Law Students' Society debates AGM's legitimacy

OISE Open House

Students vote to create faculty-wide survey on where to allocate student society’s budget surplus

The Law Students’ Society Bi-annual General Meeting convened to discuss the budget surplus allocation.
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“A growing number of students [are] expressing concerns that the [Law Students’ Society] is out of touch with its student body,” Law Students’ Society student senator Ian Moore said in his year-end report.

Moore’s comment came at the end of the Law Student’s Society (LSS) Bi-Annual General Meeting (BAGM) on Wednesday. The majority of the four-hour affair focused on the democratic legitimacy of the meeting itself.

The meeting’s original agenda included motions on where to allocate a budget surplus of $25,000, as well as several changes to the LSS’s constitution and budget. However, a protracted debate about the meeting’s legitimacy to decide where to allocate the surplus took up the majority of the meeting, ultimately ending with a vote to put the budget surplus allocation to a student-wide survey.

Before the agenda could be approved, students and LSS council members debated for over three hours on whether the gathered body could properly represent the opinions of the greater student body on where to allocate the budget surplus.

A motion to put the surplus allocation options to a faculty-wide referendum was presented to the assembled students, but did not pass. An alternative motion to create a binding online survey was passed with several amendments, effectively striking the options for allocating the surplus from the meeting’s agenda.

The final motion that passed specifies that the survey be a ranked, preferential ballot administered before March 31. The survey will be administered by the LSS Elections Committee.

In support of this motion, law students at the meeting brought up a wide variety of concerns about BAGM’s decision-making ability and legitimacy as a forum for discussion and debate. Some students raised concerns about the meeting’s accessibility, while others argued that it’s the right of all students to play a part in deciding on the allocation of funding.

In opposition, another group of students argued that the student body wouldn’t be adequately informed on the different options if the surplus allocation were referred to a student-wide vote. Other students objected to that argument, pointing out that law students are more than capable of informing themselves on such an important decision.

After the motion to create an online survey passed, the meeting heard presentations on each of the options for using the surplus funds from the students who proposed each option.

Moore’s motion proposed to use the budget surplus to fund an Aboriginal student entrance scholarship. LSS Vice-President of Finance Michael Scott, meanwhile, proposed to use the budget surplus for a bursary distributed to students with significant financial need.

Both students faced questions on whether their proposals should be pursued by the LSS and whether the Faculty was likely to pursue these ideas using its own funds.

Tyler Brent, JD ’17, moved to introduce an Option Plan, where students would be given a share of the funding to allocate to the initiative of their choice in an online survey. His presentation was met with questions regarding the feasibility of the proposal and arguments that dividing the surplus would diminish its impact.

Bryan Flatt, JD ’16, who proposed to use the surplus towards funding current and future grad gifts, was asked how the funds would be equitably distributed in future years and whether there was a need for more funding for a grad gift.

The remaining attendees then passed the LSS working budget and heard end-of-year reports from the LSS president, vice-president, year presidents and other student representative at the end of the meeting.

Each presenter discussed the tough year the LSS has had. In his report to assembly, Moore, MPA ’14, JD ’16, referred to Facebook posts written by students, which he said expressed feelings of being “brow beaten and chastised into submission by an LSS obsessed with its own agenda.”

Moore said this trend of discontent with the LSS’s direction has been paralleled by a trend of students from underrepresented groups feeling discomfort in Queen’s Law.

“A lot of people express their concerns based off their race, their sexuality, their gender, their socio-economic status,” he said.

Moore suggested that there may be a correlation between the LSS’s attempts to address these issues — by funding clubs devoted to diversity, holding discussions and consulting with faculty on equity and diversity — and accusations of bias from other students.

“There is a growing number of students who’ve expressed discomfort with their place within the Queen’s Law Community, there’s a growing amount of energy being spent by the LSS to address these concerns, and then we’re being accused of spending our time and energy on a narrow range of issues and ignoring the majority,” he said.

Jason Mercredi, the Aboriginal student representative to the LSS, said the creation of his position this year was a positive step for the LSS.

“Aboriginal student representative, how the hell has my year been? Wow,” he said. “I say that non-controversially — but guess what? It’s going to be a controversy.”

Mercredi, JD ’18, referenced his Aboriginal heritage as he described the struggles he’s faced trying to create a safe environment for Aboriginal law students.

“I’m Mushkegowuk. Mushkegowuk means ‘Swampy Cree.’ So I’m used to going through an uphill battle to get something done. Sometimes we have to drag a moose back — we’re used to that stuff.”

Mercredi added that the creation of the Aboriginal Law Students’ Alliance was an important step for helping Aboriginal students feel like they belong at the school.

“That sense of belonging is a little more difficult when you’re walking through the halls of John A. MacDonald [Hall],” he said.

Mark Asfar, SGPS vice president (professional) and a second-year law student, also spoke positively about the progress the LSS has made this year on issues of equity and diversity at Queen’s Law.

“We’re law students. We’re kind of annoying, awful people sometimes, but the progress is noticeable,” he said.

“A lot of that credit can be given to the LSS for standing their ground, for having these discussions, for speaking for minority voices and people who aren’t normally heard.”

Corrections

March 4, 2016

A portion of this article was accidentally pasted twice.

The Journal regrets the error.

March 4, 2016

A version of this story uploaded on Friday, March 4 did not reflect a headline written in final edits. The article has now been updated to reflect the final version of this story as it appeared in print.

The Journal regrets the error.

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