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So You Want to be AMS President?

Posted By Neal Yonson On January 24, 2012 @ 12:30 pm In Elections | Comments Disabled

This post was written by Jeremy McElroy, current AMS DJ President and proud owner of a “Nobody reads the Ubyssey” T-Shirt.

Before I get too far into my ramblings on what I believe the role of the AMS President to be, I should note that I am not making any endorsements, or disendosements for that matter, in any race this year. In the wake of last year’s unfortunate endorsement controversies, from which I am not exempted, I feel it would be both hypocritical and in poor taste for me to comment on the candidates themselves. Instead, I hope to paint a picture of what life in the President’s office is like, and what qualities I think candidates need to demonstrate if they are to be successful as President.

I should start by saying that I in no way believe that I am an expert on student government. This was my first year being the President of the AMS, and it will be my last, so my pontifications here should be viewed more as advice from an older brother and less prescriptive. I have managed to get a lot done, though, in my limited time at the AMS. This year we restructured the organizational framework of the AMS and hired three brand new senior managers to help build out our potential for the new SUB. We passed the largest fee referendum in 30 years, creating more than $250,000 in funding for students and fixing the structural deficit. We reformed the health and dental plan, ensuring it’s future sustainability. And we finished designing the new SUB, complete with a 24-space childcare facility, 16 hectolitre microbrewery, nearly 50,000 square feet of club space, and two state-of-the-art performance spaces. I am not trying to toot my own horn here (well, maybe a little), but I am trying to demonstrate that the AMS has done, and continues to do, epic things. There is no student union in Canada that comes anywhere close to doing what the AMS does (not to offend students at other schools reading this) and the President is supposed to be the driving force of all of it. Now I would be a giant jerk if I didn’t give credit to my fellow executives, senior management team, student support staff, and Student Council for helping make all of these projects a reality, so I would like to take a moment to recognize their hard work and commitment. But I digress.

On Style

Being the driving force behind the AMS means you have to have a style. I don’t mean Oxfords and skinny ties, but a style of leadership. Over the past few years there have been some very particular styles adopted by different presidents. In 2008-09 Michael Duncan took to the streets, literally, with advocacy that led to the Great Farm Trek, lowering of Birdcoop fees, and running the New SUB referendum, his style was to engage the community as much as possible. In 2009-2010 Blake Frederick took to the media, writing frequent press releases, holding publicity stunts, and ultimately getting international media attention, his style was to shake the tree to see what fell out. In 2010-11 Bijan Ahmadian took to the backroom, preferring the brokering of deals to petitions, ultimately he did get the new SUB agreements signed and we made inroads on BoG issues, his style was to shake hands and rub elbows. This year, I am not entirely sure what my style has been, an optimistic irreverence, perhaps? Or maybe only my beard will be remembered. In any event, I did my best to be myself and do what I thought was right, and hopefully someone down the road can more accurately characterize my style. So candidates, don’t be afraid to show some personality and don’t shy away from your own style. And voters, pay close attention to the candidates themselves, not just their platforms, as it will tell you much more about what you can expect over the next year than talking points on a website.

On Responsibility

The President is responsible for a great number of things. From managing relationships with every corner of the university to drafting the $30 million budget, making sure the SUB gets built to keeping your VPs from killing each other (or you). Most people don’t know, and will never really “know” what a President has to do, but I am going to give you a quick non-exhaustive list of everything that the President has to deal with. The new SUB project, Student Council budget, health and dental plan, human resources (70 full-time staff, nearly 400 student staff), collective bargaining, all legal matters of the Society, liquor licensing, managing relationships with university executive, managing relationships with undergraduate societies, managing the relationship with the Graduate Student Society, planning referenda, U-Pass program, AMS subsidies, student project funding, municipal, provincial, and federal lobbying, managing relationships with other BC student societies, student outreach and campaigns, communications of the Society, managing relationships with local media (even if nobody reads the Ubyssey), knowing what is happening at the Board of Governors, Senate, and University Neighbourhood Association, brushing and flossing regularly, demonstrating value to students, getting sleep (sometimes), make a speech that doesn’t suck at Imagine Day and most importantly doing everything in one’s power to further the goals of the AMS and make the lives of UBC students better. This is the tip of the iceberg of things I had to deal with this year, and there will most certainly be more. So candidates, know that you are getting in to much more than what you might have heard about the role. And voters, know that the job of being President is so much more than the three or four campaign promises that any candidate will make. In fact, the majority of their term will be taken up with things they hadn’t planned on, so think hard about these candidates and their ability to be effective managers in addition to being student leaders.

I would again like to take this opportunity to point out that the success of the President is part in parcel with the success of the entire AMS – without everyone’s hard work, nothing would get done. But it is the President’s responsibility to oversee everything, to always know what is going on, and how to help. I must also point out that the success of the next President is predicated on all of the hard work that we have put in before them, and will serve as the foundation for success of those who come after. I got to design a new student union building because a courageous executive set out to make it happen years ago, and a future executive will be able to do more for students because of the work that my executive put in to fix the structural deficit. So be wary of any candidate that promises to fix everything in their year, and fails to recognize the work of those who have come before them.

I will leave it at that, as I have both reached my word limit, and my ability to write coherently. I apologize for not keeping in the tradition of “Presidential Endorsements” but I felt that students should better understand the role and decide for themselves. I hope that if you have read this far you at the very least better appreciate the things that I, and Presidents before me, have had to endure, and hopefully you can better judge the candidates on how they fit the job.

Over and out.

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