New UVSS board gets first taste of tension

Campus News

UVSS Board meeting recap 12 / 06 / 2017

Photo by the Martlet.
Photo by the Martlet

In the fourth meeting of their term, the new student society board of directors had their first taste of the pressure that so often presents itself at board meetings.

While there were no presentations, reports, nor any administrative business of note, the board was confronted with a blistering question period in which students in the gallery (including some former board members) questioned the board’s failure to fill committees, their willingness to work with the Engineering Students’ Society (ESS), and their handling of a confidentiality concern with the Third Space advocacy group.

Committee Vacancies

With current Director of Outreach and University Relations Kate Fairley absent from the meeting for the third time, Alysha Flipse, who held the same position last year, chaired the meeting in Fairley’s stead. Kevin Tupper, last year’s director of finance and operations, and Emma Kinakin, last year’s director of student affairs, were also present for the meeting. Both Kinakin and Tupper sat in the gallery and took the opportunity to question the board about current committee vacancies.

The UVSS board is ultimately responsible for filling positions on sub-committees that are vital to the day-to-day operations of the UVSS, as well as relations with UVic administration. At time of writing, the UVSS board has yet to fill positions on 16 committees, including the UVic Senate Committees on Academic Standards, Continuing Studies, and Admission. Both Kinakin and Tupper expressed concern over the number of spaces that remain vacant.

Ramunas Wierzbicki, a current director-at-large, said the vacancies were due to the summer semester and a lack of board members present on the campus. When Kinakin stressed that students don’t need to be physically present to express interest in sitting on committees, Director-at-Large Pierre-Paul Angelblazer explained that some directors had left for summer breaks early and therefore hadn’t been able to fully commit to any committee. Angelblazer also said they didn’t want to force directors into committee roles they may not want.

Six of the 11 directors-at-large did not attend the board meeting. Of those six, four directors-at-large have been granted leaves of absence until September 1, 2017.

Kaitlin Fortier, current director of student affairs, explained that a Facebook post had been made to advertise the open member positions on the committees.

ESS Concerns

Intermittent with questions from the gallery around committee vacancies, concerns were also raised regarding the UVSS’ decision to accept money from, and work together with, the Engineering Students’ Society (ESS).

Kaylee Szakacs, a former lead director with the UVSS, highlighted concerns regarding the ESS’ past conduct during their frosh weeks. Canadian engineering froshes have faced scrutiny in recent years, with a number of high-profile stories about misogynistic chants at new student celebrations across the country.

Wierzbicki is both a director-at-large on the UVSS board and one of two presidents of the ESS. He is not currently the acting president, though, due to the ESS’ administrative rotation policy to cover for students’ work terms — they have two sets of admin personnel that take it in turns running the society.

Wierzbicki acknowledged the breadth and severity of the problems that engineering froshes have faced, but said that a “culture change” has to begin somewhere. Replying to Szakacs’ question about how the board would make sure that an engineering frosh week would be safe for all involved, Wierzbicki personally committed to making sure that there would be no repeats of previous behaviour.

Third Space Controversy

Finally, the majority of question period was taken up by a heated back and forth between members of the Third Space, a collective on campus for all self-identified women and non-binary individuals, and the UVSS board.

As the controversy concerned confidential personnel issues, the exact details were difficult to elucidate. As a result, many of the questions asked by Third Space members were nonspecific and unclear.

The conflict arose specifically due to actions undertaken by the UVSS Personnel Committee; a closed committee comprised of UVSS board members and managers that is tasked with overseeing the management of UVSS staff and is meant to act as a staff liaison to the board of directors.  

Three UVSS lead directors had met with Third Space members and had disclosed contents of that meeting to the UVSS Personnel Committee. The Third Space argued that they had told the three lead directors during the meeting that the session was “in-camera” — meaning the contents were confidential and could not be talked about outside of the meeting (the Third Space now says this distinction was made at the beginning of the meeting; the UVSS maintains it was made halfway through). The UVSS countered that the Third Space had no legal right to an “in-camera” session and therefore the personnel committee was under no legal obligation to remain confidential.

Questions from the gallery and from Daphne Shaed, the Third Space representative on the board, were mainly regarding what they considered to be a moral failing of the board.

“[You] basically pretend and lie that you’re going to have our conversations in secret,” one onlooker said, asking, “is this what we should expect from you as a whole?”

Due to confidentiality concerns, there were no details given on what the UVSS and Third Space had been talking about, but Mackenzie Cumberland, director of finance and operations and member of the Personnel Committee, said that the UVSS felt they needed to discuss the matter outside of the Third Space meeting as part of their “fiduciary duty” to the 18 000 students at UVic.

This story has been updated to reflect the fact that three UVSS directors met with the Third Space and recounted the meeting to the UVSS Personnel Committee. We regret the error.

This story has also been updated to clarify a disagreement between the UVSS and the Third Space regarding the time at which the meeting’s confidentiality was discussed.