Assembly stifles discourse

The recent changes to the AMS policy for external affiliation have set a poor precedent

Jesse Waslowski, ArtSci ’13

The recent changes to our AMS fee renewal system have become an issue. Let me begin by outlining the old system, in which organisations seeking external alignment, campus groups and publications could get funding.

In order to create, increase or renew a fee (which has to be done once every three years) these groups must collect five per cent of AMS students’ signatures for their “fee question.” Once accomplished, the question can pass through AMS Assembly.

After Assembly, the question goes back to the student body. That’s when you get to vote whether or not you “agree to the establishment of a $x.yz fee (subject to individual opt-out) to support the Queen’s group ABC.”

On Nov. 11, a parallel system was proposed to AMS Assembly, specifically for “External Alignment with Provincial and Federal Postsecondary Education Lobby Organizations.”

On Nov. 25, this system finished its second reading in AMS Assembly, meaning it’s now part of the Constitution.

It’s interesting to note that representatives from ASUS, a faculty with a lower level of representatives per student, were most opposed to the changes.

This system is similar to the current one, except that the renewal is “subject to a review by Assembly.” Additionally, students would be able to use the original system to ask to remove the fee for an externally aligned group, like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA). There are other debatable changes, but these are the two I’ll address.

Why the change? Advocates for the new system cite a waste of resources as one of their three main arguments.

This first argument contends that because the paid Academic Affairs Commissioner would be spending time advertising for the external group they wish to align with—rather than working with them—his or her time would go to waste.

But Section 6.08.01 (v) of the AMS Constitution requires the Academic Affairs Commissioner to “disseminat[e] information to students, on topics directly related to academics.” Promoting an academic lobby group arguably isn’t “directly related to academics,” but it definitely serves as a useful means to deal with information that is.

A second argument proposed by advocates for the changes, is that these changes promote stability for the Academic Affairs Commissioner. With online voting at Queen’s, more students have been voting in general, but “apathetic” voters have increased more significantly.

“Apathetic” voters tend to vote down fee questions, because they aren’t very involved in the Queen’s community. Because AMS Assembly members are unavoidably involved to some degree, it’s argued that renewing a fee would be made easier if passed through them.

It’s also been argued that because a lot of the Commissioner’s job is based on external alignment, the change makes it easier to renew any external alignment fee, stabilising the position’s portfolio.

This argument is at the heart of the problem with these changes. It’s this portfolio’s instability that is needed. It requires the Academic Affairs Commissioner to promote any alignments and what they entail to the student body (as stated in the job description), rather than requiring the student body to mobilise to take them down.

Additionally, the systemic issue of apathetic voters should be dealt with separately. It should not be circumvented for a specific organisation due to the lack of Assembly-knowledge amongst some campus groups and the AMS Commissioners (who are doing a great job from what I can see).

I’m sure there are some publications out there that would love to increase their stability too, by asking Assembly to pass their fee questions instead of remaining accountable to the student body.

The third argument is the most powerful, and it’s two-pronged. On the one hand, proponents of the change explain how the current system is cyclical.

The Academic Affairs Commissioner tends to campaign hard one year, and then remains quiet for the two years that follow (before the next fee renewal).

On the other hand, this problem is fixed if the Academic Affairs Commissioner has to worry about the student body mounting a “No Renewal” campaign at any time.

I will refute the second part of this argument first: that the Commissioner would have to advertise the external alignment in order to prevent opposition is flawed for a number of reasons.

It’s not easy for groups to form. Queen’s takes pride in its plurality of clubs, but the difficulty of starting one is well known.

Additionally, if such a group were to form, it would be especially difficult for them to organise support for their cause. In a community like Queen’s, it requires more nerve to criticise than to support.

With the exception of a recent censure motion (which I don’t have space to explain here), general public criticism is hard to stir.

Imagine, instead of someone asking for support signatures, they are asking for opposition signatures. Not only is this difficult, but this contrary culture is not what should be fostered or required at Queen’s.

Just as well, if the Commissioner didn’t advocate in favour of the affiliation, who would know enough to try and oppose it?

It’s only through positive, self-sustaining advocacy that this conversation exists at all, which returns me to the advocates’ third argument.

It may be true that the old system is cyclical, and that there are bouts of discourse followed by general silence. Unfortunately, this is preferable to the change.

It’s preferable to have a system where dialogue is encouraged, albeit sporadically, than a situation where opposition only forms from the Commissioner’s actions. The resulting silence will allow issues to fall by the wayside.

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