IGNITE ramps up promotion ahead of Special Meeting

IGNITE on Friday ramped up its promotion of a critical Special Meeting of the Members with new posters calling on students to “voice your opinion” and vote on a package of proposed bylaw amendments that would bring significant changes to the structure of the student union if passed.

Any Humber College or University of Guelph-Humber student with their post-secondary identification is allowed entry into the meeting taking place in North Campus’ Student Centre, with a live stream taking place in Lakeshore’s K Building. It starts at 11 a.m. on Jan. 22.

Photo of IGNITE poster on Jan. 17, 2020.

Beyond the new poster, encouraging students to “amplify your voice”, IGNITE has in the past week published a blog post giving “three reasons” for its members to show up to the Special Meeting, or SMOM, and posted a formal, though scarce agenda. Also, freshly printed literature was first seen on Thursday that outlined what the new structure of IGNITE would look like with hired executives.

An email went out on Friday afternoon to all students from the student union encouraging students to attend the SMOM. “IGNITE will propose policy updates to align ourselves with the Ontario Not-for-profit Corporations Act,” the email read.

At the Special Meeting, several bylaw amendments previously approved by the elected Board of Directors will come forward to the student body at-large for approval. The proposed changes include hiring executives instead of an election process and giving more unilateral power to the Board, among five other items.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act. ■

What we learned from IGNITE’s information session

ANALYSIS

The new name of the executives, the source of the proposal ending executive elections and a lot of deflected questions — this is what took place at Thursday’s information session hosted by members of IGNITE’s Board of Directors and other officials ahead of the Special Meeting of the Members.

Who was present? For the time that The Avro Post had reporters present from 12 p.m. to about 12:50 p.m., Board Chairperson Neto Naniwambote and follow North Campus Director Eden Tavares were in attendance.

Who else? Guelph-Humber Director Erika Caldwell, who hosted her own similar event last week with her counterpart, Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan and Vice President Megan Roopnarine, who also represents Guelph-Humber.

So what did we learn? Probably the biggest story here is the constant deflections or, in most cases, the lack of knowledge the directors have about their own bylaws. When a reporter and a columnist with The Post pushed the directors present on some of the questions we had, they didn’t have much to say.

When it came to the question of IGNITE not allowing a Post reporter into their September Board of Directors meeting, going against a rule in what was then in their policies, Caldwell said she would not comment on previous events.

The second up to bat when it comes to big news items are the statements from Tavares and Gavlan that revealed it was IGNITE’s lawyer who was at least part of the initiative to end executive elections and hire students instead.

Tavares specifically said the lawyer “proposed” the amendment while Gavlan stated that the idea of ending executive elections had been “on the table” for some time, without specifying how long. The Post asked several times exactly how long the concept had been considered but Gavlan only answered that with a question: “Why do you want to know?”

We learned some new and exciting things about what the executives will become. First off, they will be called “Student Engagement Coordinators”. Secondly, there will only be three of them and the way directors explained it to The Post , there will no longer be a president-like role.

Thirdly, they will be hired regardless of campus, based on merit only. For example, if the three best candidates are from Lakeshore Campus, then they will be hired.

Finally, the student engagement coordinators will be hired via a panel that Gavlan said would include a representative from the Board of Directors and a member of the administration. The hiring group would be chosen in such a way to avoid conflict-of-interest. For example, staff that have worked with an applicant that was previously a director would not be part of the panel.

A reminder: a lot of these changes actually come down to a vote by students before they are set in stone. On Jan. 22 there will be a Special Meeting of the Members that any full-time student can go to and vote. Part-time students can go but cannot vote. All that is required is a student identification.

Lawyer partially behind end of executive elections, says director

IGNITE’s Eden Tavares, an elected representative on the Board of Directors, told The Avro Post during an information session on Thursday that the proposed amendment to end executive elections in favour of a hiring process was, in part, initiated by the student union’s lawyer.

After a reporter and columnist from The Post pressed for an answer several times, Tavares revealed that IGNITE’s lawyer “proposed” the amendment included in a package that was passed by directors at a Sept. 11 meeting. The proposed change will need approval by the student body at a Special Meeting of the Members later in January.

File photo of Eden Tavares via IGNITE.

The question over the origin of the specific bylaw amendment was first asked to Leadership Initiatives Coordinator Kristine Gavlan, who said that the student union’s lawyer was “supportive” of the move but stated the idea of ending executive elections “was on the table” for some time.

When asked how long specifically the amendment was in the works, Gavlan declined to give a time-frame. The amendment ending executive elections was passed at the second meeting of the 2019-2020 term of the current Board, meaning that if the idea of hiring executives was in the works for some time, it was likely carried over from a previous year.

