending the vote to community representatives but would not disclose what the decision was.

The decision will be disclosed at the Jan. 20 meeting, when motion 0525 will be considered again.