Don’t forget to put students first

AMS and Board of Directors’ decision to turn Bikes and Boards failed to take student perspective into account

Vishmayaa Jeyamoorthy wants more to be done about sustainability on campus .

Despite election promises of the contrary, one recent decision by the AMS shows how our student government continues to push their sustainability efforts to the side. 

For the last five years, Bikes and Boards was a sustainable service on campus that provided low-cost parts and repairs for bikes, skateboards, longboards, as well as community programming dedicated to creating an environmentally responsible and sustainable campus. They became a corporate service four months ago after the previous AMS Executive voted for the dissolution of the Commission of Environmental Affairs (CEA) and its portfolio was distributed throughout the AMS. After four short months, the Board of Directors reported to the Executive that the corporate service was no longer financially viable and Bikes and Boards would be closed as a service to become a club.

This decision seems to have been made with a lack of consideration for students, financial accessibility, environmental sustainability and transparency.

One of the most frustrating things surrounding this outcome is that Bikes and Boards wasn’t given a fighting chance to operate as a service. When the CEA dissolved, the AMS made a commitment to ensure that sustainability was still going to be a priority for student leaders. 

This was reiterated by the current executive during their election campaign, saying in an interview to The Journal that “the sustainability initiatives and ideas in our platform… will still be implemented and still be a priority.” To a certain extent, they have done that — they’ve introduced the AMS Sustainability Partnership. In an AMS blog post, Vice President (University Affairs) Palmer Lockridge described this as “a roundtable that will bring together student leaders with other stakeholders to address environmental issues at Queen’s and beyond. Its tasks will include helping [the AMS] structure our sustainability study for the coming year, directing our advocacy efforts, and awarding recognition for student leadership in sustainable innovation and awareness.” What this doesn’t include is visible, grassroots, on-the-ground sustainability work like the kind Bikes and Boards did with the support of the CEA. 

Given that Bikes and Boards was in its infancy — only four months of being under Retail Services portfolio — it seems unfair that they weren’t given the time to prove they were financially viable.

Back when the CEA existed, the commission was given a substantial grant from Assembly to finance their different activities. In years past, the CEA often used this yearly grant to fund Bikes and Boards and help mitigate any debt they might take on. When the repair shop was shifted to the Retail Services Portfolio, they weren’t given the same grant money and as a result, they weren’t able to project that they were going to balance the books.  

What is also disappointing about this situation is that the Board of Directors is made up of 12 voting members, nine of which are students. Even if there was no consultation with the general student body, it’s incredible that the Board of Directors and the AMS executive especially, didn’t think of the social impact of their decision. 

The former Bikes and Boards staff would have been expecting a year’s worth of wages to pay for tuition, rent, groceries and more. Instead, the six students were forced to give up a guaranteed source of income for only the possibility of getting another job. In a decision from the Board level, these six staffers were offered a special eligibility to apply to AMS jobs in the fall, though these are normally reserved for first-year and transfer students. However, since policy dictates that they can’t relocate these students, it’s not a guarantee that any of the former Bikes and Boards staff will get the wages they were expecting.

I would expect my student leaders — emphasis on student — to be cognizant of what that money would have meant to their fellow students. 

I don’t expect the former Bikes and Boards staff to join the new club or for it to be able to operate at the same high-quality level of service as it previously did. Further downsizing Bikes & Boards into a club, especially with no guarantee of adequate funding or retaining its spot in the JDUC after this year, brings so much uncertainty about the now-club’s future. 

There’s no guarantee that Bikes and Boards will have a large enough volunteer base to continue running, especially when some of the duties that paid staff previously took on will be transferred to volunteers who won’t be compensated for their time. With all this uncertainty, it’s the university’s commitment to sustainability that ultimately takes the hit. 

And at the end of the day, this is just another case of broken campaign promises. 

The AMS executive technically doesn’t owe the general student body anything. They have followed the letter of the law, or the policy, as it were. But the promises they made during their election to become a more transparent student government seems to have been a case of smoke and mirrors. 

Team JPB’s longform platform included promises to “implement sustainability initiatives regardless of the future of the [CEA]”, but Bikes and Boards is in their current situation because of the lack of support after the dissolution of the CEA. Team JPB also promised to “require all Year-to-Date commission and once budgets to be uploaded to the AMS website on a quarterly basis”, but this has yet to happen. 

They said they “will work with the AMS Board of Directors to identify ways to make corporate finances more transparent to students,” but at the time of this article being written, they have yet to post minutes from the Board of Directors meeting. 

Prior to their year, the AMS executive promised to focus on “the lack of transparency and [continue] to keep lines of communication between the AMS and the students open,” but they constantly say that they will refuse to engage on social media. However, the AMS hasn’t provided another open channel of communication that forces them to be publically accountable for their responses in a way that email and individual face-to-face interactions can’t. 

Likewise, this decision was not made overnight; so where was the student consultation? Why was the Head Manager not given any sort of notice? This situation is another example of the current AMS executive making decisions behind closed doors.

It’s the job of the AMS Executive and the Board of Directors to look at the whole picture – the finances aren’t the only part of this story. Bikes and Boards was a part of campus-wide efforts to make Queen’s a more environmentally sustainable campus. It was a service that provided jobs for students on campus, helping make Queen’s more financially accessible. 

Bikes and Boards and this student body deserves to know at what point the AMS and Board of Directors decided that the finances were more important than the students and the environment. 

How many lost student jobs is too many? 

 

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