Corporate versus representative
It’s the debate that has taken over the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union elections: Is the Students’ Union board of directors a corporate or representative body?
The question has been discussed over the past few weeks as students, candidates and directors have been arguing over what may be the answer.
The question, which came up at the Students’ Union board meeting on January 22, was brought up in accordance to a governance review within the board.
“We have a committee to do that and it came up in the committee discussion saying okay, so a lot of our board members and candidates normally say they want to represent students, they want to advocate on behalf of students, but they don’t know what that actually means,” said Colin Aitchison, chair of the board and chief governance officer.
While Aitchison wanted to hear the opinion of other directors, he described the board as “100 per cent corporate.”
“I understand that we’re a student government first and foremost according to our constitution and stuff, but any board of directors that deal with corporate matters of an organization is a corporation.”
Current director Kanwar Brar agreed the board should take a more corporate stance.
“Students rely on us that we’ll [voice their issues], but when we’re at the table we’re ensuring that we’re looking at from a corporate side of things and making a decision based on that.”
While his personal opinion is the board should be a corporate body, Brar believed there is no right or wrong answer.
“I know a lot about directors want to hybrid, one wants more than the other, but the reason I say that we need to be corporate is to pursue a corporate way is solely because the nature of the organization.”
Director Derek Worden also feels the board should be defined as a “corporate board.” According to Worden, during board meetings the directors hear updates from guest speakers, as well as the president and CEO among others, to ensure the organization is operating in a sustainable manner. They also approve policy changes, monitor reports and strike committees to undertake mandates.
“These actions are how we govern and ensure that the president and CEO is acting in the best interest of the organization, as dictated by the policy set in our policy manual and the strategic plan,” Worden said.
On the other end of the spectrum, current director and vice-chair Nick DeSumma believes he is part of a corporate board whose role is to oversee representative matters.
“The students are the ones who elect us into the board and we’re also students who use these services that the Students’ Union provides to students,” said DeSumma. “So the unique structure students pay into the Students’ Union, we’re students who are elected by students to govern the Students’ Union, the governing body.”
Matt DeSumma, a current director, said the board is “corporate in body and representative in soul.” The role, mandate and responsibilities of the positions student directors are elected to requires “focus on what’s in the best interest of the organization.”
Matt DeSumma later stressed the need for a clear definition of the board, something the governance process committee is currently working on. According to DeSumma, their definite answer won’t be released until April.
“We’re sort of just talking about something that hasn’t been resolved or there’s nothing to it.”
Matt DeSumma later questioned how and if the board can truly represent students if everyone has a diverse opinion on a matter.
“It’s really hard to say we’re representative because we can’t truly represent everybody, we’re going to have to make cuts, we’re going to have to do all that sort of thing, not everyone’s going to like what we do, so we have to focus on what’s best for the organization,” he said.
*Disclaimer: Answers from the directors are purely based on their own opinions rather than the opinion of the board as a whole.