Behind the scenes of the AMS

Hiring ‘most important decision of the year,’ president says

Graphic by Harrison Smith and Joshua Chan
AMS Food and Safety Services Direcotr Laura Mouck says finances are a large part of her job. Her portfolio includes The AMS Pub Services, the Common Ground and Student Constables.
AMS Food and Safety Services Direcotr Laura Mouck says finances are a large part of her job. Her portfolio includes The AMS Pub Services, the Common Ground and Student Constables.

Caitlin Adair is in the throes of her busiest time of year. As commissioner of internal affairs (CIA), Adair oversees the AMS election.

Throughout the election, Adair supervises the election team and manages day-to-day space bookings for election-related events. She spends about three hours a week in meetings and the rest doing administrative tasks—sitting through clubs manager’s office hours to answer questions, booking advertisement spaces, putting together a guide to non-academic discipline and delegating tasks to her committee members.

The AMS represents about 14,000 students—all undergraduate faculties except the Theological College.

Those students will elect the 2007-08 AMS executive team—president, vice-president (operations) and vice-president (university affairs)—on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, after the ballots for AMS executive are counted and the winners announced, the new executive’s work begins. Hiring, AMS President Kingsley Chak said, begins the very next day.

“Everyone tells you that hiring is going to be the most important decision of the year,” Chak said, adding that it’s essential to pick a strong team that works well together.

“Everyone gets their specific jobs, but at the end of the day they’re part of council and everyone needs to be able to work together.”

There are about 60 salaried positions positions in the AMS, including three executive members, five commissioners, three directors and six officers.

In addition to running AMS elections, the commission of internal affairs—which has a $50,500 budget—also oversees clubs, judicial affairs, non-academic discipline and elections.

Adair’s also in charge of preparing for weekly AMS assembly—she said she spends four to five hours every week preparing minutes and reports for the assembly package, sending reminder e-mails and attending the meeting.

Non-academic discipline, Canada’s only student-run university discipline system, was the steepest learning curve, Adair said.

When a complaint is submitted regarding student conduct, Adair assesses it to see whether it violates the code of conduct. If she decides it is, the case goes to the Judicial Affairs Committee for a hearing.

“Students come through all upset and confused but in the end, they’re thanking us,” she said.

Adair said preparing for her job last March and April—after she was hired but before her 12-month term began—was hectic.

“You’re still taking full course load, and are a bit overwhelmed, and are conducting over 25 interviews … for 23 to 25 positions,” she said.

The executive hires the incoming council together. After the five commissioners and three services directors are hired, deputy commissioners, service managers and assistant manager hiring begins.

The AMS Human Resources Officer (HRO) plays a major role in the hiring process.

“During hiring season, if anyone has any questions about certain positions and job descriptions, they come talk to me,” said Kristin Boysen, this year’s HRO. “In the next upcoming two months, I’ll spend about four to five hours a day talking to people about positions.” Boysen also organized training sessions for all AMS employees during the summer, including salaried staff, deputy commissioners and volunteers. The training included equity training from Queen’s Human Rights Office and strategic and accounting training from the School of Business.

Throughout the year, the HRO is a resource for employees to make sure all practices are lawful and follow policy.

“My role is helping people get stuff down and helping people know how to act properly,” she said.

Academic Affairs Commissioner (AAC) Alexi White said his experience working for the AAC in his first three years at Queen’s prepared him for the rigorous hiring process.

“It’s difficult because there’s a great deal of information you have to learn to take on a job like this,” White said, citing the 25-page proposal submission required to be considered as a job candidate.

The AAC has two deputy commissioners, an academic services co-ordinator—which will become a deputy position next year—and four to five committee chairs. In total, the commission has about 40 members and a $4,000 budget. Two of the main AAC committees are the teaching awards committee, which organizes the Frank Knox Teaching Award, and the Student-Faculty Relations Committee, which runs events such as Last Lecture on Earth.

White and Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell both sit on the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) steering committee, working with other student government representatives on academic issues common to universities across the province.

By attending Senate committee meetings and meetings with other university administrators, White determines what academic issues the AMS should be lobbying for on behalf of students.

White said he and most members of the AMS council spend more than 40 hours a week at work.

“The stipulation is 40 hours a week and in reality it’s not tracked that closely. It’s a salary position,” he said, adding that they’re expected to put in volunteer hours.

“If your job’s not done, you have to stay and finish it.” In addition to working a full-time job, AMS council members are required to take at least two courses per term. White said he’s taking four courses, but most people take two or three.

“I need to take four credits because of the way my scholarship and my [Registered Education Savings Plan] works out,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t recommend taking so many courses.

In the past couple of years, White said, the academic affairs commissioners have been working to increase the services—such as the Academic Grievances Centre and the Academic Hub—the commission offers to make it more visible to students.

Because the turnover rate is so high, maintaining long-term projects within any commission can be a problem, White said.

“Nobody wants to be the team that just continues another team’s legacy. That can put things off-balance, especially really major projects.”

There are also benefits to the annual turnover, he said.

“It’s great because there are constantly new ideas coming in. There’s no other place where you could work with so many new ideas all the time.”

White said most student governments across Canada have an academic affairs position, although at some schools, the role is a vice-president, as opposed to a commissioner, role.

AMS Vice-President (Operations) John Manning said the AMS is unique in that its general manager permanent staff member, Claude Sherren, works only in an advisory capacity.

“He’s someone who doesn’t have any decision-making authority, but serves as an institutional memory,” Manning said.

That institutional memory is important in running the government and operating its services, Mitchell said.

“Issues are very cyclical. ... We have to deal with an issue that four years ago, they dealt with completely and in any normal organization probably would not come up again but because it’s 100 per cent turnover, sometimes you see repeat issues every few years,” she said.

Food and Safety Services Director Laura Mouck can see first-hand the value of the experience attained through work at AMS services.

Mouck’s portfolio includes The AMS Pub Services (TAPS), which includes the QP and Alfie’s, Common Ground, AMS Foodbank, Walkhome and StuCons.

Mouck hires managers for each service, all of whom are students. She said she didn’t look for experience when hiring.

“We want people to have the desire to learn and grow as a person, and understand the commitment,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to get overwhelmed.” Mouck said responsibilities for the food and safety services director vary each year, depending on what each service wants to accomplish.

“A lot of my job depends on what is required at the time—there’s always finances and lots of problem-solving in general,” she said.

Although problem-solving is inevitable when running any business, the student-run model of AMS services can sometimes make it more of a challenge, Chak said.

“Student managers need to learn how to run a pub, and that’s not an easy task. In terms of management-wise, on our level, we just have to deal with a lot day to day.”

—With files from Lisa Jemison

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