Second AMS restructuring cuts over 24 years of managerial experience

In early September, three managerial positions were removed as part of an operational restructuring that cut more than 24 years of AMS experience, including the position most closely responsible for overseeing executive actions. Since then, multiple people have reached out to The Ubyssey to voice their concerns, both anonymously and on-record.

Three people no longer work as staff within the AMS — Daniel Levangie, former senior student services manager; Anna Hilliar, former programming and events manager; and Tessie Sy, an assistant manager in the conference and catering department.

“[There] was a necessity for some restructuring of our organizational chart and reporting structure,” said AMS President Ava Nasiri on the reasoning behind the restructuring.

She did not elaborate on the specific changes that this year’s executive felt needed to be made after the original restructuring, but did note that they were not influenced by performance or financial need. However, as part of the original restructuring, Levangie's role was tweaked — Nasiri noted that if his new position was “not working out,” the executives would not be “completely opposed to potentially changing that in the future.”

Nasiri said that the review was to be conducted in two stages to “maintain stability” within the AMS, while Bailey notes that last year’s exec completed it in one stage to “avoid … creating additional instability.”

This restructuring was the second of two, the first of which took effect in mid-April. Previous to that, a restructuring within the AMS had not been done since 1994. The first took place as a result of more than two years of planning and an external governance review conducted by the consulting firm MNP.

One phase or two?

One of the core recommendations of MNP’s report focused on aligning the AMS’s business and governance operations to create a greater coherence of the student society as a whole. The last two presidents had different ideas of how that recommendation would be implemented.

Screenshot via AMS governance review

“Early on this year, we decided not to do all of the restructuring in one go, but rather to break it off into phases in order to allow us to … make the most well-thought out decisions as we could — but also in order to maintain a stability within our organizational structure,” said Nasiri.

But Aaron Bailey, last year’s AMS president, said that to his understanding, the plan was to complete the restructuring entirely in one phase during his tenure as executive — the year that Nasiri served as VP Administration.

“We opted to restructure in one step to avoid prolonging the process and creating additional instability within the organization,” he said in a written statement.

“The intended structure was to have a managing director, with a senior manager business operations and senior manager student services reporting to them, as outlined in the MNP governance review report,” said Bailey.

Screenshot via AMS governance review

Instead, the senior manager of student services — Daniel Levangie’s former position — was cut, in the biggest change in overall AMS reporting structure from the secondary restructuring.

The communications and events departments, both of which reported to Levangie, will be combined over the next two months and now report to Keith Hester, the AMS’s managing director.

“I don't think Aaron [Bailey] and ... the team at that time had enough foresight to be able to say like this is the be-all and end-all and there should be no changes after this. You can't necessarily say, ‘We're going to make these changes and this is exactly what the outcome is going to be like,’” said Nasiri in response to Bailey.

Which positions were cut, and why?

Bailey and Jenna Omassi, last year’s VP Academic, feel that the previous restructuring already “[redrew] the organizational structure and reporting lines,” as MNP suggested in the review. So why were these three positions removed?

Senior manager of student services (Daniel Levangie)

Levangie had been with the AMS since March 2014, working closely underneath Hester. His role was widely varied and included the following responsibilities:

  • Managing the AMS archivist
  • Managing the AMS Communications team
  • Managing the AMS Events team
  • Managing the AMS Services team
  • Managing the student services manager (a role responsible for overseeing all of the services that AMS provides for students, including Vice and Safewalk)
  • Overseeing the manager of the Sexual Assault Support Centre
  • Managing the policy advisor
  • Working closely with executives to provide oversight, guidance and support
  • Transitioning new executives and student staff into their roles, and working with them on goal-setting
  • Working with the university in a de facto capacity to ensure good relations, due to the number of responsibilities the position held

Levangie was widely beloved in the AMS, and was often relied upon for advice and guidance. Bailey speaks highly of him, noting that he “learn[ed] a ton from him and he was a huge asset to me in my role [as president].”

In an effort to streamline the business and governance sides of the AMS, according to Nasiri, Levangie's responsibilities now fall to the managing director.

Programming and events manager (Anna Hilliar)

Hilliar was responsible for overseeing and managing the entire AMS Events department.

According to Nasiri, her position was cut in an attempt to maximize efficiency between the conception of programming ideas and the carrying-out of those ideas by Craig Levito, the AMS’s operations manager, and the newly-created position of events coordinator.

Nasiri hopes to hire someone for this position in January — likely a recently graduated student — to take on this “hybrid role” with the responsibilities of Hilliar and the assistant events coordinator, Asad Ali. The new role will be called the “events coordinator.”

