Students’ Union and Board Under Review 2015
Mid-term reviews of the Students’ Union Board of Directors and President and CEO
After an eventful couple of months, the Students’ Union board members have had a busy term. The board has overall improved strategic discussions from the leadership of chair and chief governance officer Colin Aitchison. Over time, conversations started to improve around the table and new directors had their voices heard in discussions more often, but more contribution from all members is crucial. With so many events facing the board early on including the statue debate and the federal election, it is important the board has all opinions heard to make the best decisions.
The board has seen huge improvements in engagement over the year in areas such as the committees and discussions surrounding major issues, however, directors seem uninterested in meetings, often being engaged with social media when updates or ideas are being announced to the board. Differences of opinions are seen in the meetings in serious debates or discussions between directors, creating a tense environment in the boardroom. Board members also become defensive if other members disagree or criticize their ideas or opinions. In the second half of their term, directors should work on being professional and not taking a personal stance when debating what is best for the organization as a whole.
With Brantford directors taking up a third of the board, there has been better opportunity for true multi-campus representation. However tensions over a pro-Brantford versus pro-Waterloo stance has often clouded the potential for collaboration. The board should be focusing on a holistic approach for both campuses and bringing concerns forward when it is in the best interest of students.
Overall, the board has improved in regards to their discussion and strategic planning and review of governance, but members could benefit in the Winter term by reviewing the Students’ Union policies and bringing more original opinions to the table.
Olivia Matthews – President and CEO of the Students’ Union
Matthews has gone above and beyond to communicate with the student population while representing them in various conferences. She went through an extensive preparation period with former president Sam Lambert who advised her on aspects of the job, such as decision-making and governance. Matthews is fully committed to talking to students, going so far as having office hours for people to come and voice their concerns and using her Twitter to constantly communicate.
So far in her term, Matthews has redistributed the Students’ Union marketing department to give students a sense of what the organization is about. Although she can be late, Matthews communicates with students on issues and concerns involving the university and the Students’ Union. In her mission to become more involved in the Laurier community, she visits Brantford once a week and includes the campus in the board’s strategic discussions. Matthews has missed three meetings, but has given legitimate reasons for all of them, most for conferences.
During board meetings, Matthews provides thorough updates involving the university and the Students’ Union. She proves to be well-educated on Students’ Union operations and policies and takes an interest in the concerns of other board members, having side conversations when members bring up interesting points.
However, Matthews can be defensive when other board members criticize her ideas, opinions, or ask questions and should stray from taking things too personally. She is also encouraged to follow Robert’s Rules of Orders during meetings.
Matthews has worked well with her vice-presidents. She constantly has knowledge of what they are up to and is cognisant of trying to avoid micromanaging. She should continue to be a liaison and let her VPs work to master their departments.
Overall, Matthews has proved to be successful in her role as president. She’s committed to becoming involved in all aspects of the Students’ Union. Matthews is encouraged to continue communicating with students and advocating for them outside of the university.
Colin Aitchison – Chair of the Board and Chief Governance Officer
Aitchison has been a prepared chair and has obvious knowledge of the Students’ Union and the functions of the board. He has run meetings efficiently and has done a good job staying objective and limiting the amount of in-camera meetings, but could benefit from being more organized with agendas and one-on-one meetings.
Following the path of his predecessor, he’s provided a more strategy-focused mentality for the board, which is beneficial to the Students’ Union as a whole. He has also continued to encourage good attendance from the board overall, which has been effective. As chair, Aitchison lets his fellow directors steer discussion, but could benefit from encouraging more engagement and critical discussion from some members. Additionally, while Aitchison does a great job bringing in the concerns of Brantford, he acknowledges his presence is not up to where he wanted it to be in his platform.
Aitchison’s professionalism and decorum have been exceptional. He displays a large amount of professionalism in such a large role. When issues arise, he handles them directly and immediately instead of letting them loom. However, Aitchison can oftentimes be seen as apprehensive or blunt at the table, which can make it difficult for board members to feel comfortable or bring up alternative discussion points. He should work on his approachability for the next term, as he will also be training his successor.
So far, Aitchison has had a successful term and fulfills the duties of chair and CGO.
Nick DeSumma – Vice-Chair of the Board
As vice-chair and a veteran member of the board, DeSumma has worked well in the role. As the first-ever vice-chair from Brantford, he brings a new perspective that is healthy for a Waterloo-heavy organization. He comes prepared to meetings and only missed the unscheduled one in September.
He brings his passion and dedication to the board. When having to step in as chair so far this year, he has done so effectively and has run meetings well.
DeSumma is not as vocal as he was in the past, often taking a back seat and allowing other directors to take a larger role in discussions. While this can be good to get more voices involved in decisions, he could have a more critical voice in discussions and use his experience and leadership.
DeSumma has a strong grasp of the roles of the board, but sometimes strays to the operational aspect or brings up items that do not fall under the board’s jurisdiction. He should also advocate on behalf of Brantford in an effective way, asking critical questions when relevant.
Overall, DeSumma has steps to take in becoming a strong vice-chair, but has fulfilled his duties well and should continue to strive toward the expectations set for him.
As a first-year director, Brar has been an absolute asset to the board. After going to every meeting last year, he has a great understanding of the board’s role, the long-term direction and their place in governance of the Students’ Union. Brar brings up good points for discussion and creates effective dialogue to move conversations forward.
He always comes prepared, having read the agenda and documents before meetings and has had superb attendance. Brar has also done great things as chair of the Ownership Linkage Committee, effectively reaching out to students and letting them know more of what the Union does on a governance level.
