Society will form working group, consult with students regarding changing board structure
Previously known for struggling with attendance, this year’s Oct. 28 University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) annual general meeting (AGM) saw a high level of student participation. Over 300 attendees joined the virtual AGM, some motivated by the prospect of altering the UVSS’ governance structure as we know it.
Initially, the AGM agenda only included one motion — to reduce referenda quorum. Engineering Students’ Society (ESS) vice president external Abdul Abuelazm introduced a motion to have directors-at-large (DaLs) elected primarily by faculty. Abuelazm was a UVSS director-at-large in 2020.
Although the motion passed with 83 per cent voting in favour, the UVSS won’t be moving ahead with the new DaL structure. They say the motion violates the B.C. Societies Act because it was not provided with sufficient notice. Instead, the board plans to engage with faculties and course unions across campus to begin a process of increasing representation from different disciplines.
The faculty representation motion
The motion was introduced by Abuelazm. It proposes changing UVSS bylaws to replace the current 11 DaL roles with two, and creates nine director roles that are elected by each of UVic’s undergraduate faculties.
The motion refers to how the majority of board members have historically been from the Faculty of Social Sciences. Of the 13 DaLs and lead directors who list their major on the UVSS website, 10 are studying social sciences.
“It’s a difficult organization to get involved with,” Abuelazm told the Martlet. “Looking at the type of representation I had, in my first few years on campus, I realized I never felt like the UVSS ever really spoke for me or spoke on my behalf or fought on my behalf.”
When Abuelazm brought forward the motion at the AGM, the meeting chair ruled it out of order since it had not been provided with the notice required under the BC Societies Act. The Societies Act is the provincial legislation that governs the UVSS. It requires societies to provide at least 21 days of notice of a general meeting and include the agenda in that notice.
Abuelazm challenged the chair and the motion was put on the agenda by a vote of attendees. Board members warned at the AGM that the motion violated the Societies Act.
At the AGM, DaL Kathleen Banville pointed out that most of the current board ran unopposed (including all the DaLs) and people from a range of faculties could have been on this board if they wanted to. Banville also suggested that structuring the board along faculty lines might limit representation of other forms of diversity. Abuelazm said that the motion was brought up last year to the board and has been heavily researched.
UVSS says motion is invalid
In the days since, the UVSS sought a second opinion from their lawyer. UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations Marran Dodds says they were told that they need to declare the motion invalid.
In a statement released Nov. 15, the UVSS declared that under sections 77 and 78 of the BC Societies Act, the motion was not legally added to the agenda and students were not given proper notice of the motion. For these reasons, the board has said it can’t move forward with implementing the motion.
The board says that students are allowed to add motions to the agenda but it must be done at least 21 days prior to the AGM and be presented in the form of a petition signed by at least one per cent of the student body (approximately 190 people) per UVic bylaw 4.6.
“It is clear that many students are passionate about UVSS governance, and if altering the structure of the board is something that students at large are interested in undertaking, we are certainly open to looking at ways to do so,” the board said in the statement.
The board has also said they will look at trying to make the electoral process more accessible for students from other faculties.
Is Dodds concerned students will view the move as anti-democratic?
“We’re expecting a diverse set of responses … but we hope that the way that our letter is set out and our reasoning behind it, that folks can understand that we’re trying to do this as democratically as possible,” she said. “Implementing [the motion] would be an infringement upon the rights of all other students in the students’ society that might have had something to say about this motion if they knew it was on the agenda.”
Though the board has declared the AGM motion invalid, they intend to pursue the intent of the proposal. Dodds says the board is forming a working group that will consult with course unions, faculties, and student groups across campus to assess whether students want a change in governance structure.
The next opportunity to change UVSS bylaws will be at their semi-annual general meeting in February. Dodds says that even if a change in UVSS governance structure was put into bylaws, implementing it would take a long time: changing UVic’s webvote system, which is how UVSS elections take place, would take a year.
Abuelazm originally brought this idea forward to the UVSS in 2020. At that time, then-Director of Outreach Sarina de Havelyn said the faculty-based approach would not work with UVic’s webvote system. Abuelazm said, prior to the release of the UVSS’s statement, that he hopes the board honours the motion and listens to students who would like to see themselves better represented by the UVSS.
“My personal response is I’ll definitely try to fight them on that,” he said. “With what the ESS is feeling and what other course unions are feeling from the interactions I’ve had, is we’re all just holding up hope that the UVSS does do the right thing and pushes this thing forward.”
Referenda quorum change voted down
The other main motion at the AGM aimed to change the quorum for referenda from 15 per cent to five per cent. Dodds, who brought forward the motion, moved instead to postpone it indefinitely, saying that she had received feedback from students and no longer felt it was necessarily the right time to pursue this.
The feedback included discussion on social media and an open letter from the Engineering Students’ Society.
“The motion looking to lower the referenda quorum (the minimum number of students required to vote on a referendum) from 15 per cent to five per cent is undemocratic and does not address the issues behind low voter turnout,” says the letter.
Instead of being indefinitely postponed, the motion was brought to a vote and defeated, with 86 per cent against — a similar outcome to had it been postponed indefinitely, but one that shows attendees’ opinions on the matter.
“Students at large didn’t want to see that go through … and that is totally okay,” said Dodds. “[By] motioning to postpone, essentially, I was expecting that outcome to happen regardless.”
Abuelazm, who also helped draft the open letter, said that his main takeaway from the AGM was the level of engagement by students and how important it is to have this moving forwards.
“Even people who are involved with good student governance can say our policy is boring,” he said. “All these motions, all this voting, all this procedure is a bit of a drag, but I’m just so happy that people are getting up there and getting their votes in and just making sure that student engagement continues from now on.”