The AMS formed an ad hoc committee on electoral engagement in April to examine the issue of declining voter turnout rates in recent elections (an ad hoc committee being a limited-time project by the AMS). Even though the committee includes students-at-large, it is limited to an investigative role and only three students-at-large were selected to be on a committee of twelve.
The AMS might have an insularity issue when only three non-AMS-affiliated students are selected for a committee introducing recommendations to improve voter turnout for a population of 55,000 constituents
This problem stems from a recent inclination of AMS leadership to treat the student union more as a brand than as a representative organization. Instead of consulting students for input into decision-making processes, the AMS chooses to hire outside firms and utilize internal committees with limited involvement from students outside the organization.
For example: in 2014, the AMS introduced a new logo, which cost $8,000, to coincide with the opening of the Nest. Students in general were apathetic, though they were not keen to spend so much money on a logo. Seven years later, the AMS has hired a consulting firm, committing between $20,000 to $30,000 to update its branding guidelines.
Both times, students should have been consulted first to determine whether or not the funds allocated towards branding was worth the cost. At the end of the day, it is the students who pay AMS fees and foot the bill in these extraordinary projects of beautification.
When it appears that the AMS potentially cares more about the “brand of the organization as a whole” than the students it claims to represent, students who feel like the AMS does not work for them become indifferent.
As former Chief Electoral Officer Isabelle Ava-Pointon put it to me in a text message, “Student disengagement is a long-running problem ... to increase electoral participation is to rebuild students’ trust and interest in the AMS as an institution.”
The lack of student-at-large positions is not unique to the ad hoc committee on electoral engagement. The ad hoc committee on AMS Events Principles and Ethics only has one student-at-large position. Additionally, the ad hoc Fermentation Lab Committee to bring a microbrewery to campus has no student-at-large representatives. One would think that a university campus would be filled with students interested in bringing a microbrewery to campus, but their lack of representation says otherwise.
Increased student participation in the AMS must become a top priority. Ad hoc committees ought to have half of the membership from student-at-large positions, and this policy should be implemented in the AMS Internal Code. Current student-at-large membership comprising less than a quarter of committee memberships is unsustainable. Outside student voices should be properly consulted in ad hoc committees, and more opinions from those students ought to be recognized.
Additionally, the wider student population should be consulted through online surveys and non-binding public votes within those surveys prior to any major financial move the AMS makes. While non-binding, these votes will ensure that the AMS knows the wider student population’s position with the direction of the student union.
Every March, we are not voting for a brand — we are voting for a union. It is time AMS leadership began to recognize that fact.
Zack Crouch is a fourth-year history honours major specializing in American imperialism. You will often find him making lattes at Blue Chip or reading a variety of books for his thesis. Reach out to Zack for questions/comments on Twitter @zacharycrouch91.