It is not the first time that significant changes to the student union have originated with a different administration from the one at the helm when an initiative comes to fruition. Former Vice President Jeremy Alfonso told reporters last year just before his term ended that the reason his central campaign goal of bringing back an alcohol-serving bar back to North Campus never came to fruition was because the pay-what-you-can soup bar was prioritized in a previous IGNITE administration.

Alfonso was not the only executive in IGNITE’s history to have his campaign promises shut down without at least immediate explanation to the student body. Maheen Nazim campaigned on creating an IGNITE app that would include functions such as informing users how full a parking lot was. All of the initiatives brought forward have to be approved by the Board of Directors, as they sit at the top of the student union.

Is it this issue of campaign promises getting sidelined by larger objectives set by the student union that is part of the decision to end executive elections, officials have maintained. Additionally, Gavlan confirmed that the terms for the hired executives — to renamed “student engagement coordinators” if the amendment is passed on Jan. 22 — would be two years. Caldwell said last week that the two-year term proposal was “up in the air”.

Gavlan explained the longer term length for the coordinators would aim to bring more consistency to the role they hold within the organization, which is focused on operations and carrying out the Strategic Plan as a whole and year-to-year initiatives. By installing a longer term, the students that are chosen will have the time to adjust and grow into the role, Gavlan added. Current President Monica Khosla will, by April, have served two full terms.

The most-used reasoning repeated by officials for taking the hiring route is so that the best qualified students fill the roles, instead of what they call a “popularity contest”. IGNITE joins at least two other student unions in Ontario, including the Sheridan Student Union, by taking this direction.

The revelation on Thursday that a lawyer for IGNITE played a significant role in initiating a bylaw amendment process could lend further credibility to the claim made last year by two former student officials that the priorities of paid staff or third parties could override or have a major influence on the decisions made by elected student representatives.

The amendment to end executive elections and other policy moves being made by the student union to cut off Board of Directors meetings are part of a process to move IGNITE towards a more corporate future that officials claim is in the “best interest” of students and align the organization closer with the Ontario Non-for-profits Corporations Act.

Reporting by Eli Ridder,
Christian Aguire; Files
from Joelle Awad

Factcheck: IGNITE keeps posting incomplete bylaw proposals list

FACTCHECK

IGNITE has included a summary list of the bylaw changes coming forward to the Jan. 22 Special Meeting of the Members in three separate articles published to its website, a list that actually does not include every amendment.

The list has changed form once from when it was first published in an article by Managing Editor Alena Banes in late October, but all three include these two amendments that are coming to the SMOM:

  • IGNITE will end executive elections and hire students for the president and vice president positions.
  • new classifications of students: part-time students, full-time and full-time “enhanced” — those who pay one or more of the optional student fees.

However, there are actually seven amendments coming forward for student approval or rejection on Jan. 22. Here are the other five that IGNITE only mentions on their website within the Sept. 11 Board meeting minutes:

  • give power to the Board to pass amendments without needing approval at a Special Meeting of the Members.
  • the term “president” will be used for the chairperson of the Board.
  • the execution of documents will be overseen by the executive director.
  • annual general meetings to include an updated list of required agenda items.
  • clearly defining mandatory and optional fees.

The other two articles where the smaller, incomplete list is posted can be found under “Special Meeting of the Members — January 2020” and “3 reasons to attend IGNITE’s Special Meeting of the Members this year” on the student union’s website.

Directors holding information session ahead of SMOM

IGNITE’s Board of Directors are holding an information session on Thursday afternoon at Humber College’s North Campus focused on the proposed bylaw changes coming forward to students at the Special Meeting of the Members later in January.

The directors will gather in KX203 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., the student union said on Wednesday morning. Guelph-Humber’s two directors held a similar gathering last week where they were able to answer some of the questions related to the changes, though deflected others.

IGNITE has also highlighted the Special Meeting, or SMOM, in a new post published online giving three reasons to attend: “to shape the future of IGNITE”, “to exercise your role as a student member” and to get involved and “feel empowered”.

“The SMOM will be opportunity for all students to vote on how power is allocated within the organization,” Managing Editor Alena Banes writes in a blog post on IGNITE’s website, featured near the top of its home page as of Wednesday.

“This is no small deal,” she adds.

How a November meeting finalized the end of open Board meetings

On the evening of Nov. 13, two reporters from The Avro Post peered over the edge of a railing on the second floor inside the University of Guelph-Humber’s building on North Campus, scoping out the conference room on the main floor where a Board of Directors meeting was scheduled to take place.

At least it was scheduled for the room before IGNITE took down the exact location and times for the meetings last year ahead of the fall semester’s first Board meeting in September. This was before the student union’s acting communications director told the Humber Et Cetera in December that reporters would no longer be allowed inside the meetings.

