The report reveals recommendations for changes in UVSS governance structure just in time for student elections
With the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) student elections on the horizon, this month’s big event has hit the ground running with the release of a third-party governance review of the UVSS Board of Directors.
On March 8, 2022, the UVSS announced that it would be launching a governance review on its operations to tackle concerns communicated by student leaders and its members surrounding the framework of the UVSS Board of Directors. An independent third-party consultant, Cruz Advisors, was brought in to complete the review; looking at issues of representation, remuneration, and the workload of board members.
So what is the Board of Directors? This board consists of students who are democratically elected to lead certain UVSS projects. The Board currently consists of five lead directors, followed by 11 directors at large, one director of international student relations, and five advocacy group representatives (representing groups such as UVic Pride, the Students of Colour Collective, and the Native Students Union). The Board meets bi-weekly online to discuss issues and to give updates on their activities. These board meetings are open for anyone to join and watch.
The UVSS governance review involved the third party conducting interviews with previous and current members of the Board in order to determine the UVSS’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential challenges and solutions. Their findings also refer to previous reports Cruz Advisors has made for the Board, such as an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity (EDI) Assessment, and an Environmental Scan Report consisting of information about governance structures from other Canadian student organizations.
“While the intention of the recommendations is to be used as foundation for the UVSS’ governance structure, the final decision rests with the UVSS Board, as the highest governing body, to determine the direction the organization should head to,” states the governance review report.
The report outlines 10 major recommendations for the governance structure of the UVSS Board of Directors. One of the recommendations includes maintaining a faculty-based representation scheme to address concerns around one faculty “dominating” the Board.The report states that if the faculty-based composition does not work, that the UVSS should reduce the number of at-large Board members from 11 to seven, and appoint (instead of elect) them to faculties to represent. However, the report suggests that the UVSS should maintain the faculty-based representation model for at least two years in order to gather data and see what works.
For the upcoming election, the UVSS has added faculty director positions that students can run for in addition to the six existing lead director positions. This means they will represent the students in their faculty and assist the Board in the performance of their duties.
Another major recommendation includes “revitalizing” the election process. The report detailed that respondents found the student election campaign expectations too rigorous, and that the “election process is toxic.” It is suggested that the UVSS should institute a working group after the 2023 Elections & Referenda to evaluate and analyze their electoral policy. Additionally, the report determined that surveys should be conducted after elections to determine successes, what should be changed for the next election, and provide that information to the public to maintain transparency.
In terms of major changes involving memberships on the Board, the report suggests terminating the Director of International Student Relations position and removing the advocacy representatives from the Board. The reasoning given is that the advocacy groups are distinctive in that they are provided direct funding and space from the UVSS and are thus part of the organization’s operations; therefore they should be withdrawn as voting members on the Board. The report also states that it is not necessary to have an international student representing international students, and that lead directors should be supporting all undergraduate students, including international students.
The governance review was finalized and presented to the UVSS Board of Directors on Feb. 6, 2023. In the name of transparency, the Board has also made the information available to the public by uploading it to the UVSS website. In terms of what is in store for the future, it will be up to the succeeding UVSS Board of Directors to determine which recommendations to enact and how to implement them.
“It is our hope that in sharing the full UVSS governance review, our members feel our commitment to ensuring democratic participation and enhancing student experience,” says the UVSS website. “We also hope that this review will compel students to run for a position in the UVSS Board of Directors, in order to ensure that the UVSS has a clear direction forward.”