This year’s executive has violated the spirit and the letter of guiding document
At the April 2 meeting of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO)’s Board of Administration (BOA), president Roméo Ahimakin said that the federation was not doing a good job following its constitution, and he worried where this could lead the student executive in the coming years.
Because I’m a giant nerd, I took a look at the constitution and came to the same conclusion—the SFUO needs to do some serious reading over the summer.
Let’s start with the policy manual.
Found at the beginning of the constitution, it lays out the general position of the SFUO. First, section 30 of the manual states that “the SFUO supports and encourages the use of mediation in the processing of a dispute between its members.” Instead of this, we’ve seen countless uses of public BOA meetings used to air out personal grievances, and even discuss a lawsuit between members.
Second, section 36 of the policy manual outlines the SFUO’s position on conflicts of interest. It follows Robert’s Rules of Order, which state “if a member has a direct personal or pecuniary (monetary) interest in a motion under consideration not common to other members … [s]he should not vote on such a motion, but cannot be compelled to refrain from voting.”
Well, this could have come in handy during a March 12 BOA meeting when there was a motion in front of the board to raise salaries of the incoming executive. The chair of the meeting stated it was his belief that the future executive on the board fell under conflict of interest while voting on their own salary increase, but they voted for it anyway.
Although these examples aren’t technical violations, they clearly contravene the spirit of the document.
Members of the executive have also directly disobeyed the constitution this year on multiple occasions.
For example, a Disciplinary Committee report at the March 12 BOA meeting found that vice-president equity Morissa Ellis had, at one time, been registered as a full-time student, when the constitution says executives can’t take more than seven credits (around two classes) per semester (section 188.8.131.52.1).
At the April 2 BOA meeting, other board members stopped vice-president social Hadi Wess from disclosing his course load this year, while the constitution states execs must make this information available at the start of each semester (section 184.108.40.206.5).
And then there’s the fact that a major position, the executive coordinator, doesn’t have its roles and responsibilities spelled out in the constitution, as other positions do. This means that students can’t hold that person accountable, even if they know the position exists.
Why should the SFUO care? Because if a member of the federation is found to be in significant breach of the constitution they can be impeached, either by the board or by student petition brought to the constitutional committee (section 3.9).
But what can the SFUO do to improve their standing with their own rules and regulations?
For one, they can make use of the information sessions with the chair of the federation that are laid out in the constitution (section 220.127.116.11.1) These information sessions outline topics like Robert’s Rules of Order, and they can even go over specific areas of the constitution where there’s been slack.
The organization can also ensure that the online version of the constitution on their site is up to date so students can stay informed. Constitutional changes are made throughout the year, and the most current version of the document is not always available.
Finally, individual members should make a point of reading the constitution in its entirety. It’s a long document, but if you’re elected to serve the students it’s only fair you have to do your homework. And the student body can read it as well. If a student can refine their complaints to specific areas of the constitution broken by the SFUO, it will be much easier to enact quantifiable change.
Besides, there are some hidden gems in that document. Like section 18.104.22.168, which states that alcohol is not prohibited at SFUO meetings (although a subsequent section says drunk people will be asked to leave).
But outside of that goofiness, all the serious policy guidelines of the organization are in there too. So, for anyone looking to improve the federation for the next academic year, it’s worth taking a look at the constitution.