Knowing the importance of what takes place at the meetings, Post reporters were determined to at least try to find where the directors were gathering. In the end, it was unclear if the directors were in the room, and the student reporters departed soon after.

After September’s meeting minutes revealed the extent to which IGNITE planned to make significant changes to its governance structure and other aspects of how it operated, it solidified even further how critical the Board gatherings were. Officials said in October that reporters, and students at large, should not be allowed inside the meetings so that directors could speak freely and be “frank” about sensitive subject matter.

Typically, other boards across the province go “in-camera” should there need to be a section of the meeting in private. IGNITE has the same option buried in its Constitution, but it has apparently not used it in at least a year.

At an Oct. 4 press briefing, officials told reporters from the Humber Et Cetera and The Avro Post that they planned to move IGNITE in a more corporate direction, which included phasing out student attendance and only having directors at Board meetings, a move unprecedented across student unions in Ontario and beyond.

Just days later on Oct. 15, The Avro Post was cut off from asking for interviews from elected representatives and media requests, with IGNITE claiming that we had inaccurate reporting, chief among them that the student union planned to cut off students entirely from the Board meetings.

However, the November meeting minutes reveal that the directors approved a policy that says “board meetings are strictly for board members” — cementing a policy it appeared to have been using all semester, that, up until the policy was approved in November, was breaking its own bylaws.

Even then, it is unclear if the Board was allowed to unilaterally pass such a resolution without approval from members at a Special Meeting of the Members.

The Avro Post has reached out for comment from IGNITE.


What came forward on Nov. 13?

Out of the several items that were listed among the records from the November Board of Directors meeting, the most significant one was the revelation that IGNITE was working with Humber College to create a Testing Centre phone app to cut down on wait times.

The minutes state that the student union is “currently working” with the college to create an app “to cut down wait times and registration process during peak times of the year”. Though the meeting was before the end of the fall semester, test centre wait times resulted in a wave of complaints from students in December.

The initiative to cut test centre times is one of the objectives Vice President Shay Hamilton listed to The Avro Post in an interview last year, after she was hired as a replacement after her predecessor stepped down due to personal reasons. 

The project is just one of five listed as part of an “Executives Initiatives Update” given at the meeting by Executive Director Ercole Perrone on behalf of President Monica Khosla.

The update included new details on the campus-wide effort to bring a Presto machine to campus, an effort that IGNITE deemed “cost prohibitive” at the time. It was later that month when Metrolinx officials confirmed to The Avro Post that a Presto machine would be coming “early in the New Year”.

As a continuation of Khosla’s efforts to improve accessibility over two terms as president, Perrone said in his initiatives update that the student union is working to turn “last year’s accessibility themed feedback”, which included in-person focus groups and an online survey, “into an action plan for key stakeholders/departments on campus”.

A fourth initiative update was on IGNITE’s LinkedIn Local events, which aim to build up networking and improve profiles on the social media website. Though “attendance reached capacity of the venue”, not many students were physically present, according to the minutes. Perrone said that strategies to tackle the drop off in attendance will “be reviewed.”

The fifth highlight of the initiatives written into the meeting minutes brought up the free IGNITE SkillsCamp event, which was set to take place two days after the Board meeting on Nov. 15. It was a full day session that offered to teach students skills for networking and job interviews.

Shawayne Dunstan departs IGNITE’s Board of Directors

Records from November’s monthly meeting of IGNITE’s Board of Directors released on Friday revealed that Shawayne Dunstan had departed his role as a director representing Humber College’s North Campus, with the second year confirming to The Avro Post on Sunday that he left due to personal reasons and academic stress.

“S. Dunstan is no longer a member of the board in accordance with article 5.9 of the By-laws,” the Nov. 13 meeting minutes read. Bylaw 5.9 states a variety of reasons for a director to be removed, from the student dying to their academic status, so it was initially unclear what was behind Dunstan’s departure.

However, Dunstan, who will graduate from Restaurant and Hotel Operations Management in the spring, later told The Post in a statement that “a few personal circumstances that came back to back as well as the stress of school prevented me from attending the meetings and operating effectively, therefore I took a step back from the role.”

In response to a question seeking clarification, Dunstan emphasized that he left the position of his “own accord”. Dunstan, who is a published author of poetry, added: “I am thankful to have been voted in by my fellow peers and I am dedicated to being involved as much as I can throughout the school as I finish off my final semester.”

After speaking with The Post, Dunstan published a statement on his Instagram Story where he encouraged others to “make a difference” and to take inspiration from his successful campaign, saying he managed to acquire the position “without any posters and minimal promotions” and instead relied on “connecting with students”.

Dunstan was acclaimed in the 2019 IGNITE elections when four candidates ran for an equal number of seats representing North Campus on the Board of Directors. Then a first year, Dunstan claimed second place with 1,217 votes.

