WLUSU board of directors, president under review

BOD-Kate-Turner

The board of directors meet bi-weekly. (File photo by Kate Turner).

This year’s Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union board of directors had an interesting year. After extensive training provided to them by Jon Pryce, chair of the board and chief governance officer, the directors were ready to tackle the year ahead of them, but were soon met with numerous issues.

At the start of the fall term, they found their primary job of holding the president and CEO accountable because Michael Onabolu was having some difficulty transitioning into his role and provided inadequate reports at board meetings..

While this made one aspect of their job more difficult, other projects at the start of the year, as well as director attendance and engagement, began well. However, as the year progressed, the performance of the directors slowly began to decline whereas Onabolu’s performance began to improve greatly.  Many were unable to show up due to co-op placements, schoolwork and other commitments, and when meetings were held the discussions were frequently led by the same handful of people, as many directors opted to remain quiet on many issues.

This resulted in only a few opinions being heard, so some decisions were made without full debate and consideration. As well, the behaviour of certain directors sunk to a level of unprofessionalism that caused discussions to become unfocused and ineffective. In addition, it was difficult to gauge the transparency of the board when so many meetings were done in camera, including the board self-evaluations. Significant financial matters were also discussed privately. Overall, the WLUSU board of directors, while comprising of experienced and passionate directors, failed to measure up to past boards when it came to overall success.

Michael-OnaboluMichael Onabolu, president & CEO

While Onabolu won last year’s WLUSU’s elections with nearly double the amount of votes as the second place candidate, his term as president has been more challenging than initially expected.

Starting off a bit rocky, Onabolu faced many issues throughout his first semester in office, but was able to make a comeback during the second half of his term and strongly advocate for students by completing the majority of points in his platform.

The first half of his term could not be described as smooth. He inherited a massive debt, faced complaints about his monitoring reports brought in front of the board meetings, and had some trouble adjusting to the demanding role of president and CEO. However, while Onabolu had areas that needed improvement, his passion for the position drove him to succeed. He worked closely with his management team, the directors and other WLUSU employees in order to move forward and make the necessary improvements.

Throughout his second semester he was able to work towards achieving two important points of his platform: study space for students and awareness for mental health. Onabolu was able to see the solarium completely renovated, as well as the debt for the 2-4 lounge renovations completely paid off. In terms of mental health, which was a massive part of Onabolu’s platform, Laurier was able to hire a new mental health student support team leader, and host a number of events in order to raise awareness, such as the Love My Life: A Walk for Mental Health. Onabolu’s working relationship with the board of directors has also improved overall.

As a result of these improvements, Onabolu will be able to end his term on a more positive note.

Jon PryceJon Pryce, chair & CGO    

WLUSU veteran Jon Pryce took the ambitious role of the chair and chief governance officer this year, and although there have been some struggles, Pryce has performed rather successfully. Pryce’s biggest challenge, however, was not his ability in leading an effective board, but the board itself.

Poor attendance records and a lack of engagement from some of the directors, Pryce’s challenge of getting the board adequately involved with WLUSU affairs has been persistent.

At the beginning of the academic year, Pryce appeared to be somewhat parental when it came to board meetings, unconventionally removing himself from the chair position to sit in and vote as a normal director — an inefficient move that Pryce has not done since the fall.

However, Pryce should be applauded for his efforts in training and transition, a process that has never been as intensive as it has been this year. Regardless of whether or not directors caught on, Pryce still tried to make sure that the transition for directors was as smooth as possible.

Pryce has set a higher standard for the incoming chair, Jordan Epstein and the chairs to come.
He took an extremely professional approach to the role and effectively bridged the gap between the management team and the board. As the chief governance officer as well as the chair, Pryce furthered the role and importance of policy governance at WLUSU, especially in a time where WLUSU is in a tough transition period.

* Disclaimer: Jon Pryce sits on the board of directors for WLUSP

Alicia ApplebyAlicia Appleby
The stronger of the two directors from Brantford, Appleby has brought a unique voice to the board this year. With a solid attendance record, Appleby has been a strong member on the board who has somewhat taken the role of the Brantford Campus Council, which was dissolved last year.

