Sam Wall | News Editor
On Wednesday, March 22nd, the Northern Undergraduate Student Society hosted their Extraordinary General Meeting in the NUSC event space. The meeting was called due to a variety of concerning issues that were brought up at the NUGSS Annual General Meeting this past October, including the society’s debt, potential closure of the Thirsty Moose Pub, and decreased funding for Student Led Organizations (Clubs). As well, NUGSS put forth a motion to restructure their Board, and two students answered questions about a potential Oversight Board for NUGSS. The meeting brought passionate student engagement from across campus, with several students actively making comments and asking questions over the course of the long meeting.
With the NUSC space filled with over 100 undergraduate students and other interested parties, NUGSS sat on a panel facing the audience. After calling the meeting to order, approving the agenda, and an acknowledgement of the Lheidli T’enneh territory that we occupy, the Board began by addressing the recommendation to retain KPMG as financial auditor into the 2016/2017 fiscal year, which was passed. General Manager Duncan Malkinson then gave a presentation on the current budget of NUGSS, showing that the Thirsty Moose is bringing in less revenue than last year, while Degrees is bringing in more. As well, funding for the Monetary Affairs Commission (MAC) has been reduced, as was indicated at the most recent AGM in October. Revenue for the health and dental plan is higher than expenses, and the excess will be kept in a separate fund; previously it was funneled into the general fund, which created a cash crunch and contributed to financial troubles.
As well, NUGSS owed $134,000 to the City of Prince George to pay for last three years of student UPASS. UNBC helped pay that debt by contributing $108,000, and NUGSS paid the rest in November. NUGSS plans to pay $27,000 each year into the future until the $108,000 is paid back to the university. The NUGSS Board has also created a five year plan in an attempt to run a more sustainable and accountable student society. Ultimately, as cash flows in and out of the student society, there are areas where NUGSS is below budget, and areas where they are beyond the budget, but Malkinson predicts that the budget will balance by the end of the academic year. Malkinson acknowledged that the current finances are fragile, but was confident that the society will be moving towards more positive outcomes as they look for more ways to balance the budget.
Once the financial presentation was approved, NUGSS President Arctica Cunningham directed the meeting to the next motion: an amendment to the bylaw to change the structure of the Board. This amendment would see the Board member positions go from 11 to 8, meaning that each of the positions would be more specific, while staff and volunteers help to take on some of the remaining tasks. Positions that will be removed include the Associate Director of Events and the Associate Director of Communications. As well, the tasks of the Vice President Social will be reduced and combined with the Academic Representative to create a position called the Director of Student Affairs. The structure would also change from a hierarchy of executive directors and associate directors to equal directors of the society to better reflect the way the society functions. Cunningham stated that they would not be changing the way they govern, but changing it to better reflect what each position actually looks like. These changes would save the society $8500 each year in honoraria. Because there were several changes that needed to be made to the bylaws that would not make sense without each other, this motion was passed by the general membership without opposition as a block motion.
Next on the agenda, Sustainability Representative Raychill Snider announced that on March 20th and 21st there would be a referendum to decide whether undergraduate students would be in favor of a $6.50 raise to student fees that would go directly to the Thirsty Moose Pub. The fee would be required each year, first to give management more time to create sustainable business plan, and then to create a contingency plan for the pub. As this fee would only apply to undergraduate students, and not the many others who use the pub, a discount for students may be developed, and/or a voluntary fee for staff and faculty to help contribute. One concern is that 25% of students paying the fee are under the age of 19, and would not benefit. Cunningham mentioned that all students can order take out food, and students on the meal plan can use their flex dollars on that food. As well, SLOs host fundraising events at the pub, which benefit the entire student body. If the pub referendum fails, then NUGSS will continue to explore leasing options for the fall of 2017, possibly resulting in the closure of the pub. For more information on the implications of the referendum, consider attending the Q&A session on March 17th.
