GSS Bylaw Reform: Cutting Council Down to Size

Tomorrow, the GSS will be holding a Special General Meeting. The agenda outlines a number of bylaw revisions the GSS would like to make, mostly as a result of an external review finished early last year. The external review found far too many things wrong and/or deficient with the structure of the GSS to recount in one go, but an External Review Committee of the GSS was given the Herculean task of trying to tackle the recommendations contained in the review. Although a few small changes have already been brought forward in council meetings, this is the first major attempt at revisions that will fundamentally change the structure and function of the GSS, hopefully for the better.

Let’s get some of the more minor proposals out of the way first:

  • Adjusting and modifying language regarding proxies and non-voting council members
  • Clarifying that any council member missing three consecutive meetings will forfeit their seat
  • Modifying and simplifying rules about appointing interim executives
  • Clarifying council’s ability to modify the Policy Manual (Code, in AMS parlance)

The first major change is the proposal to eliminate the AVP positions, and replace them with a full-time Council Secretary. The GSS often accomplishes nothing because there is nothing on the agenda; things get started and never followed up on. Having a single full-time person in charge of keeping council and executives on the same page should hopefully improve communication and most of all continuity. The council secretary will also absorb a huge amount of administrative work currently performed by executives, allowing them to focus more time on doing their jobs and offsetting the loss of AVPs. While there is some concern about the loss of student jobs in the form of AVPs, it’s only 5 jobs and the council secretary, with a good person in the job, will be much more valuable to the society.

The second big change is to reduce council size. Representation on the GSS is based on departments and the number of seats you get is dependent on size. Currently fewer than 50 students gets your department 1 seat, 50-99 gets 2 seats and over 100 students gets three seats. It sounds like a reasonable way to provide representation to all graduate students until you consider how many departments there are at UBC. The external review calculated the maximum possible council size if every seat was filled and came up with 226 members, unreasonably large. While the actual membership wasn’t near that, it was huge and invariably many of them were disinterested. The change proposed is to give each department one seat, regardless of size. This would dial down the maximum council size to about 70 people. If passed, no one on council would lose their seat; it would be implemented through attrition over the next two years. While this proposal does raise issues of having my >200-student department having the same representation as a department with fewer than 10 students, something must be done to reduce council size, and this is the obvious compromise. It is hoped that having fewer seats on council will mean each member is more engaged and productive.

It’s also proposed that quorum be lowered from a simple majority of councilors to only one third of them. GSS meetings are notorious for losing quorum, and worse, ignoring the lack of quorum by not bringing it up, just so they can get business done. So I can understand why a lower quorum might be desirable. But as a quorum fan, this is not one I’m sure I agree with but am eager to hear their reasoning behind it at the meeting. If council ends up smaller but more engaged as planned, keeping quorum as a majority should not be an issue.

Another motion asks for the GSS to endorse the business structure suggested by the external review. It hasn’t been an easy time recently for Koerner’s. Prior to this summer’s shutdown, there were clashes over plans to put a new patio on Koerner’s, and to licence an extra bookable room in the graduate student centre. Often the arguments over these proposals were based around differing views about whether the GSS’s businesses should exist primarily to make money for the society, or to provide a service to students in which it was expected money might be spent/lost to provide this service. The proposed structure codifies a compromise between the two. It says that the businesses should aim to make a 1% profit margin each year. In other words, it should be a service to students that doesn’t cost money.

Finally, some pay raises for the executives may be on the way. While the pay isn’t as much as the AMS, it’s a lot better than all the other constituencies, which are unpaid. The President would go from $13,000 to $15,000 and VPs would go from $10,000 to $12,000. This is both an acknowledgement of the amount of work these positions require and an enticement to get the best candidates to step forward. This is not a correction for inflation: the GSS’s bylaws already specify that executive honoraria are indexed to CPI.


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  1. Wow, sounds like the GSS actually has its shit together for once.

    However, you didn’t mention anything about how they only need 50 people to pass this?

    Posted by ~*~sexy brunette~*~ | January 10, 2011, 10:32 am
  2. Was there any mention of splitting the VP Ac/Ex into two separate positions?

    Posted by GlenB | January 10, 2011, 12:31 pm
  3. Splitting Ac/Ex was brought up before but didn’t happen. It’s not one of the things proposed in this package.

    And yes, GSS quorum rules for general meetings mean that only 50 people need to vote in favour to pass these changes (as long as a majority are in favour, of course). Rather than lowering quorum for council meetings, maybe they should be raising it for general meetings?

    Posted by Neal Yonson | January 10, 2011, 12:38 pm
  4. The biggest change, cutting down council size, didn’t pass. It was very close though, by 2 or 3 votes at the end. Mostly due to problems with proportional representation.

    Posted by RH ZHANG | January 11, 2011, 9:15 pm
  5. Agreed, the move away from proportional representation was the main issue.

    However, another point is that there is nothing dysfunctional about the way that the three representatives from my department (and I suspect many other departments) interact with the council, each other, and the students in the department. There are over 200 students in our department, and we each have direct access to unique subsets of that group. Our three councilors coordinate communication to the rest of the students. We talk with each other before meetings. We trust our system. Reducing our number of representatives from 3 to 1 will not make our one representative more engaged; it will overwork that person.

    Large departments being allowed multiple councilors is not the reason council is inefficient. Large departments require multiple councilors to effectively engage the student body.

    Regarding inefficiencies, the graduate secretary will reduce those, even in meetings. The new councilor orientation sessions will also reduce inefficiencies and increase engagement.

    Posted by Sancho | January 12, 2011, 11:12 am
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