Ben here—back with another update on the WUSA governance review.
Quite a lot happened in the first week of February. I think it’s worthwhile looking back on the past few months to see how we got here.
What’s the governance review, again?
In 2020, WUSA Students’ Council and the Board of Directors approved the 2020-2025 Strategic & Long-Range Plan. Among other things, it identified as a priority the review of our governance practices to address barriers to democratic participation in the organization. Our 2021-2022 Annual Plan built upon this priority by committing to retain the advice of an external consultant to “conduct a holistic review of our governance structure”.
You might wonder what problems this review is meant to solve. Over the past several years, we have noticed some governance issues which inhibit students’ effective control over WUSA, including an increasing complexity of process, a lack of clarity of responsibility between Students’ Council and the Board, a ‘scope creep’ of these bodies, and chronic burnout of student executives who are placed in the middle of this system without the support to succeed.
WUSA is a sizeable organization—with 35,000 members, 50 full-time and hundreds of part-time staff, a $7 million operating budget, and more than $30 million in society transfers and administered programs like the UPass. We should take a step back and ask how students can best control a non-profit corporation like this.
Read more: WUSA Governance Review – November 2021
Student leaders are excellent advocates for the students that they represent. However, due to annual turnover and other factors, they are ill-equipped as administrators. WUSA needs a governance system which leverages the things that student leaders do best. Right now, we fail at this task—being forced to deal with esoteric questions of bureaucracy limits our ability to set the strategic direction of the organization to the needs of our members. One could argue that the status quo wastes student talent each year.
Enter the governance consultants. In Fall 2021, they conducted a series of focus group interviews with governance volunteers, executives, full-time staff, and alumni. By November 2021, the Board of Directors and Students’ Council had received the report, which you can read here. In brief, it is recommended that Students’ Council and the Board of Directors be merged into a single governing body elected annually by undergraduates.
When asked to decide on a timeline to implement the proposed governance model, Students’ Council suggested extending the governing year into the Spring 2022 term. This extension would give more time to draft new bylaws to be approved at the Annual General Meeting, scheduled for March 29, 2022. Accordingly, WUSA’s lawyers drafted an amending bylaw to allow the postponement of elections for a finite period. By the end of December 2021, both Students’ Council and the Board had approved this amending bylaw, then it was sent to a Special General Meeting for ratification by WUSA’s members.
Special General Meeting: bylaw amendments & election rescheduling
On February 1, WUSA convened the Special General Meeting. Two decisions were taken: first, the ratification of bylaw amendments to allow the Board, on the advice of Students’ Council, to postpone the 2022 general election to a date not later than September 1, 2022; second, the approval of a bylaw amendment to reduce General Meeting quorum from 200 to 100 members.
As a result of the Special General Meeting, we have more time to consider a new set of bylaws in line with the recommended governance model. Additionally, we may delay our general election to the Spring 2022 term, after new bylaws have been ratified. This brings us to this past weekend.
February Meeting of Students’ Council: first reading of draft bylaws & next steps
On February 6, Students’ Council held a first reading for a new set of bylaws. Legal counsel and the governance consultants were present to answer councilors’ questions on the draft document. Some important modifications to the consultants’ model were suggested, like guaranteeing faculty representation on the new governing body, ensuring students will directly elect the officers of WUSA (i.e., the president and vice president), and proposing a name for the new body—WUSA Council.
For the next steps, our lawyers are revising the draft bylaws and writing a memo to answer councilors’ questions. We aim to hold a second reading and approval vote at a Special Meeting of Council in the first week of March. Following this and subsequent approval by the Board of Directors, we will once again send the new bylaws to the Annual General Meeting for ratification.
Aside from bylaw approvals, Students’ Council has asked how the new governance system will affect WUSA advocacy both on and off-campus. The executive team is working with full-time staff to prepare a transition plan in this area, and we will update Students’ Council on this work when we hold a second reading. Advocacy is WUSA’s fundamental reason to exist—it is vitally important to keep this in mind as we work to build a better student association.
Thanks for reading. As always, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I’m always happy to talk about governance.
WUSA President (2021-2022)