Last Words: AMS Council is not ‘a Board’

At a somewhat disorganized Council meeting this past Wednesday, AMS President Marium Hamid intervened to remind councillors of their responsibility as “the Board of the society.”

Keeping Council engaged has been a common problem for the AMS. Former President Aaron Bailey is rumoured to have started a tradition of colouring a single word in each set of Council documents blue, promising that the councillor careful enough to read through it all and find the coloured word would get a prize.

He was thwarted, eventually, by a councillor in computer programming who built a program to find the coloured word.

But if Hamid wants a more engaged Council, it might be worth remembering that they are not — and should not be — a Board.

Most corporate board members are appointed on the basis of patronage and rarely connect with or consult the shareholders who are the basis of their business. In corporate settings, shareholders and board members almost always follow the lead set by unelected executives: an excess of 95 per cent of board motions in Canada and the US are passed.

The AMS is a non-profit society whose councillors and executives are elected for and by the students. While the executives might have the most firsthand knowledge of society operations, Council plays an integral role in balancing this with the interest and wellbeing of their constituents.

It doesn’t always perform this task. Your average Council session undergoes precious little debate. From our handy vantage point at the back of the chamber, we see more screens set to Facebook than the docket.

This can have serious consequences. Earlier this summer, Council sat back and almost allowed the executive to defund the Sexual Assault Support Centre. Part of this mentality may be because by seeing themselves as “a board,” Council is under the impression their job is to be the rubber-stamp rather than actively shape the decisions of the society.

To give credit where credit is due, many councillors have recently risen well beyond their role. Law councilor Dylan Braam has been a frequent voice of prudence on Council and has been willing to challenge the executive when appropriate. Muse Greenwood from the School of Theology and Andy Wu from arts have also frequently stepped up the plate to debate and guide discussions on Council. But the majority of councillors may well pass their term without making a single motion.

If Council wants to really be a Council — and not a Board — it should remember that it can and should provide more than just oversight. And the Executives should remember that Council is never obligated to follow their lead.