This year, the AMS underwent a review of its governance system, which evaluated the effectiveness of its structure — particularly the roles of executives and Council — as well as the society’s accountability and how well it represents students.
This was the first major governance review since 1994.
The review board recommended changes to how the AMS handles its businesses, improvements to the Council’s efficiency as well as how it represents students and reforms in how it keeps execs accountable.
AMS Council discussed the governance review report and all its recommendations in camera. Aaron Bailey, AMS president, said discussion was closed because the report is the intellectual property of the firm that conducted the review and could not be made public, although all members of the AMS can access the report in the AMS offices. Ultimately council accepted all the recommendations, which means that they have made a commitment to explore ways to implement the changes.
The Ubyssey broke down some of the bigger changes.
This year has been troublesome for AMS businesses. Perch, the high-end restaurant on the fourth floor of the Nest, closed in February because of its poor financial state. The general manager, Ross Horton, resigned less than a month later.
The governance review concluded that the AMS’s Advisory Board for Business and Administration (ABBA), which oversees the society’s business operations, had an unclear role. It also noted that to whom the general manager should report is ill-defined and that members of ABBA are not well-qualified.
Bailey explained that these are consequences of a shift within the society years ago that removed students’ authority over the AMS’s businesses, currently bringing a revenue of $1.2 million.
“At the time, there was a belief that we don't have the acumen as 18- to 22-year-olds to run the scale of operation that we have,” said Bailey. While the VP Finance is currently responsible for the AMS’s budget, they have no control over how businesses impact it.
“If you imagine businesses and services as a pendulum, the pendulum was swung all the way away from students being in charge,” Bailey explained. “ABBA was created and originally there was an intention that the general manager would pseudo-report to ABBA and they would actually govern the businesses.”
The review, however, found that businesses had lost touch with what students wanted because of this organizational shift, according to Bailey. The review board recommended that the VP Finance become permanent chair of ABBA and oversee businesses directly.
Council, the AMS's governing body, was found by the report to be “too large to be fully effective.” But at the same time, the review board identified a concern that “some groups on campus are not appropriately represented on Council.”
While there are over 50 councillors now, Bailey believes that “identities of people are lacking representation.”
Councillors are elected through faculties, but Bailey noted that of students who responded to the review board’s survey, only a third said they identify with their faculties. As a result, the review board recommended to reduce the size of Council, but give councillors an additional role to serve as “officers” for certain groups, including Indigenous students or LGBTQ+ students. Officer positions would be determined by Council next year.
“I think that representation comes with power of knowledge and the power of opinionated councillors,” said Ava Nasiri, VP Administration and Bailey’s successor as AMS president. She pointed out that a large council contributes to individuals feeling less directly responsible.
Nasiri said she plans to address the finding that councillors do not understand their roles by continuing the one-day training program for councillors that takes place mid-May. She emphasized the need to make councillors feel connected to their roles.
“Welcoming these new councillors and making sure that they feel a sense of belonging is important for them to then be invested in telling us what their thoughts are as we set strategic plans and work together on outlining our goals and priorities for the year to come,” said Nasiri.
It was also recommended that councillors’ terms be expanded to two years, which Council adopted.
The Oversight Committee’s mandate is to keep the executives accountable for achieving the goals they set for themselves each year — they keep track of the execs’ progress throughout the year and ultimately approve whether the execs are to receive a $5,000 bonus upon completing their goals.
Bailey said this system hasn’t been functioning well.
“Your peers and your fellow councillors are the ones controlling your money — [it’s a] very gross situation,” said Bailey.
The review board found that members of the AMS think that the executives do not communicate their goals, their activities to their stakeholders well nor that their portfolios do not represent the needs of the society or distribute work well. They also concluded that the Oversight Committee does not actually influence the executives successfully.
The review recommends that the AMS remove the Oversight Committee and have the human recourses department facilitate annual self and peer-evaluations instead.
“If you have the input, buy-in and interest of AMS council in the goals of the executives, there is a vested interests in following exactly how those goals are laid out and achieved,” said Nasiri. “I think there can be a natural reluctance to fail on part of the executive in such a public manner, but also a natural oversight from councillors that are aware and in-tune with what the executive are aiming to achieve.”