The second year has departed as the student union prepares to undergo major changes should students approve them at the Jan. 22 Special Meeting of the Members.

Dunstan and his former counterparts on the Board voted in September to pass a set of bylaw amendments that will end executive elections, give more unilateral power to the Board and more should students approve the items as a package at the Special Meeting, or SMOM.

IGNITE posts agenda ahead of Special Meeting

IGNITE on Friday published an agenda light on details for the upcoming Special Meeting of the Members within a post that listed just two of the seven bylaw amendments the student union will bring forward to members for final approval later this month.

Amid confusion and some backlash over the set of proposals, IGNITE said in the post that the amendments are “minor” and “will be in your best interest”. Full-time students will be able to vote on the propositions as a combined package at the Jan. 22 public meeting.

The amendment proposals include ending president and vice president elections in favour of a hiring process, giving the Board more unilateral power for future amendment approval and splitting the union’s membership into new classifications, among other items.

The Board of Directors, made up of 10 elected students from Humber College campuses and the University of Guelph-Humber, passed the amendments last year at its September meeting.

In an update posted on the student union’s website without notice at some point on Friday, IGNITE states that “change means making strategic decisions that help students like you”, adding that the policy updates are to “align with the Ontario Non-for-profit Corporations Act.”

It is the first time that IGNITE has confirmed the bylaws coming to the Special Meeting, or SMOM, outside of highlights of the amendments found in the Sept. 11 meeting minutes. However, the agenda does not include all of the amendments elected directors passed last year.

Emelia Maceášik, who ran in 2018 to be a University of Guelph-Humber senator, questioned the changes and the description IGNITE gave them in their latest post. They asked: “Are the changes for the benefit of the students, or to benefit Humber College as a corporation?”

“How exactly are any of these minor, and if there is actual backlash then IGNITE should reconsider how they are communicating with students and address our concerns in an open and accessible way,” Maceášik, a fourth year psychology student, said in comments to The Avro Post on Saturday.

The SMOM will start at 11 a.m. from the Student Centre at Humber College’s North Campus. Much like the presidential forum of the 2019 election, it appears IGNITE will also simulcast the SMOM to the Student Centre at Lakeshore Campus.

IGNITE on Friday also released meeting minutes nearly a month late for November’s Board of Directors meeting. The records reveal that IGNITE lost North Campus Director Shawayne Dunstan, without going into specifics on why.


What are the changes?

A “summary of the proposed changes” listed by IGNITE in their Friday post included:

  • the amendment to end executive elections in favour of a hiring process.
  • the amendment divide members into the three classifications of part-time members, full-time members and full-time enhanced members. The “enhanced members” would be those students who opt-in to one or more optional fee at the beginning of the semester.
  • a statement saying that the Board of Directors “will now be the face of IGNITE, rather than the executives”, which is not a formal amendment.

IGNITE did not include the other five formal amendments that were listed in the Sept. 11 meeting minutes. The directors also propose:

  • giving the Board of Directors power to unilaterally pass amendments, without approval by members to come into effect.
  • using the term “president” for the Board chairperson role.
  • the executive director, IGNITE’s top staffer, overseeing the execution of documents.
  • having an updated list of required agenda items for Annual Meetings.
  • clearly defining mandatory and optional fees.

The agenda is posed on the student union’s homepage. Featured right below it as of Saturday is an Oct. 29 blog post that gives further explanation for ending the executive elections, a proposal that first came to light at an Oct. 4 press briefing.

It is unclear why IGNITE did not include all of the proposed changes in its post, or why the bylaw amendments were not included in the agenda itself. Student unions across Canada usually disclose more details ahead of member meetings.

IGNITE breaks bylaws again by not releasing SMOM agenda

IGNITE broke its own bylaws when it did not release an agenda for the Jan. 22 Special Meeting of the Members at any point on Wednesday, with a pair of directors seemingly unaware of the rules.

It marks only the latest incident of Humber College’s student union ignoring their own rules listed inside documents posted to its Governance webpage.

Bylaw 4.4 of the Constitution states that the “time, place and subject matter” of a SMOM must be posted “not less than” 10 business days ahead of the meeting.

The only information available as of now is the date, which is only known because officials told the Humber Et Cetera in an interview late last year.

When reporters from The Avro Post asked a pair of directors on Wednesday if they would release the required details in accordance with their bylaws, they did not know the answer.

IGNITE has broken their own bylaws several times since the start of the current academic year by deleting the exact times and locations of Board of Directors meetings and not allowing journalists inside the gatherings.

When pushed to respond to the rule-breaking, Guelph-Humber Directors Erika Caldwell and Julia Ciampa appeared unaware of the bylaws and deflected questions from Post reporters.

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