Advocacy groups respond to proposed policy changes

Most reps concerned with lack of consultation process, group responsibility for legal fees

File graphic by Niusha Derakhshan

 

Many of the UVSS advocacy group representatives are troubled about a proposed policy that dictates how advocacy groups handle their social media and websites and how they are responsible for funding any legal action the UVSS must take on their behalf or liability the students’ society might incur as a result of web content.

If the policy is passed, advocacy groups would have to provide their social media and website login and password information to the UVSS, as well as update their website regularly with the group’s constitution, budget, and meeting minutes. Failure to comply could result in the loss of funding or building space, the policy reads.

Secondly, the policy dictates that signing authorities for any advocacy group, club, or course union are responsible for social media and website content and must take down any material that could result in “potential legal liability to the UVSS.”

Most advocacy groups say the policy’s intent is valid — the UVSS had concerns about potential legal action in November 2017 due to content on the Third Space website and social media — but say they were not given enough notice before the policy was sent to the board.

Each of the five advocacy board representatives confirmed they only learned the specifics of the policy when the agenda for the March 26 board meeting was emailed out on Friday, March 23.

“[Advocacy groups] are more likely to hold each other accountable,” Cumberland said.

Willa Budz, the UVic Pride representative, expressed concerns about the lack of forewarning.

“It seems like they’re trying to sneak it through because there’s not enough time for the advocacy groups to confer with our constituency organizations,” Budz said. “Three days notice is not enough time to organize a meeting and get some feedback from people so that we can relay their concerns to the board.”

Audrey Deutschmann, the board’s representative from the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD), said a lack of consultation underscores a divide between the UVSS directors and the advocacy group representatives.

“It feels like there’s a line down the middle of the board, suddenly,” Deutschmann said, arguing that the motion should be tabled until the next meeting so she can discuss it with the SSD community.

“I’ve had 72 hours with this information and that is not enough time to convene a board, to talk to my community,” the SSD rep continued. “I don’t represent myself, I represent our community, and my ability to do that is being hamstrung for reasons that I don’t understand and have not been able to get answers for.”

Isabella Lee, Third Space representative on the board, and Bradley Thom, the Native Students Union representative, also found out about the details of the policy from the March 23 email. Thom is unavailable to attend the meeting, and Lee said she would abstain from voting until she had corresponded with the Third Space collective.

Cumberland told the Martlet that she is happy to table the motion until a later meeting, but wanted the opportunity to present the policy to the board and explain it herself.

“We don’t necessarily need to adopt something that’s brought forward when it’s brought forward,” Cumberland said. “[A board meeting] is one the main ways that we are able to communicate with what is, for the most part, a volunteer board of directors.”

“Everyone gets the agenda at the same time, everyone gets the committee agendas at the same time, and they’re welcome to come and attend,” she said. “We just want to make sure that the policy is explained to folks so that they can go back to their organizations and have that conversation with the same basis of knowledge that we have, having written this policy.”

Budz and Deutschmann are concerned largely with the section of the policy that discusses the payment of legal fees incurred by an advocacy group. The policy reads that if legal fees must be paid due to the actions of one advocacy group, the money must come from an account shared by all advocacy groups.

“They would be punishing all of us for the actions of one,” Budz said, “which would create an adversarial environment where we are all watching each other and reporting on each other.”

“[Advocacy groups] are more likely to hold each other accountable,” Cumberland said, arguing that this accountability is better shared between advocacy groups than demanded from the UVSS board. “Sometimes the advocacy groups feel it’s them against us, so us saying not to do something is different than having some sort of pressure within the group that you’re responsible to.”

“If they feel that they are being pitted against each other that’s not really the intention of the policy,” continued Cumberland. “It’s to protect everyone and to protect everyone’s ability to talk freely but also make sure that we aren’t having a lawsuit launched against the UVSS.”

“This board especially, is always paying lip service towards consulting with the advocacy groups and always claiming they’re getting feedback from us. But they never come to our meetings [and] they don’t really consult with us aside from during the board meetings talking to the board reps. But they never consult with the actual advocacy groups.”

The policy was presented at an advocacy council meeting on Feb. 5, but only two advocacy groups were in attendance — the Students of Colour Collective (SOCC) and the SSD.

When reached for comment, Joshua Ngenda confirmed that he had represented SOCC at that Feb. 5 advocacy council meeting. The meeting was more informative than consultative, he said.  

“It was presented to us as a briefing of an imminent policy change for the operation of advo groups that had been drafted (if I remember correctly) by a subcommittee of the board,” Ngenda wrote over Facebook Messenger.

“Kaitlin [Fortier] (Director of Student Affairs), was only presenting the policy to us and wasn’t actually involved in creating, but she promised to pass my concerns along and get back to the council,” Ngenda continued.

At the meeting, Ngenda expressed concerns that the draft policy mandated all advocacy groups had to move to a website under the UVSS domain. Ngenda said he has yet to hear back from Fortier, but the newest iteration of the policy does allow advocacy groups to keep their own websites if they provide the UVSS with the login information.

Budz, Deutschmann, and Ngenda all noted that the policy appeared to be in response to the legal troubles with Third Space, and Deutschmann said that advocacy group inclusion could have seen the policy hit its targets.

“We could have made sure that the policies achieved the intended goal of making sure that students are protected from groups that have issues going on,” Deutschmann said, alluding to the November 2017 debacle between the UVSS and the Third Space — a debacle that saw the UVSS serve a cease and desist letter requesting the Third Space take down potentially libellous content from their website.

For Budz, the policy surprise serves to highlight problems between the board and advocacy groups.

“This board especially, is always paying lip service towards consulting with the advocacy groups and always claiming they’re getting feedback from us,” she said. “But they never come to our meetings [and] they don’t really consult with us aside from during the board meetings talking to the board reps. But they never consult with the actual advocacy groups.”


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