Reviewing your board
The Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union board of directors has found itself in predicaments on multiple occasions during its term – and has for the most part emerged unscathed and undeterred.
Faced with a $320,000 over-budget renovation project initiated by a previous board, changes to policy and elections, a perceived low level of training for their roles and losing directors, the board has had a busy term thus far and are facing major initiatives in the months to come.
Several strong directors have kept meetings moving, helped reach difficult decisions and generally picked up slack for others around the table who are not as vocal, informed or opinionated. They have helped encourage other directors to step up their efforts through their enthusiasm and critical perspective on issues. These directors stand out in meetings and are visibly passionate about their role, even when student politics is far more procedural than glamorous.
The 2009-10 board was criticized for only having a single major initiative, its extensive market research project. This year’s board has drawn on the results of this work in several instances and, to its credit, looked at how to improve board operations and student representation in years to come.
While few major initiatives have come forward this year or been successfully undertaken, there is some sense that more may be accomplished than is typical for a board. A crucial test of the board’s decision-making will come with the inaugural online WLUSU election in February. Dominating discussion at meetings for most of the fall, the project provided opportunity for directors to bring forward critical and constructive questions or on the other hand, remain silent.
Some directors have come into their own as the fall semester progressed and there will hopefully be further development and more standouts over the remainder of their term.
As a first year director, Arbutina has shown dedication through her preparedness and consistent attendance at meetings. In adhering to her platform, she has been critical of fee-related issues that have been raised at board meetings.
However, Arbutina fails to be vocal in the boardroom, leaving other directors unaware of her ideas or concerns and giving the impression that she is not following what is being discussed.
Having declined the only committee position she was nominated for, Arbutina must better utilize her role on the board of directors as a means of advocating on behalf of students.
Brown has been consistently outspoken in the boardroom, though his grasp of policy and the ideas he argues are sometimes questionable. He can be a disruptive presence and struggles with following proper procedure when articulating his thoughts. These traits make it seem as though Brown is unprepared and as a result others often do not take him seriously, even when he asks important questions or has insights to offer.
Brown is clearly passionate about his position and has the best interests of students in mind, he simply needs to find a way to translate that enthusiasm into becoming a more productive presence among directors.
In working with groups under the School of Business and Economics, Solda has had the opportunity to better represent those students within the union. By missing meetings, although for academic commitments, and not sitting on any of the board committees, Solda has failed to have a strong voice among her fellow board members.
While she has become more vocal in recent meetings, Solda needs to better familiarize herself with board procedures in order to effectively present her ideas and put motions forward to implement the changes she thinks are beneficial to students. She will need to put in a good deal of work moving forward to accomplish more with the position.
Warren has been proficient this year as a first-time director. He has done extensive work outside of the boardroom including striking a committee to examine accountability on large union financial expenditures.
He has a good sense of the scope in terms of the board’s abilities and uses his position to ensure that the established goals of the union are kept in mind.
One area he could improve on is making more of an effort to speak up during meetings when given the opportunity. Warren is a generally well-rounded director, fulfilling the role’s responsibilities in an organized, effective manner.
Evans is occasionally the voice of reason among board members, using his experience as a returning director to keep others focused on issues at hand. His peers respect his approachability and mentorship skills and rely on him for advice.
At the same time, Evans actively seeks to understand board materials thoroughly before he enters the boardroom, which streamlines his questions and the direction of discussions at the table.
His mixture of proficiency and humour bring a confidence to the boardroom that Evans will surely continue to exhibit, which will ensure his success in the coming semester.
Involved in various student life initiatives, Collaton brings many perspectives from students across campus to the board’s attention. Although he started the year off strong by showing interest in committee work, Collaton’s presence in meetings has been more sparse recently.
Despite not being elected to the committee he was nominated for, he did initially speak up on issues he found important during meetings and should continue to do so in order to remain engaged with the board’s decisions.
A residence life don, Collaton would benefit from bringing more leadership skills to the boardroom and other aspects of his director role to increase his visibility and influence.
As a representative of Brantford students, Faessler brings a different perspective to the boardroom. His presence aids in the gradual integration of Brantford campus concerns into students’ union operations.
Although the logistics of being at a separate campus makes interaction outside of the boardroom difficult, Faessler should strive to maintain contact with Waterloo directors in order to better contribute to board operations as a whole.