The restructuring will also have the effect, in Nasiri’s opinion, of making the communications department “more prominen[t]” by folding the AMS Events portfolio into it and ensuring that the department reports directly to the managing director.

Hilliar was also in charge of organizing Block Party. With her position gone, that task falls to Ali, but will be taken up in January by the events coordinator.

One of the main issues that made last year’s Block Party a financial disaster was a shortened planning timeline — ideally, discussions begin early in the academic year, whereas 2016’s Block Party began planning several months later than that, in late 2015. Although this year’s budget has already been approved, the AMS is still undecided as to where to host the event.

Assistant conference and catering manager (Tessie Sy)

Sy was an assistant manager in the AMS’s Conference and Catering department, with a significant role in bookings, and had worked in the society for almost 17 years. According to Nasiri, her position was cut because the AMS is now focusing on external sales, rather than on renting out space to external companies that would use catering services.

Nasiri also noted that often external jobs brought in through Conference and Catering would take up rooms that students could have otherwise booked — something that the AMS is trying to turn away from.

“There is no longer as much work for that position to do,” said Nasiri.

I thought we had been in line with the governance review and what we were doing. So I thought that we had reached a place where ... a cohesive society could move forward.

— Jenna Omassi, AMS VP Academic 2015/16

Out of the blue

In an interview with The Ubyssey, Nasiri stated that her understanding of phase one was that it would follow a process of “see how it goes, see what further changes are necessary and then accumulate those, analyze them … and then carry out a phase two.”

According to a previous AMS executive who wishes to remain anonymous, however, executives were told to let staff know that the first phase would be the only round of cuts.

“Phase two was [the current executive committee's] idea, but it wasn't completely ruled out” last year, said Nasiri.

An email from Bailey to all AMS employees that came after the first restructuring does not mention the potentiality of a second phase.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge) .

When asked to comment on the concerns Bailey raised, Nasiri said, “A lot of this was at the end of Aaron's term, and he wasn't around to see the effects of those changes were.

“He didn't even look into what the spirit or the motivation was behind phase two ... so obviously his perspective is very much centred around the time that he was involved,” she said.

When asked whether she anticipated that a second round of position cuts was on the table, Omassi said that, in her opinion, “I thought that we had been in line with the governance review and what we were doing [with our first round of changes]. I didn’t necessarily think that this year’s executive would have to make any changes following that.”

“A lot of this direction was given from the governance review and our understanding of the governance review,” said Nasiri. “You can't necessarily directly consult someone when you are considering getting rid of their position. It's a very sensitive topic.”

Since she was not in the office when the second phase was implemented, Hilliar was notified that her position would be cut via a phone call while she was on vacation.

Who reports to whom?

While the changes are intended to lead to greater ties between the business and governance halves of the AMS, the reporting structure of employees is now changed such that several employees are now reporting to different positions, mostly due to the position of senior manager student services being cut. For example, Student Services Manager Hussam Zbeeb used to report to Levangie, but will now report to the AMS's Managing Director, Keith Hester, directly.

Confidentiality

The AMS has not made the governance review public, as MNP’s contract with the society notes that the final review cannot be published in order to keep the firm's specific reviewing strategies from competitors and potential clientele.

However, according to Nasiri, “any student on this campus paying AMS fees has the absolute right, and is totally welcome to stop by and take a look at the governance review” — a fact that has not been widely publicized by the AMS.

The Ubyssey has been provided a copy by an anonymous source, but has chosen not to publish it since MNP could realistically sue the AMS for leaking it, costing students money in the end. As such, students are also able to view the report in our office — room 2208 in the Nest. We will continue to report on the review and the ongoing process of its implementation.

The review goes in-depth about the deficiencies and confusion surrounding AMS oversight, objectives and reporting structure, and details a number of proposed changes to solve them — all of which have been accepted by Council, but not all of which have been implemented as of yet.

The final round

“Phase two” of the restructuring signifies a wider shift towards a more closely linked governance and business sides of the AMS, although at the cost of years of experience and three employees, including a guiding figure for current and future executives in Levangie.

One of the main reasons for the original restructuring was reduction of financial overhead, but Nasiri said that the “phase two” staff cuts were solely about streamlining.

"There isn’t a huge difference [financially]. There is a small difference, but I wouldn’t call it overly significantly, but the efficiency that results is huge," she said.

According to Nasiri, this “phase two” will be the “final completion phase” — but she also noted that she can’t guarantee that there won’t be future changes once the AMS looks at how the recent changes have affected structure.

-With files from Sruthi Tadepalli