Finally, the meeting came to a more a contentious issue: a suggested bylaw change to create an Oversight Board for the NUGSS Board. The idea was to have a Board of five students who would meet monthly to review the Director’s Reports of NUGSS Board members. These reports detail what work each member completed for the month, so that they can qualify for their honorarium. The bylaw changes were proposed by UNBC students Chris King and Erik Searle, who created a facebook group to build backing for their idea. Because the signing authorities for the NUGSS Board are part of the Board, and it is up to other Board members to address any issues around work or payment, King and Searle see this as a conflict of interest. The Oversight Board would also focus on building student engagement by advertising the monthly meetings. Even the NUGSS Board was divided on this issue, so they decided to let a Director address either side of the issue. As well, VP Internal Ana Saenz so deeply disagreed with the Oversight Board motion and the perceived treatment of NUGSS in general that she chose to leave her position, and advocate against the motion as a general member.
Raychill Snider took the position in favour of the Oversight Board, while AD Events David Schroeter represented those not in favour. Snider further elaborated on her position, saying that NUGSS has too much concentrated power, and the Oversight Board would ensure student input in an interim process that can be improved over time. Schroeter posited that NUGSS already has a series of checks and balances, and that the Oversight Board would be an unnecessary cost. King and Searle gave a presentation on the motion, before the floor was open to the general membership to ask questions. Undergraduate student Seth Jex even created a list of nine issues with the proposed bylaw, indicating that passing it in its current state would be risky. Jex ultimately motioned to table the bylaw change until the next NUGSS AGM, which would likely be in October or November. In order for a bylaw to be passed, there must be 75% agreement among the general members in attendance. The motion proposed by Jex was rejected. Finally, it came to the decision of whether or not to implement an Oversight Board. By a small margin, the bylaw change was rejected. Though those in favour of the bylaw were the majority, they did not reach the 75% majority. Therefore, the motion was did not pass.
After the EGM concluded, Over the Edge connected with Erik Searle, Chris King, Ana Saenz, and Seth Jex to get their opinions on the events of the Oversight Board debate. Searle said “I think it was really quite a positive debate. We had a lot more input from students on this issue than we’ve seen at any AGM on any issue for years. Obviously, we’re disappointed that it didn’t go through. I think students raised a lot of really good concerns and I hope that we can move forward to find a solution to this in the future that works for everybody.” King added “I was just really glad at how many people showed up and were willing to actually talk. Even at the last AGM that we had, where everybody was talking about financial problems, we didn’t have this many people discussing that and that was a huge deal. So the fact that enough people cared about this to have an hour and a half debate was really encouraging. Really, what we’re trying to do here is build student engagement. I think even though our motion didn’t pass we still accomplished that.” When asked about the possibility of bringing the motion to the next AGM, Searle and King indicated they needed time to weigh their options. At the same time, they acknowledged some of the issues brought up about their motion, and indicated they would be open to amending it.
Ana Saenz expressed her concern about the motion: “I think it was a very productive discussion, but I was personally saddened that NUGSS has come to this, that we see such division when we could be talking about more productive things. Moving forward, the reason why I’m so opposed to this is because I don’t want to just push this Board and expect them to fix everything. There’s many structural problems at NUGSS, there’s many things that need to be addressed. More engagement and more participation is very necessary, but there’s other ways of doing it that don’t require this vertical model that is just going to be more damaging.” Seth Jex was optimistic, saying “I think it [the Oversight Board debate] shows a lot of student engagement and interest in having an oversight committee that holds NUGSS responsible and keeps open transparency and I’m 100% in support of that. If you listen to a lot of my arguments that happened during the discussion of this motion, they were targeted around the particular writing of this policy. There were a lot of gaps and legal obligations that were left amiss in the current writing of the bylaw. I think it needs revision, I think it needs to acknowledge those sorts of gaps that it leaves, and then it possibly will be a viable bylaw coming in the next AGM.” Jex also stated he is open to working with Searle and King “to present something that is more moderate and that has better written policy and better safeguards.” Though the deliberations went for over an hour, and the motion was ultimately overturned, the concept of the Oversight Board was a contentious one for students.