Canada-wide student government

Salaries, staff and services: how the Queen’s Alma Mater Society stacks up

AMS executive members hold weekly council meetings with commissioners and directors to discuss student government operations.
AMS executive members hold weekly council meetings with commissioners and directors to discuss student government operations.

The University of British Columbia’s Alma Mater Society executive gets lunch every day, plus cell phones. At the University of Western Ontario, institutional memory within the student government is ensured thanks to 55 full-time, permanent staff. Last year, Simon Fraser University’s student government executive was impeached.

This year, each of the three members of the Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) executive—President Kingsley Chak, Vice-President (Operations) John Manning and Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell—will receive a $19,453 salary. All three told the Journal they spend an average of 60 hours per week at their job, in addition to taking up to three courses each.

Instead of having permanent staff run student government services, the AMS hires three student services directors, Manning said. The managers of each service are also all students.

Because so much of the AMS is student-run, the executive is involved in the day-to-day minutiae of the various services as well as the government’s long-term operations.

Chak described his role as being the external face for the AMS. The president sits on more than a dozen committees and councils within the AMS and the broader university community, as both an observer and a voting member.

Although those committees stay relatively the same over the years, Chak said, the president’s level of involvement can vary.

“Each person can choose how involved they want to be. There are a lot of meetings that, if I don’t show up, no one is going to know, no one is going to complain. But is that really what you want to do?”

As vice-president (operations), Manning’s job also includes attending meetings for different committees and groups.

“The VP (Ops) is responsible for all the day-to-day operations,” he said, adding that the role has changed with the expansion of the AMS’s corporate side.

“Things have become more stable so the VP (Operations) has been able to focus more on policy issues and supervision as opposed to running around and fixing everything that’s broken,” he said.

Mitchell said the role of the vice-president (university affairs) has also evolved as commissions within the AMS have developed.

Before the creation of the Academic Affairs Commission, the vice-president (university affairs) was more academically focused, she said.

“Over the years there have been a lot of projects and committees that the commissioners are better suited to sit on than me, just because it’s in their area of expertise,” she said.

Because of this, she said, the vice-president (university affairs) position is fairly flexible.

Much of her work, Mitchell said, is determined by what the five commissioners—academic affairs, internal affairs, social issues, municipal affairs and campus activities—are working on.

“A lot of my role is just administrative and working with the commissioners to get things done,” she said.

Mitchell also works on individual projects—such as the peer support program and a review of orientation week—and goes to Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) meetings in Toronto once a month as a steering committee member.

“I can’t say that I have specific things that I do every day other than check e-mails, and that e-mail-checking dictates what happens. Whatever I receive in my inbox is what I work on for the day,” she said.

Chak, Manning and Mitchell agreed the AMS is unique in terms of its strong culture of volunteerism, comparatively low salaries and the way the services are run.

With 55 full-time staff, a six-member executive and a $20-million budget, the University Students’ Council (USC) at the University of Western Ontario operates very differently from the $8-million AMS.

USC President Tom Stevenson said he acts as a supervisor to the permanent staff, providing them with a student perspective. “Because they’re full-time and they’re here from year-to-year, having the turnover of students keeps it young, keeps it fresh,” he said. He also oversees a few hundred part-time student staff.

Stevenson said he works longer hours than the 40 hours per week he’s required to put in.

“It really depends on the day because the job is so varying and there’s so many responsibilities and duties that are assigned just by virtue of the position,” he said.

Stevenson said as president he acts as the spokesman and chairman of the government side of the USC and as the CEO of its business side. He works with four vice-presidents and a communications officer to run the government.

The president is elected by the student body at the same time as the faculty presidents and councillors. The new council meets with the old council in March to collectively vote for the four vice-presidents.

Stevenson said five of this year’s six executive members graduated last year.

“Traditionally what happens is that the executives will run for a position in their final year of study so that upon graduation this will be our first job out of school,” he said

Stevenson makes $35,393.27 a year. He said the salary was voted on by council a few years ago and is indexed according to inflation.

University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society’s (AMS) president Jeff Friedrich said each of the executive’s five members receives a $21,000 salary, in addition to a cell phone and daily lunches.

The UBC AMS is comprised of one president and four vice-presidents.

Friedrich said executive candidates run independently and then hire six executive co-ordinators of student services, similar to the Queen’s AMS’s commissioners.

Friedrich said he’s responsible for leading the executive team and implementing the society’s mission and vision according to priorities identified by the council.

He’s required to work 35 hours per week during the school year, but said most executive members put in more time, in addition to taking at least one class.

Friedrich said the UBC AMS has two student-run pubs with full-time staff managers.

Derrick Harder is president of the Simon Fraser University Student Society (SFSS). There are 16 members on its Board of Directors, seven of whom are executive officers, he said.

The other board members include two student-at-large representatives and representatives from seven faculties.

Candidates for each position run individually. Harder became president in a by-election in December 2006 after the former president was impeached for the unexplained dismissal of seven society members. “By last summer, we got things back in order. I’d say we’re in a lot better shape now,” Harder said.

The student government’s budget is roughly $5 million, Harder said. Executive officers receive $18,000 for their year-long term, during which they’re required to work 30 hours a week.

The student government operates a bookstore, a coffee shop, a catering service and a bar. None of the services are designed to make a profit, Harder said. The student government hires a staff including two co-ordinators for the bookstore and one general manager for the bars. The managerial positions are open to both students and non-students.

Manning said Queen’s AMS is able to successfully operate student-run services because of the high level of student engagement.

“We have a student body that’s more engaged in its student government and student community than most other schools. I think that’s partly a function of Queen’s being a school where the majority of students are from out of town and the fact that Kingston is a relatively small city, so students spend a lot more time on campus than at other schools,” he said.

Although most students are only involved in managerial positions at AMS services for one year, Manning said accountability isn’t a problem.

“Anything major has a body of people overseeing it, and also has people who are on that body in subsequent years, so I think we do pretty well in terms of setting up the right structures to make the organization work with a high degree of staff turnover.” This model, Manning said, is ultimately beneficial.

“The managers and directors and executive struggle through and in the end what we’ve seen is the result here. Our model works really, really well.

“It provides consistently high-quality services. We provide a very, very consistent level of service and products every year.”

—With files from Rosel Kim and Kerri MacDonald

Read the Journal on Friday to find out more about how the Alma Mater Society operates.

Student government salaries across the country

Queen’s UniversityUniversity of British ColumbiaSimon Fraser UniversityUniversity of Western Ontario
Executive: $19,453
Commissioners and directors: $18,894
Executive: $21,000
Co-ordinators: $20,000
Executive: $18,000
Board members: $9,000
President: $35,393.27

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