IGNITE revealed in a press briefing on Friday morning that it aims to take a new direction towards a more corporate organization, with Executive Director Ercole Perrone saying they eventually plan to completely cut off students from Board of Directors meetings.
The student union ignited controversy earlier in the semester when, for the first time in recent history, IGNITE denied a student journalist entry to a Board of Directors meeting, a 10-member decision-making body elected by those enrolled at Humber College campuses and the University of Guelph-Humber.
The student union posted new rules during that Sept. 11 Board meeting, saying that under the Ontario Corporations Act, “only the directors of IGNITE have the right” to attend the meetings and that special permission would be needed from the executive director to be able to enter.
Perrone clarified that currently students who do not identify as journalists are allowed into the Board meetings if the members of the Board agree. He added that the IGNITE website needs to be updated to reflect this current policy.
Because of the sensitive information that the Board often handles, such as academic concerns, the student union does not want journalists reporting the often frank discussions that take place.
The Special Meeting of the Members was recently listed as “to be determined” on the IGNITE Governance page but officials said Friday that it has been moved to January so that there is more time to prepare the by-laws for approval by the membership.
The Special Meeting, normally held in the fall and originally scheduled for Oct. 16, will be open to all full-time students on campus, regardless of whether they opted in or not.
Also revealed at the briefing was that IGNITE executives moving forward will be hired by the student union instead of being elected. Officials explained that it was part of an effort to highlight the Board of Directors as the highest body of governance within the organization.
These incoming changes, among others, will be making its way through the student union’s approval process previous to coming before the members in January, where students will have a chance to either vote in favour of or deny the updated by-laws.
However, officials said that they would be making a renewed push for transparency in the form of monthly briefings for student journalists, much like the one that took place on Friday morning, and open a request form for press inquires.
Beyond Perrone, Board Chair Neto Naniwambote, President Monica Khosla and Acting Communications Director Unika Hypolite was present. Alena Banes, IGNITE’s managing editor, arrived a few minutes into the briefing.
Student response to the changes were mixed. First year journalism student Anthony Giordano said the proposed by-law changes were “unfair” to student journalism.
“I believe it’s only fair that students have the right to be able to find out about these things,” he added, in opposition to the incoming changes to the Board of Directors that will make the meetings completely private.
The press briefing was held in KX207 above the Student Centre, where chairs were set up in a circle-like fashion. Journalists were able to ask questions of IGNITE officials that were related to the planned by-laws changes.
Several reporters, including two from The Avro Post, repeatedly asked questions regarding the decision to close off the Board meetings and how it was made. As members of a non-share capital corporation Board, the directors would have voted to have meetings in-camera, or privately, without allowing students in.
The questions, however, were deflected by officials, who asked that the conversation remained focused around the by-laws specifically and not topics outside of that line of discussion. It is still unconfirmed at this time if the unprecedented decision to cut off journalists from the Board meetings was passed in a vote by directors or made by IGNITE staff.
Due to the more casual nature of the meeting, student journalists were encouraged not to take notes and have more of a conversation about the future of IGNITE. Out of respect for the open conversation between officials and reporters, no audio recording was made of the meeting, and thus, few direct quotes were captured by The Avro Post.
However, there were significant changes introduced and proposed by IGNITE officials for future communication with the student press.
Officials outlined two new ways that reporters would be able to access the student union: a request form on the IGNITE website and potentially monthly press briefings. Just recently, the former communications co-ordinator Peter Seney left the position and a hire is set to start following Thanksgiving weekend.
Acting Communications Director Unika Hypolite told reporters that he plans to have the interview request form, which was put back up on the website on Friday, have a 48 hour response time over two business days for when media requests are submitted.
Hypolite recognized that reporters have deadlines that need to be met for publishing, especially with the publications such as the Et Cetera, Humber News or GH360 that are tied to programs and grades.
Perrone added that, beyond these efforts working to improve communications with the student press, it is also IGNITE facilitating the academics of students it represents.