While Appleby did need a better understanding of policy governance, she was still able to perform her duties relatively well, especially through her involvement on the ownership linkage and strategic planning committees. While she was actively committed to giving the Brantford campus a voice on the board, at times she relied too heavily on this perspective to be her sole input during board meetings.

Matt Casselman
Casselman took his passion for student governance to the board of directors for the first time this year — and did it well. As well as participating with the WLU debate club, food bank and being a full-time student, he was able to successfully balance these activities, along with his classes, while still fulfilling his position as director.

With respectable board attendance — missing five meetings for midterms and prior commitments — he is one of the most vocal directors, often voicing opinions in favour of students. He has also been active outside the boardroom, and has participated in the ownership linkage committee, informally with the elections committee and saw both of his referendum questions pass during the WLUSU elections this past February. Casselman would do well to take what he has learned this term and carry it forward next year.

Jazz ClementJazz Clement
Clement came into the role of director with a lot of potential at the beginning of the year, but with her numerous commitments on campus and outside of it, that potential quickly began to wane. Simply said, Clement took on too many commitments and, as a result, her effectiveness as a director was hurt.

While she has been engaged with many board matters, Clement has had numerous opportunities to actively engage in discussion during board meetings. With her background in university affairs and community engagement, as well as being one of the youngest directors on the board, Clement could’ve brought an interesting voice to the board. If she were to run again, it would be recommended that Clement reevaluate her commitments on and off campus before she commits to the role of a director.

Sebastian DudekSebastian Dudek
Despite a poor attendance record because of his co-op placement, Dudek has excelled as a director outside of the board room. There have been cases where Dudek will miss a meeting but still send in his thoughts to the chair about the particular items discussed on that agenda, and constantly stays updated on what’s been going on.

Dudek’s strength though is his understanding of the financial situation at WLUSU and how the organization might remedy it. His strong involvement in the financial policy review committee — which meets outside of the board room on weekends — demonstrates Dudek’s commitment to the role. It’s a shame, however, that he never got to fully exercise that commitment inside the boardroom.

Jordan EpsteinJordan Epstein
Having attended a year’s worth of board meetings before he was even elected, Epstein was a solid presence on the board from the start of term. Perhaps outside of chair Jon Pryce, Epstein likely has the strongest understanding of policy governance and what the role of the board really is. This showed through in Epstein’s performance as vice-chair, in which he kept track of motions and discussion, and steered things in a more efficient direction.

Furthermore, Epstein emerged as a strong leader among his fellow directors, taking on the kind of mentorship role he will need to continue when he takes over as chair and chief governance officer May 1.

With a perfect attendance record, Epstein’s strong commitment to his role as a director and vice-chair is obvious. However, he did not simply show up to the meetings, he was often the most prepared, most engaged director at the board table.

Scot FlemingScott Fleming
With this being his second year as a director, it was clear that Fleming had knowledge of the how the board works particularly when it came to financial matters. However, the ways he chose to display that knowledge at board meetings was rarely effective. Fleming was often disrespectful, and even at times disruptive, in the boardroom, rarely contributing to meaningful discussion and frequently derailing it. This was evident at the March 12 meeting, when he was told multiple times to act with more respect towards his fellow directors.

While Fleming does deserve some commendation for at times being one of few directors to raise questions when a motion was on the table, far too often he did so in an immature, unprofessional way.

* Disclaimer: After multiple requests, Scott Fleming did not come in for an interview

Hannah LeeHannah Lee
Attendance has been a major concern for Lee. Considering she has missed ten meetings this year, gauging Lee’s performance in the boardroom is incredibly difficult. Even when she was present at meetings, Lee was very quiet and rarely expressed her opinion on matters the board is discussing.

While it should be mentioned that some of Lee’s absences were due to admirable causes such as volunteering in Haiti, it is still unfortunate to see that she was unable to commit herself to the position for which she was elected.

