AMS releases previously secret minutes, documents on reversed SASC’s support services cut

The AMS has released a 22-page document that provides updates and information regarding the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC), almost a month after the society announced its now-reversed decision to cut the centre’s support services.

The document was initially planned to act as a recap of the July 5 AMS town hall’s minutes, including unanswered questions from that meeting and SASC’s financial information.

But it has now been expanded to include the minutes of a closed session that took place during the June 20 AMS Council meeting, in which the society’s executives informed Council about the now-reversed decision to SASC’s support services — as well as the benefits and challenges of making SASC an independent society.

“The Town Hall Meeting was an important step toward transparency, clarity, and a robust dialogue between the AMS and our members on this issue,” reads the document.

“This document is our next step.”

Minutes from June 20 closed meeting

Following hours of debate and another closed session, AMS Council voted on July 11 to authorize” the executives to release meeting minutes, but the scope of what gets published is determined by the executives themselves. Law Councillor Dylan Braam also noted that Council could vote to release the minutes in their entirety at their August 1 meeting, if the executives failed to do so.

According to AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Max Holmes, this document includes the “full and unedited version of in-camera minutes.”

These notes point to a rocky relationship between the AMS and SASC, where “SASC has been going through bumps, especially with turnover of staff.” In particular, SASC has been without a manager since the beginning of April and the position of coordinator has also been vacant, putting a high degree of stress on the SASC team.

“We had a giant list of managerial duties that we divided during the summer that was sent to the AMS,” said SASC support worker Nazanin Moghadami. “But no one so far has been compensated for that.”

Among the managerial and coordinating duties are being “on call” for survivors who need immediate support outside of SASC operating hours. Support worker Lindsay Cucins said that fielding those tasks “put a lot of extra pressure on the staff.”

The minutes highlight “the volatility of SASC,” as something that led to this change. But SASC workers said the recent turnover is due to mismanagement on the part of the AMS, pointing out that that they did not search to hire a SASC coordinator or regulate conflict between SASC and a previous manager.

The minutes also indicate that the ending of SASC’s support services had “been an issue from previous Executive teams which has led to this change.”

In a June 22 interview with The Ubyssey, Holmes stated that the decision “had been discussed with past SASC managers” and that it was the current executive’s decision.

During the town hall, the AMS executives indicated that the decision was underway before they even came into office.

One councillor appeared to have called for a “legal contract with UBC in regards to SVPRO,” due to concerns about the “stability and continuity of the resources of SVPRO” — but the minutes do not detail where that discussion went.

The minutes confirm that a Council vote would have been required to change SASC’s mandate under AMS Code — something that AMS communications did not express to the public. The AMS did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.

Overall, Braam said that he is appreciative for the document and thinks the information released is “adequate,” with “no glaring omissions.”

“I think putting it to context works so that members of the AMS have the whole story… with all the thought processes that led to this,” said Braam.

SASC as a separate society?

The document also discusses the benefits and challenges of giving SASC more independence. Along with being brought up in the AMS Resource Groups’ July 4 open letter, this was also a topic of discussion between SASC staff and the AMS in their first meeting following the June 25 reversal of the cut to the centre’s support services.

One solution is to transition SASC toward a being an independent society, similar to the CiTR’s structure.

In this case, the centre would operate separately from the AMS, but would still be able to “provide support, advocacy, education and outreach services to AMS members” via a service contract. SASC would also be able to employ its own staff and form its own board with distinct codes and bylaws from the AMS.

The document also points out that since the society has previously went through a similar separation with CiTR, this case could be served as a “useful roadmap.”

On the other hand, it notes that it would be “complex” to both create and maintain a new society. For instance, the document says that not only would it be “costly and time consuming” to become a separate society, SASC would also have to consider the creation and maintenance by-laws, board of directors personnel, annual corporate requirements as well as how the AMS fits into these aspects.

While CiTR Station Manager Ana Rose Carrico could not speak to the process of creating an independent society for CiTR in the 1980s, she indicated that the maintenance aspect for the radio station has been manageable.

“It’s more of a mental real estate eater, you have to think about it a lot — but as far as sitting down and getting it done, it doesn’t take that long,” said Carrico about annual corporate requirements like filing taxes and holding annual meetings.

She also noted that it has been “helpful” to have AMS members on CiTR Board of Directors as well as frequent communication between the two societies.

Programming Director Madeline Taylor added that SASC could reach out to external organizations like how CiTR is supported by the National Campus Radio Organization, while acknowledging that the radio station’s structure can be quite different from that of the support centre.

“So there are a lot of resources and support structures that exist outside of our organizations that provide road maps for what we might need help on or in terms of developing policy or navigating any kind of issues, even around things like finance,” Taylor said.

“So I’m sure that there are similar organizations that SASC could reach out to and model themselves after.”

Additionally, there are also concerns in the documents about “finances, insurance and allocation of risks” between the AMS and SASC, if the centre were to become an independent society.

For instance, an independent SASC society would still be financed by the SASC Fund, which currently charges $3.63 per AMS community members — but this is already considered to be unsustainable by the AMS executives.

“... in order for SASC Society to be able to function with all its functions, a fee change of more than double that of the amount charged currently would have to be successful with the entire AMS membership,” the document reads.

Overall, this section cautions that this is just a preliminary discussion.

“As such, it is not conclusive of the many considerations that will have to be factored in the creation,” reads the document. “Further exploration will need to be conducted for any option that is ultimately chosen.”

SASC’s financial sustainability

The AMS have also become more vocal with concerns about SASC’s financial sustainability during and after the July 5 town hall meeting.

Hamid indicated in a June 22 interview with The Ubyssey that the centre’s support services were being cut “to focus SASC on advocacy and outreach.” Financial concerns were also not mentioned in the public statement about the cut that was released on the same day by the AMS.

But at the town hall, the Hamid said SASC “wasn’t sustainable.”

In an interview with The Ubyssey this April, AMS VP Finance Kuol Akbeucheny said that SASC was not in any immediate financial danger, saying “Right now, we’re okay.” Later, at the July 5 town hall, he called the centre “unsustainable.”

Currently, SASC is funded by a $3.63 fee paid by all AMS community members, a fund that totalled $180,173 last year. In the July 11 presentation to AMS Council, Akbeucheny stated that SASC’s total expenses were $310,165, exceeding its $ 276,984 budget by $33,181.

But while SASC’s financial situation was not bright, it also was not unexpected. The increase in operating costs was the result of hour extensions that came after a partnership with UBC hospital in February 2017.

In March 2018, the AMS also proposed a referendum to double SASC’s fee — but this was bundled with a broad fee restructuring that could have put funding for resource groups on campus in limbo every three years.

“They [the resource groups] did not even know we were campaigning against SASC,” said Social Justice Centre Co-Chair Jacob Fischer-Schmidt during the July 5 town hall. The referendum eventually failed to meet quorum.

What’s next?

The document outlines action items that the AMS “is taking immediately” to repair its relationship with SASC and community members, which mainly focus on improving their communications and ensuring their representation during decision-making processes.

[''] Screenshot from the document

The document states that the society is carrying out the promise it made following the reversal to liaise more regularly with SASC. As hiring for unfilled positions within the Centre is underway, Hamid and SASC have also both indicated that a collective agreement is in the works after SASC joined the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in February 2018.

Efforts to resolve SASC’s financial troubles are also on the horizon. AMS Council has already mentioned the prospect of a new ‘exclusive’ referendum to double SASC’s fee next year.

“These actions, however, are just the beginning of what we want to accomplish this year,” reads the document.

“We are committed to continually updating our community and disseminating information about our progress throughout this year.”