Often Brar can speak fast, so he should work on articulating his points better to be understood by his fellow directors. Overall, he has had a great first term and should continue this into second semester.
*Disclaimer: Kanwar Brar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cord
DeSumma has been an effective director so far. He comes prepared with questions and has yet to miss a meeting. He is a personable director and can bring forth a strong voice for Brantford students.
He is passionate and involved in many committees. DeSumma understands that the board is a non-partisan entity and does not let his political biases intrude on his work as a director, which benefits his ability to make decisions.
DeSumma is vocal in discussions and understands the general functions of the board in terms of governance and policy.
However, he should advocate on behalf of Brantford in an effective way, asking critical questions when relevant. He would also benefit from avoiding the operational aspect of the Students’ Union and focusing on the board’s role.
Fletcher is a Brantford director who’s not only concerned about Brantford.
Although Fletcher is committed to bringing forth issues pertaining to the Brantford campus, he advocates for the university as a whole and does not let a bias disrupt his opinions.
He is quiet during discussions and would rather voice original opinions, but should not stray from contributing to a larger discourse.
Fletcher has not been to Waterloo for a meeting due to class scheduling, but he would benefit from trying to make a meeting in person next semester and improving his overall attendance.
As a new director, Fletcher does his best to communicate with Brantford students, but should take the time to communicate with students in Waterloo.
Overall, Fletcher has been a good director, but he should speak up during meetings to bring his own voice into discussions.
As a new director, Giuga has been an asset to the board this term. Although he doesn’t have a complete understanding of the role, Giuga has worked to learn the policies surrounding the Students’ Union and should continue to gain knowledge about the board’s inner workings. During board meetings, Giuga keeps an open-mind to all ideas and opinions, but should engage more in strategic discussion at the table.
Thus far, he has shown his dedication by attending every meeting, including two in Brantford. While Giuga has voiced opinions on important discussions, it is recommended he make relevant contributions to board meetings in the Winter term.
Guiga shows his passion his role during meetings, however, he should also communicate more with students and provide better clarification of his role as a director.
A new director, Harris conveys a sense of professionalism while advocating for the student population.
Harris is committed to bringing diverse perspectives on issues around the university and is passionate about advocating for diversity issues.
He is also able to combine his responsibilities as a Residence Life Don to make sure he’s engaging with students on both professional and personal levels.
In meetings, Harris brings forth valuable opinions and will not engage in discussions unless he feels he has something to contribute.
He is educated in policies and governance, but has not been as vocal as he was in the beginning of his term.
Although he understands his role as a director, Harris is encouraged to push forward his platform and speak more during discussions at the table.
Issa is an effective board member in that he understands policy, governance and the role of the board overall. He brings a good perspective to governance and the board’s role as a whole and can often bring critical questions to the table. However, he is often late or absent from meetings without cause, making him unprepared for many discussions. He is also seen as abrasive or not congenial. Although Issa has the professionalism and potential of a good board member, he will need to work on this in the latter half of his term to be a more overall effective member.
*Disclaimer: Abdiasis Issa is a director of the board for WLUSP
Jagannathan has been highly involved in discussions and often brings his own ideal visions to the board while voicing his concerns. Jagannathan, a returning board member and chair of the Board Vision Committee, knows what the role consists of.
Similar to his previous term as a director, Jagannathan has continued to create strong discussions around the table. While debating on student and university issues, Jagannathan will take the time to hear what other directors have to say before voicing his own opinions.
Jagannathan should continue to be involved in discussion in board meetings and take more of a leadership role to communicate opinions earlier. Overall, Jagannathan has been a good director and could improve by reviewing his platform and contributing further.
As a veteran member of the board, Parton has a level-headed approach and understands the board and its role and what needs to be done
Her dedication is evident as her attendance has been impeccable this year.
She does a good job avoiding a bias toward any particular campus and looks at the Students’ Union as a whole.
Parton also makes an effort to talk about board-related things outside of board meetings.
However, Parton doesn’t often participate in discussions and can be on social media instead of engaging in with fellow directors.
While Parton is the only female representative and has been a loyal member, she makes an effort to talk to fellow board members outside of meetings, more engagement at the table is recommended.
A veteran board member, Ricci has been one of the more enthusiastic directors this term. Ricci continues to be very active on social media and displays a huge desire to become more engaged with the student population.
He is very involved in board meetings and will often include himself in the topic at hand by asking questions and voicing his opinion. It is evident Ricci is passionate in his role as director and always comes prepared to meetings. It should be noted that Ricci brought up the issue of safety during Orientation Week and brought student feedback to the board.
However, sometimes Ricci will allow his personal biases into discussions. He should work to move away from doing this second term, and have a bigger presence on the Brantford campus.
Overall, Ricci has been a valued member of the board and should continue to be a veteran member.
Despite being a first-year board member with no prior experience, Worden has been one of the strongest directors so far.
He always comes prepared, having read the agenda packages and brings comments and questions to the discussions.
Worden always has something to say or add to conversations and often steers the direction of some discussions at the table. He has a strong understanding of how a board works and uses this to his advantage, having a level-headed, non-partisan approach to decision making.
Despite having multiple other commitments outside of the Students’ Union, Worden is involved in multiple committees and makes time for meetings, having only missed one — the emergency senator meeting in September — since beginning his term.
Worden boasts a large amount of professionalism, dedication and passion to the role and should continue to be involved for the remainder of the year, providing an excellent example to his peers.
These reviews were written collaboratively by Campus News Editor Kaitlyn Severin and Editor-in-Chief Shelby Blackley. They are based on observations from board meetings and interviews with directors, chair and president. All photos are either contributed or taken by Will Huang.