Between the Motions: AMS Council speaker now allowed to bar individuals from Council

Last night, AMS Council met for the first time since President Esmé Decker’s leave of absence began.

Councillors approved an expansion of the speaker's powers, heard concerns over Decker's leave of absence and a presentation on student budget priorities.

Here’s what you might have missed.

New speaker's powers

Arts councillor and Governance Committee Chair Ayesha Irfan presented a code change that allows the speaker of council to bar individuals from attending one or more council meetings “for reasons of safety or if it is feared that such individuals will disrupt proceedings.” Councillors have the ability to appeal the ban of any individual.

Irfan explained that this code change would empower the speaker to ensure councillors feel safe in their positions, allowing business to continue.

Forestry councillor Gabriel Fischer-Schmidt said this code change could potentially hinder a student’s ability to voice their opinions.

Board of Governors member Eshana Bhangu spoke in support of the motion, echoing Irfan’s sentiments of safety and security. Due to some of the previous meetings this year, she said this is “not a bad option to have.”

Bhangu emphasized this code change would not hinder a student’s ability to speak out, as it is not a default option for speakers, but an extreme measure.

Medicine councillor Al Huuskonen raised concern around the vague phrasing of the code change, moving an amendment to take out the wording related to “disruption” and limit the reasons to safety.

The amendment failed and the original motion was later passed with 19 in favour and 5 against.

Student calls for limiting leave of absence lengths

Two weeks ago, Decker announced her leave of absence starting November 13 with no set return date. In her press release, she cited “personal and professional challenges” requiring her to step back from her role.

At the start of the meeting, student-at-large Brandyn Marx voiced their concern about the job posting and lack of election. The posting states that the length of employment will be from January 1 to April 30.

“We're here again staring down the barrel of another loaded leave of absence,” said Marx. They acknowledged the need for AMS executives to take time away from their positions when needed but said it should not come at the expense of the students’ right to elect a new representative.

“I would like to urge councillors to consider putting in code a limit on how long a leave of absence can be,” they said.

Marx said a leave of absence allows the AMS to choose a successor, whereas a resignation forces the AMS to hold a by-election. They noted the current structure may result in a discrepancy between who the AMS appoints as the new president versus who the student body favours.

Councillors had no response.

“I hope that silence and compliance are different in this scenario,” concluded Marx.

Councillors hear upcoming student priorities

VP Academic and University Affairs and acting President Kamil Kanji presented the Student Priorities for the 2024/25 UBC Operating Budget. These suggestions are submitted to UBC during its budget planning process annually.

The AMS' submission asks for higher funding for graduate students, mental health support and food security.

The submission included increases in PhD tuition awards, introducing minimum funding packages for masters students and expanding tuition awards for international students.

The AMS's requests for accessibility funding ask for additional full-time advisors for the Centre for Accessibility along with a more robust website to support student needs and combat unfamiliarity with the centre’s offerings.

As for affordability, the AMS is asking for an increased investment of 1.2 million dollars toward food security funding. Kanji said UBC has allocated approximately $800,000 annually in the last few years, but the increased ask is a reflection of the “severe and significant” food insecurity crisis.

The AMS is also asking for a proportional increase in the number of embedded counsellors available to students in each faculty. These counsellors tailor their wellbeing support to specific experiences that may be shared with students in the same faculty. Currently, the university offers a limited number of embedded counsellors, roughly equating one counsellor per faculty. Kanji said the inadequacy of this model, comparing the large number of students in the Faculty of Arts to the smaller number of students in the Faculty of Dentistry.

The AMS is also asking the university to explore the expansion of specialized counsellors to address the wide variety of student demographics, including international students and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.