The May 16 board meeting debacle, explained

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By Niusha Derakhshan

By Niusha Derakhshan

What the hell happened on Monday?

Well, the UVSS Board of Directors met for their regular meeting on May 16. The agenda included filling outstanding committee vacancies and a presentation from the Anarchist Student Society that didn’t end up happening.

Oh, and everyone collectively lost their shit during question period over organizational changes that led to the dissolution of a communications position.

What?!

Yeah. Basically, in the interests of the financial stability of the society (according to Kevin Tupper, Director of Finance & Operations), the decision was made to implement an organizational restructuring. This was decided last week sometime between the May 9 board meeting (the first meeting of the term) and the afternoon of May 10.

Ultimately, the Events and Communications Coordinator position, formerly held by Seamus Wolfe, was deemed no longer necessary. And some people weren’t very happy about that.

Who was at the meeting?

Aside from the board, there was a substantial number of attendees in the gallery, with former board members like Brontё Renwick-Shields and Kenya Rogers, former Unite UVic student election candidates, and other students all showing up in protest of the decision.

So, who made the decision to restructure? And were they allowed to do so?

Ah, there’s the rub. The root of the issue is disagreement over the personnel committee’s autonomy and what decisions need board approval or not. And a lot of the commotion came from the fact that some board members were completely blindsided by the decision to restructure, only finding out after the fact that Wolfe’s position was eliminated. Some members of the board, like Blake Desjarlais, Native Students Union Firekeeper, thought that the board should’ve been consulted on the decision beforehand. Others, like Tupper, didn’t think it was necessary.

Back up a bit. What’s the personnel committee’s role?

The personnel committee is a five-person closed committee chaired by the Director of Finance & Operations (Tupper), with one lead director and one non-lead director elected by the board at the first meeting of the term (May 9, in this case). All three are voting members. The committee is rounded out by Dale Robertson, UVSS General Manager, and Erin Ewart, Executive Director. Both are non-voting members. For a committee meeting to have quorum, two voting members must attend.

According to the Board of Directors policy manual, the committee’s role is to act as the primary liaison between the board and UVSS staff, and its duties include “[advising] the General Manager on addressing major personnel issues such as grievances, organizing changes and personnel management practices.” It must also provide a report to the board at each board meeting on personnel issues and “the activities and projects undertaken by Personnel Committee.”

As it was demonstrated at the May 16 meeting, the latter didn’t really happen before the decision was made to restructure. But as Tupper pointed out in email conversation with the Martlet, the general manager’s role as chief of staff is to oversee all aspects of the different business units’ human resources.

“The General Manager has the autonomy to conduct an organizational change in any department at all times, and is not required to consult with the board or personnel committee,” says Tupper. “This is important as it isolates the staff from the changing desires of boards who change every year.”

Huh. So why the restructuring, then?

Again, Tupper claimed at the May 16 meeting that the decision was made in the interests of the society’s financial viability. He explained that the society ran an estimated deficit of over $330 000, and that the position itself was created in a year when the UVSS ran a surplus.

And if you look at the platform Encompass UVic ran on last election, this decision falls completely in line with their mandate. Encompass’s platform was based on making the society work for students, and financial changes were a part of that. And while Encompass doesn’t comprise the entire board, they do make up the majority of it. So things like this are probably going to come up from time to time.

So if the committee acted in the best interests of the society, why are people so mad?

Here’s where things get tricky again. A lot of it comes down to how the whole mess looks from the outside. Consider the timeline. On the evening of May 9, the board elected a personnel committee. Less than 24 hours later (around 5:30 p.m. the next day), the board is notified via email that the committee had decided to restructure, and by extension remove the Events and Communications Coordinator position. That’s a big step to take in less than 24 hours.

But was that how it happened?

Speaking with the Martlet, Tupper says he underwent extensive consultation between May 2 and May 6 with Robertson and Ewart, during which “the potential necessity of organizational changes were discussed,” but no decision was made.

Personnel committee was struck on May 10 at 6:30 a.m. and met initially with the three elected voting members. Robertson and Ewart joined the meeting at 8:30 a.m., and after some time consulting with other staff and scrutinizing the decision, consensus was reached that afternoon that a organizational change was required.

Tupper says that, as per section 18.6 (Organizational Change) of the collective agreement between the UVSS and United Steelworkers, Local 2009, “appropriate submissions were made to the Union” during an executive committee meeting on May 10 at approximately 4 p.m. The board was notified via email shortly after.

Is there more to the backlash than that?

Well, some say that the communications department is overworked, including former directors and Ben Johnson, Research & Communications Manager. So, there’s that.

But much of the criticism coming from Renwick-Shields, Rogers, and others in the gallery was based on the fact that Wolfe is a graduate student and single father of two. Renwick-Shields specifically asked how the committee justified dissolving the position knowing those facts.

Tupper and Ben Lukenchuk, Director of Outreach & University Relations, both held firm that it was a necessary decision. “Difficult decisions have to be made,” Tupper said.

This is exhausting. Can we wrap this up?

Yes. After a twice-extended question period, the board motioned to move in camera, and they did . . .  for three hours. At 11:05 p.m., the board passed two motions: one, that “UVSS policy as it stands was followed regarding the organizational change on May 10, 2016;” and two, that “the recommendation to the General Manager to conduct this organizational change would be upheld.” The latter motion had four abstentions and four votes opposed (all from advocacy group representatives except Lucy Hagos, who had left before the vote).

In a statement to the Martlet after the meeting, UVic Pride board representative Sara Maya Bhandar said she brought forward a motion to discuss drafting an apology to students and staff for a “lack of transparency.” The board voted against the motion, with eight opposed.

Tupper acknowledged to the Martlet that policy was “unnecessarily vague,” and that amendments to personnel committee policy put forward by Desjarlais (included at the end of this article) would be referred to the policy development committee.

He also stressed, both at the meeting and over email, that this was the only organizational change planned. A statement from personnel committee echoed that fact.

Speaking with the Martlet, Desjarlais reiterated that he thought the board failed in its duty to be accountable to the membership, and that he apologized wholeheartedly to the membership for the harm brought on by the decision to restructure. He also expressed confidence that policy amendments would be made to prevent this from happening again.

I miss when everyone was talking about sushi.

So do we, pal. So do we.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 6. The location is to be determined.

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