AMS hopes virtual format will save years of poor annual general meeting turnout

After years of poor turnout at its annual general meeting, the AMS is hoping for better turnout at this year’s virtual meeting.

The society hasn’t reached quorum at its annual general meeting (AGM) in the recent past. But AMS President Cole Evans hopes that this year’s virtual format could help.

The AGM is expected to be held using a video conferencing tool such as Zoom, the exact details of which the AMS said will be communicated to students by email. Evans expressed confidence that the opportunity to attend the AGM from home would drive more students to attend the meeting, in addition to proposed bylaw changes and gift card giveaways.

“This year, we are pretty confident that we are going to be able to make a good attempt at hitting quorum,” he said.

Max Holmes, a student Board of Governors representative, attributed poor turnout at AGMs to the ineffective marketing campaigns by the AMS executive team. Evans mentioned that past efforts to promote the AGM relied primarily on “barebones marketing,” intended only to check off policy requirements.

“It’s not a structural barrier, it’s a failure of engagement,” Holmes said at AMS Council on September 30. “The AMS has run horrible, horrible ‘yes’ campaigns for these referendums.”

So, what’s the AMS’s strategy this year?

While continuing to advertise the AGM on the AMS website, Evans said the AMS is emphasizing student engagement on social media platforms.

“We’re going to try and promote it a lot more like it’s an actual event that people can show up to and people will enthusiastically want to join,” said Evans.

Since the pandemic has limited social interaction among students, Evans said the event will provide an opportunity for students not just to engage in the meeting but also to feel connected to other UBC students.

The AMS must reach quorum at the AGM — either 500 people or one per cent of its membership, whichever is greater — to consider any motions. This includes proposed bylaw changes this year that have failed to pass referendums three times due to a lack of a quorate number of votes.

Holmes had pointed out at Council that lack of information about the bylaws given to the student community was a prime reason for failure to reach quorum.

Evans mentioned that AMS will distribute better materials in advance of this year’s meeting explaining the rationale behind the proposed bylaw changes. Since students will be able to register for the event in advance, the AMS can send bylaw change details directly to attendees via email.

In the past, changes to the AMS records policy that would allow the society to designate certain files confidential that the AMS deems harmful drew controversy.

Evans said the AMS has always been committed to transparency and added that efforts have been taken to present the bylaw changes in simple and clear terms.

He said that bringing bylaw changes to an AGM rather than a referendum will provide an opportunity for students to interact directly with the AMS over questions about the bylaw changes.

However, Holmes and student senator Alex Gonzalez, among other councillors, called the changes “unethical.” The reason for the concern is that passing bylaws through referendum requires much larger student turnout to pass compared to AGMs. Proposing bylaw changes at an AGM rather than through referendum provides a way to bypass the typical referendum process.

“The AMS already has a bad reputation with students and decisions like this are the reason why,” Gonzalez said at an October 7 Council meeting.

If this year’s AGM fails to hit quorum yet again, Evans said in an interview that bylaw changes will no longer come to AGMs.

“If we do not hit the quorum, unfortunately, we won’t be presenting the bylaws at AGM anymore because we aren’t allowed to as per our bylaws,” said Evans.

He clarified in a message to The Ubyssey that “if we try this hard to hit quorum and still don’t reach it, I can’t imagine we’ll be trying again [to reach quorum]” — and without quorum, bylaw changes can’t be considered at AGMs.

This article was updated to include follow-up comment from Cole Evans.