Dedicated decades for students’ sovereignty

The AMS goes beyond student politics seen today — it reminds students of the power they have to affect change

The all-male AMS Executive team of 1888 gather for a classic portrait.
The all-male AMS Executive team of 1888 gather for a classic portrait.
Supplied by Queen's Archives
The “AMS Court” , the precursor to Non-Academic Discipline, meets in Theological Hall.
The “AMS Court” , the precursor to Non-Academic Discipline, meets in Theological Hall.
Supplied by Queen's Archives

The Queen’s Alma Mater Society outdates Canada and has outlived other products of its era.

The AMS was born out of the Dialectic Society — now known as Queen’s Debating Union — in the 1850s, the same decade the penny was minted.

The penny’s now gone, but the AMS persists.

While this year’s AMS executive candidates gear up for election night, they’re not the first to compete for these influential leadership roles. The AMS has been advocating on behalf students for years, and it hasn’t always been easy.

“We drink from wells we did not dig,” said Greg McKellar, information officer at the AMS.

“If you look at the history of Queen’s, and the AMS, it reveals that students have never been just passive consumers of an education. They’ve been builders and shapers of this University, and there’s a lot of information to support that.” Eril Berkok, current AMS president, believes that the Society still upholds the original values of its Debating Union past.

“Defending students’ rights, promoting and encouraging learning and furthering the general interests of the University, which ideally are all one and the same, are still objectives we continue to adhere to quite explicitly,” he said.

A historical concept important to Berkok, entrenched in everything he does, is the “unparalleled” autonomy and responsibility that the AMS has fought for over the years.

“I think it’s important for students to know the history of their impact on the University, to get a better sense of what makes this school more than just a place to earn a degree, and certainly to learn what makes it unparalleled among its peers in terms of student engagement,” he said.


The 1800s

- The four original objectives of the Society were to maintain and defend students’ rights, to facilitate discussion and dialogue, to promote and encourage learning and to further the general interests of the University.

- Until the late 1800s, the AMS continued primarily as a debating society while their two important goals were to secure a study week prior to exams and secure space for athletic activites.

- 1877: The AMS rewrote their constitution, emphasizing the importance of preserving and maintaining the bond between alumni and the University.

- 1898: The society was officially named and the constitution shifted again to focus more on campus constituencies and away from an emphasis on alumni.

- The development of the unique Non-Academic Discipline (NAD) system. At the time the AMS Judicial Committee was called the “AMS Court” — previously, these responsibilities were held by the university Senate.

The 1920s

- 1928: The famous student strike. Queen’s administration had been pushing the AMS President to be stricter with student discipline — the president at the time saw them as interfering. It lasted 23 hours before respected alumni stepped in to mediate between the University and the students.

The 1930s

- 1936-37: The AMS introduced the student constable system, an extension of their NAD philosophy.

- The AMS Colour Night was an example of non-academic achievements being awarded, for students, by students. It exists in the form of the Tricolour Award today.

The 1940s

- 1942: Dorothy Wardle became the first female President of the AMS.

- 1948: There was a parallel AMS government for war veterans, as they were an older group of students.

- 1946-47: A vote preventing political clubs on campus led to the AMS demonstrating the student interest in politics by holding a mock parliament, now known as Queen’s Model Parliament.

- “Tricolour”, is an AMS invention. For its first 40 years, Queen’s had no official colours until the AMS President chaired a committee to select the iconic red, gold and blue.

- 1948: Today, the AMS is seen as students working for students, but it wasn’t until now that the constitution required its president to be a student.

The 1950s

- 1951: The AMS appointed a committee to explore institutional changes regarding an increase in tutorials and seminars, a reduction in lectures, a reduction in compulsory courses and increased standard and important texts in the library. They also called for more national scholarships to improve academic levels at Queen’s.

The 1960s

- 1968: The first ever election for AMS executives took place — executives were previously appointed by senior faculty leaders.

- 1969: The first time the Society was in charge of their own finances without any university oversight. They became “Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University Incorporated”. Today, the AMS is approximately a $16 million business solely in the hands of students. - 1968: Student representation at the University Senate was won.

- 1969: The AMS appointed the first student elected Rector.

The 1970s

- 1968: The establishment of the AMS Housing Service, which oversaw 56 housing units until it dissolved in 1982. The AMS dropped the service because they didn’t want to be seen as the “bad-guy” landlord and wanted to resume their role as student advocates.

- Mid-1970s: Alfie’s, now the Underground, and the Quiet Pub — now the Queen’s Pub — opened.

- 1974: The AMS held a referendum on whether marijuana should be legalized with 58 per cent of voters saying yes.

1977: The Food Centre was founded when due to increasing recognition that not all students attending university came from affluent backgrounds.

The 1980s

- 1981: The Graduate Students’ Society voted to withdraw from the AMS, shifting the AMS to a solely undergraduate government.
- 1980s: Marked the inception of many services we know today including QTV, the P&CC and Walkhome.

The 1990s

- 1991: The Journal was granted their own house on Earl St. after longstanding requests and their proximity being seen as an irritant to the AMS.

- 1993: The AMS advocated for the best interests of students when the University tried to introduce a significantly increased Student Assistance Levy. The AMS President at the time brought the proposed fees down by half.

- 1995: The Municipal Affairs Commission undertook the first safety audit of the student housing area.

The 2000s

- The AMS conducted a review of the central philosophical and strategic issues related to their finances and governance. The current AMS Mission and Operating Statements were crafted based on this review.

- 2000: The Academic Affairs Commission (AAC) produced a paper on the lack of attention given to hiring and training for Teaching Assistants.

- 2002: The AAC produced a proposal for an Academic Grievance Centre, which still operates today.

- March 2005: The AMS executive-engineered Queen’s Centre fee was passed at the society’s Annual General Meeting.

- The AMS recruited and sponsored an AMS member to run for City Council. While unsuccessful students have run in the past, this was the single time the AMS was involved.

- 2006: The Municipal Affairs Commission created a subcommittee of the AMS Assembly dedicated to endorsing mayoral and city council candidates.

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