* Disclaimer: After multiple requests, Hannah Lee did not come in for an interview

Ryan NeufeldRyan Neufeld
Neufeld may have had good intentions at the start of his term as director, but those seemed to have faded by the end of the year, as his attention to detail and engagement in board meetings faltered. While he displayed some investment in the position near the beginning, at later meetings he displayed a lack of both interest and understanding as to what was occurring. At times he appeared too immersed in his laptop or cell phone, rather than the meetings. Although he accepted criticisms from fellow directors, there were no improvements with his performance at meetings.

Neufeld has been able to maintain engagement outside of the boardroom, as well as interact with students through a variety of extracurricular activities, although these commitments, at times, resulted in his lack of engagement with the board.

Caleb Okwubido
As a first-time director, Okwubido has said he joined the board of directors in order to make all students feel involved within WLUSU. While he did engage various groups and clubs on campus, these voices were not necessarily relayed back to the board.

While his passion for the role and responsibilities were evident, his understanding of the issues at hand was not as clear. Okwubido would have benefitted by better preparing himself for meetings by reading the agendas in full and communicating with other directors beforehand. These actions would have allowed him to fully participate in discussions at board meetings, and allow him to make better informed decisions. By communicating more with the board regarding students that he had engaged, his performance could have enhanced.

Deanna SimDeanna Sim
Although she’s one of the quieter members of the board, Sim was one of the most consistent directors this year in terms of her preparation and commitment. Having only missed four meetings this year, Sim has done well in balancing other extracurriculars such as the Model United Nations, being a research assistant and running a campus club.

While she certainly could have been more vocal during board discussions, her involvement in committee work as well as her relationship with her fellow directors outside the boardroom appeared to be effective as she has gained the respect of many other board members.

Kate StevensonKate Stevenson
Out of all the directors returning next year, Stevenson probably has the most potential. This year Stevenson clearly demonstrated her commitment to the role, especially through her work as the chair of the ownership linkage committee and her involvement in the board size commitee. She is dedicated to the role and has a deep understanding of how it can impact students.

With one year under her belt, Stevenson can bring a lot of experience to the board next year as vice-chair. However, she still needs to gain a better understanding of policy governance, a concept that she should have no problem completely grasping throughout the summer. In addition, Stevenson, especially conisdering she is going to become the vice-chair, shouldn’t be afraid to be a bit more critical during board meetings and be more open to discussion on pressing matters.

Jennifer TaborowskiJennifer Taborowski
Being one of the two directors from the Brantford campus, Taborowski seemed to have a difficult time advocating for students on the Waterloo campus. While her passion for representing Brantford students was at times needed and displayed in a productive manner it was, at other times, the only issue that she voiced opinions and concerns for. Although some efforts were made towards advocating for all students, this was a fault that could have been continually improved upon.

While she did display an adequate understanding of the discussions in the boardroom, her knowledge regarding WLUSU’s finances could have been improved upon a bit more, and she could also have spoken up during board meetings more frequently.

Jeff VincentJeff Vincent
Although Vincent is one of the quiet directors on the board, that does not mean he is not prepared for the discussions that take place. While he displays a thorough understanding of policies and governance, he only voices concerns when he deems them necessary.

Although this at times gives the impression that he is not engaged, he, unlike other directors, had an impressive attendance record — which he attributed to being able to work his class schedule around his other commitments — and displays his knowledge and experience outside the boardroom by participating in two committees, including the Student Life Levy committee. However, his performance would have benefitted greatly had he spoken up more during meetings, and engaged with the discussions at hand.

Seth WarrenSeth Warren
Warren returned to the board this year after spending a year as a director in the 2010-11 term and his experience was certainly an asset. Not only was Warren consistently one of the most prepared and engaged directors, but he was also heavily involved in several of the board’s committees. Perhaps Warren’s greatest strength was the financial background he brought to the board, which was key given the inherited debt situation WLUSU was dealing with this year.

While a co-op term in the fall did cause Warren to miss four of the semester’s meetings, he was a consistent presence at meetings both in the summer and since the start of the winter semester. He has also had no trouble balancing commitments to both the WLU senate and board of governors. Overall, Warren has become not only a very effective director but also one the rest of the board respects.

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