Counterpoint: AMS Council Should Not Have Non-Voting Equity Seats

Today we offer you a point/counterpoint on an upcoming resolution before AMS Council. We offered Tim Chu, present AMS VP External, to argue for and Matthew Naylor, past AMS VP External and current Arts Councillor, to argue against the resolution: “AMS Council should have non-voting equity seats”. This is Matt’s response, for Tim’s, visit here.

Every word over the 750 word-count we told them to stay under has been greyed for fairness. Enjoy.

At the November 18th meeting of AMS Council, on the table will be a motion to create a non-voting seat for students with disabilities. While this is a well intentioned motion, it is not the right one in terms of furthering the interests of students with disabilities. I urge Council to defeat this amendment.

The creation of a reserved seat is that it is assigns seats in a way inconsistent with the paradigm behind the structure of Council. The current AMS structure is essentially federal, with a central government (the AMS) and sub-units (the undergrad societies, GSS, etc.) that carry out different functions. Through this method, every AMS member should be represented by one or more representatives on Council, and because of Representation by Population every student has approximately the same amount of representation on Council, and the same chance of getting elected to one of those seats.

This system is not perfect. Some paying AMS members (VST and Regent College specifically), do not have voting representation on Council. While Council wanted to create voting seats, it was unable to without a successful bylaw amendment. Thus, it did the most it was constitutionally permitted to do – Council created non-voting seats for these un-represented students. VST and Regent College now exist in the shady democratic limbo shared by Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

The Rep-by-Pop uses a veil of ignorance – that is, everybody must be treated as an equal under the law, and have an equal say. The seat up for debate is a move away from, rather than towards, this type of equality. Instead, it favours a more ‘Voices of Communities’ method. In this system, Council functions more as a Forum, where opinions can be voiced, rather than the Board of Directors responsible for the management of a multi-million dollar society.

Troublingly, this type of system puts Council in the position of determining what voices are valid and valuable to the society, and thus merit a non-voting seat, and those that are not. I cannot personally imagine telling one group of students that their voices are less important than any other, and that that are less worthy of representation. Why a Disabilities Seat and not a Women’s Seat, or a Queer Seat, or a New German Cinema Enthusiast Seat for that matter?

There are two other glaring problems with Voices of Communities. First, it would create a Council that is structurally discouraged from looking at issues holistically. I am a Commuter, an Out-of-Province student, of First Nations and European ancestry, gay, White, Catholic, Utilitarian and a Fan of Amateur Curling. As a representative in the current system, I am responsible for considering all these viewpoints and more when making decisions. Representatives for specific groups are, by definition, supposed to see only one. By contrast, there is no specific ‘Arts viewpoint’ – each constituency representative has the responsibility to think of his or her entire constituency when they are casting their votes at Council.

Second, it would allow for the double representation of students. One person can have many identities, each deserving of representation. Because these identities, across campus, are not equal in membership, this is in effect saying that some students are more deserving of representation than others – a statement that I find diametrically opposed to a fair democracy. To paraphrase George Orwell, “All students are equal, but some students are more equal than others”.

This could all be distilled as the difference between correcting un-representation and underrepresentation. As an Arts councillor, I try my best to represent all Arts students, and I was selected by the best method that we know how – a free and fair election in which every single Arts student could both run and vote. There may well exist systemic barriers at this level, and we should correct them rather than using a structural amendment as a band-aid. If any of my constituents were to bring to me a motion they wanted considered, I would bring it forward. I would then use my best judgement when deciding how to vote.

Around the Council table, we are all representatives of the students with disabilities in our faculties. Creating a separate seat is tantamount to saying that Council is unwilling to put in the work to engage with our constituents. We should be doing more – engaging more with the Disabilities Resource Centre, and the creation of a Resource Group come to mind.

If we are going to rethink the entire way the Council works, we should do that in a holistic way, and not by tacking on seats in a piecemeal manner. Better ways should be found to engage not only students with disabilities, but all groups who feel underrepresented by the AMS. This motion, however, is not the right way to go about this, and it should be defeated.


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  1. [...] Today we offer you a point/counterpoint on an upcoming resolution before AMS Council. We offered Tim Chu, present AMS VP External, to argue for and Matthew Naylor, past AMS VP External and current Arts Councillor, to argue against the resolution: “AMS Council should have non-voting equity seats”. This is Tim’s response, for Matt’s, visit here. [...]

    Posted by Point: AMS Council Should Have Non-Voting Equity Seats : UBC Insiders | November 17, 2009, 12:43 pm
  2. My only comment would be that the questions from the international rep seemed to indicate a desire to opt-out of nationalized health care–something anyone coming in the country should probably be responsible for understanding you can’t do.

    Posted by Alex Lougheed | November 18, 2009, 12:50 am
  3. [...] LIVEBLOG – showdown in council By radicalbeer Leave a Comment Categories: Uncategorized 9:38 – Rodrigo  moves a ridiculous motion. It is not added to the agenda. By the way, I’m proud of my vote on Disabilities Seats. If you’re wondering why, check here. [...]

    Posted by LIVEBLOG – showdown in council « The Radical Beer Tribune | December 2, 2009, 9:46 pm
  4. [...] representation is a problem. As was pointed out in Matthew Naylor’s side of the point/counterpoint regarding the non-voting seat, the structure of AMS council is a [...]

    Posted by Referendum: Voting Disability Seat : UBC Insiders | January 22, 2010, 11:58 am
  5. [...] Bye Bye International Seat… 07Mar10 Oh, International Seat…so last month’s Disabilities Seat. If you want some point vs point action that sort of hurts your brain, check out the epic battle of Timkachu vs. Chairman Naylor on Issues That Matter here. [...]

    Posted by Bye Bye International Seat… « AMS Confidential | March 7, 2010, 1:07 am
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