Impressions of my first UVSS AGM

I am in my fifth and final year of school and I have never been to a University of Victoria Student Society’s (UVSS) Annual General Meeting (AGM). I must admit I’ve never been that interested in student politics, or politics in general. As an engineering student, I put more thought into how an engine runs than how a government runs.

But my involvement with the Martlet has enlightened me to the presence of UVic’s student government, so I had to see this AGM for myself and figure out what the big deal was. Incidentally, I was coming from a project meeting and a fellow mechanical engineering student decided to come along with me — Macoy Jackson, who is also in his last year at school and had also never been to a UVSS AGM.

“Like most people,” he told me on the way to the meeting, “I had underestimated how much of an impact we could have on the resources that we contribute to every term.”

Photo by Belle White, Photo Editor

I asked why he spontaneously came along. “It was more of a late reminder of when it was happening,” he said, “because it has been my initiative to be contributing more to the community.”

Jackson and I were apparently on the same larger mission.

As we arrived, we needed to sign in based on the first letter of our last name. Comically, the line for letters M to R was a lot longer than the other lines. Past the sign-up was a table with stacks and stacks of papers: UVSS documentation pertaining to what was to be discussed at the meeting.

Here we found the UVSS Constitution, their Fiscal Budget Forecast, their financial statements, an outline of Robert’s Rules (rules for how you’re allowed to speak at official meetings),  drafts of the minutes from previous AGMs, and today’s meeting agenda. I was then handed a raffle ticket and a UVSS voting card (to be held up during motions and votes, I assumed). By the time I sat down, the selection of papers in my hand was more overwhelming than expected.

The AGM was held at the Cinecenta theatre, and it was surprisingly empty (not even half the place was filled).  We sat down five minutes before the meeting was supposed to start at 3 p.m., but an announcement informed us that the start would be delayed by 30 minutes in hopes of making quorum. Quorum is a minimum number of attendees that a society must have at its meeting to make any proceedings valid. The UVSS needs 112 students to meet quorum (0.6 per cent of the UVSS membership), but there were only 60 or so students there by the time the meeting had started.

Jackson, who sat next to me, began to get restless in his seat as we waited the 30 minutes. But even when that time had passed, the AGM still had not reached quorum.

I was very disheartened because I was excited to have a say in the topics on the agenda. Not reaching quorum showed me just how disinterested students are about university governance. Much like I hadn’t for the past four years, students just don’t make time for the UVSS and really only care about making it through the semester. After the opening statements, the meeting literally skipped to the very last page of the agenda (because of lack of quorum, no policies could be debated upon or passed).

What proceeded was an interesting, entertaining, and informative hour and a half.

The meeting had a very informal feel. When the directors were introduced at the end of the meeting to report on the work they’d done so far this semester, their body language spoke multitudes to the students watching. One sat cross-legged and slouched on stage, making me question if maybe I was taking this meeting too seriously. Their answers also seemed misinformed or they were just plain unprepared. Some of them seemed more competent than others.

Jackson made a suggestion to the directors that stuck with me — the idea of converting the Cinecenta movie theatre into a study zone. The board’s financial reports showed the theatre wasn’t making money anyway, so a study space conversion seemed like a great idea, especially with the Munchie Bar nearby providing a constant supply of coffee. This idea was strongly supported by the students in attendance and had me excited. Sitting there, I could already feel the place had been transformed.

It repeatedly occurred to me that the directors always seemed to be defending themselves — giving the impression that they were being attacked by questions. It honestly reminded me of the Game of Thrones throne room, where peasants (the students) come up to the throne (the stage) to bring up their concerns and issues to the royalty (the directors). But the directors made a surprising amount of excuses as answers. One director even blamed her young age for a lack of responsibility in campaign promises — that was surely the lowest point in the meeting.

With all the disappointments and surprises, there was a lot of learning for me at the AGM. It made me see what I was missing in my university life. The UVSS isn’t a perfect organization (nothing is), but it has the power to make our lives as students better and more comfortable. All they need is for us to get off our butts and do the bare minimum (show up). Count me in at the next AGM: it’ll be a hoot.

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