Council rushes to approve survey

A hastily called meeting of the Students’ Administrative Council saw councillors approve $5,000 for a survey of its members. Some councillors were left in the dark by the short notice given by MASU’s executives. The event has thrown ambiguities in the bylaws, concerning the ability to call special Students’ Administrative Council meetings, into sharp relief.

Council met to approve spending $5,000 for a contractor to conduct an “academic experience survey” of its members. The project set to run between Feb. 1 and 14, is the brainchild of Kyle Nimmrichter, MASU’s vice-president academic. Nimmrichter said that MASU could not have waited until January to contract the services of Common Metric.

At the meeting, Nimmrichter outlined the issues on which the survey will collect data, some of which included campus safety, quality of professors and teaching assistants, academic program design, and mental and physical health.

Nimmrichter emphasized why he felt having MASU-owned data on these topics representing the student body was important. “Our hope is that that will motivate the administration to take our requests on behalf of students more seriously,” said Nimmrichter.

Following the presentation, Nimmrichter proposed to pay the firm Common Metric $5,000 to conduct the survey. The 19 councillors present at the meeting voted unanimously in favour.

The money represents a small portion of MASU’s $1.3M annual expenses, but it is not clear from MASU’s bylaws if the meeting was in fact legitimate, and some councillors seem confused by grammatical ambiguities and procedural issues.

It is open to question whether MASU’s constitution or bylaws allow for the organization’s president to call a meeting rather than call for a meeting. The first section of “Law I – Meetings of the Union” states, “The Chair of the Students’ Administrative Council shall call and chair all meetings of the MASU.” SAC chairperson John Nuttall, however, was unaware that the meeting was taking place.

Some councillors pointed to “Law II – The Students’ Administrative Council” section six as a reason the president could call a meeting without the chairperson’s approval. The section reads: “Special circumstances requiring immediate action shall empower the President to have a meeting called without having posted notice or agenda for twenty-four (24) hours.”

The article does not stipulate who calls this meeting to order, only that the president can have a meeting called. The first section of the bylaw says the chair would call the meeting to order, but the chair was absent for the meeting in question.

President Heather Webster called the meeting through an email that went out to council with less than 48 hours notice.

“This decision has financial implications, which is why a meeting of council is necessary,” Webster said in the email.

MASU’s vice-president finance and operations, Josh Outerbridge, acknowledged the bylaws could be unclear. “I understand ‘to have a meeting called’ to mean ‘notice being circulated,’” he said. “Also, where the bylaws distinguish a special meeting as being distinct from a normal meeting, one would expect divergence from some parts of the bylaws. However, clarification could most certainly be added.”

Nuttall said that his lack of awareness of and absence from the meeting did not affect the validity of the decisions reached.

“What was passed at the meeting was legitimate, but the meeting itself wasn’t legitimate,” said Nuttall. He said that because the meeting had enough voting councillors present to meet quorum, the allocation of funds stands.

Further complicating the matter, MASU’s vice-president communications, Ryan Harley, chaired the meeting, despite the presence of the deputy chair who, according to the bylaws, assumes the duties of the chairperson in his absence.

“It was the deputy chairperson’s first official council meeting since she took office,” said Harley. “I offered to chair the meeting because I have some experience chairing council meetings from earlier in the fall.”

Concerns about the legitimacy of the meeting were not the only issues.

Jen Frail, one councillor who missed the meeting, was concerned by the number of her absent colleagues. “That’s a lot of voting members of council to be absent,” Frail said. “It suggests that those votes are not needed to make this kind of decision.”

Three off-campus councillors, two on-campus councillors, the board of regents representative and the chairperson were all absent from this meeting. Many councillors cited exams as the reason for their absence, or said that they had simply had no idea the meeting was happening.

For Nimmrichter, the timing was worth it.

“We couldn’t make Common Metric, the analysis company, wait for a whole month between December and January before we gave them an answer,” he said. “In order to make sure that they didn’t take on other work before we submitted our project to them, we needed to get it passed before the end of the year.”

“Notice [of the meeting] was posted as soon as it came to my attention the following day, which was consequently short notice considering the short timeframe,” said Harley.

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