Since the boardroom is Faessler’s primary point of contact with others on the board, he needs to make greater efforts to be vocal when given the opportunity.
As a returning director, Oberle has a strong understanding of board responsibilities and operations and is always willing to provide an opinion on issues during meetings. He is well-prepared for meetings and uses his experience to the board’s advantage.
He often asks tough questions of both the president and management and it is clear that he has a fine grasp on policy, which has earned him respect among his peers in the boardroom. Having the benefit of experience, Oberle must work to go above and beyond his current role among the board members.
His strengths would be amplified were he to take on more of a leadership role, particularly on a board largely comprised of first-time directors — something he is well on his way to doing.
Among the quietest of directors in the boardroom, Passmore must work towards contributing more to discussions if he wishes to gain the respect of his peers.
Although he may be well-versed in the meeting’s material, his preparedness is lost as he rarely asks questions or engages in dialogue.
His work on the one committee he is a part of must be compounded by his voicing of opinion on issues.
By enhancing his role inside and outside of the boardroom, Passmore could improve drastically during the winter semester.
Papanastasiou shows good understanding of the director role, but struggles to be a real presence in meetings or engage in much discussion.
He has improved recently and asked critical questions when certain items have come before the board. Papanastasiou has participated in committee work and contributed to board operations behind the scenes to his credit, making him an overall effective director.
He would simply benefit from more readily discussing topics he understands and can help to resolve in the boardroom.
Pryce has been effective at making the most of his time as a director, continually and visibly trying to promote greater understanding of the board’s role to the student body.
He values his position and understand its significance, apparent in his input and conduct during meetings. Pryce shows an appreciation for the importance of gradual and thorough planning to arrive at effective outcomes.
He has taken initiative to discuss and plan with other directors outside of meetings, particularly regarding issues of ownership linkage and campus study space.
As a first-time director, Walker goes above and beyond what is expected of him as he fulfils both the role of director and vice-chair. Walker effectively advocates on behalf of students not only in the boardroom but also in the variety of committees he has participated in and through his role on the university’s Senate.
In his role as vice-chair, he is visibly well-prepared for meetings and exhibits a thorough understanding of policy and students’ union initiatives and as such he is consistently well-respected by his peers. Walker is an asset to the board and his efforts to advocate on behalf of students is both admirable and makes him seem as though he is far more experienced than his short tenure as a director would suggest. He shows a great deal of promise for the future.
Kyle Hocking – Chair of the board
As a second-year director and chair of the board, Hocking’s experience has made him an asset when it comes to providing guidance for new directors. However, concerns about a lack of training for board members have been raised — a responsibility that falls to the chair. He administers meeting agendas to the board in a timely manner, which allows directors to adequately prepare for upcoming meetings.
Hocking ensures that board meetings are run efficiently, keeping to the agenda while allowing a fair balance of discussion among the directors when their concerns are raised. Although Hocking is accessible to directors outside the board room, he needs to be more proactive in reaching out to them and assisting them with achieving their goals rather than waiting for directors to seek him out. Hocking has lost the trust of some directors by taking the reins and making executive decisions rather than bringing topics before the board for discussion.
Both within and outside the boardroom, Hocking’s close working relationship with management creates uncertainty amongst directors as to where his own agenda lies and whose concerns he is prioritizing. Hocking should meet more regularly with directors in order to be more open and transparent with his role and provide greater assistance to directors on both with respect to their responsibilities and individual initiatives.
Kyle Walker – President and CEO
Coming into the position of president, Walker had a substantial learning curve to tackle as a result of having previous experience working in residence life rather than in the union.
While his background has provided him with a unique perspective on union matters, he has occasionally been single-minded in championing specific initiatives rather than focusing on broader aspects of his role.
This year has posed many challenges as the union has entered negotiations for the operating agreement with the university, an important opportunity for Walker to prove himself and contribute to the legacy he clearly seeks to leave in his position.
In the boardroom, Walker always appears prepared for meetings, providing the board with the documents they need and having reports ready to present.
He is for the most part respected by directors and perceived to fulfill his role well.
Now tackling the restructuring of the union in addition to the many projects he has taken on this year, Walker needs to maintain strong communication with the board and management group to ensure all these projects are carried out successfully.