It’s that time of year again. There are posters all over Saint Mary’s, of faces unfamiliar to most of the student body. This year’s SMUSA election is finally in full swing. Most of the poster’s lining the walls and bulletin boards belong to candidates running for positions on the Board of Directors (BOD). If the volume of these posters is indicative of anything, it is that this election is important. There are 11 candidates running for 7 positions on the Board. There usually aren’t that many positions open at one time, as those elected are expected to serve as a board member for 2 years. However, some of the members elected last year are graduating this year—call it short-sightedness, perhaps an unawareness of the required service term, but we will have a mostly new board for the 2018/2019 academic year.
“The Board of Directors is the highest governing body of the Association”, according to the SMUSA website. The job of the board is to establish policy and serve as a monitoring and evaluation system to ensure that the president of SMUSA is held accountable. Overall, the board’s role is to ensure that the best interests of the student body are met through a variety of policies. Other responsibilities include approving SMUSA budgets and salaries.
The Board’s focus on policy is quintessential to the governance model of SMUSA. It gives them the power to direct the policy that SMUSA pursues; the responsibility to execute policy falls under the domain of the president. No individual board member has the power to decree policy and any policy prescription requires 2/3 of the Board’s vote to proceed. Furthermore, the Board’s power is as a unit, no individual Board member has the power to enact change by themselves.
According to current Board member, Lindsay Garwe “[the board] is not an almighty superpower, we can’t just wave a wand and change policy by the next day.” The BOD uses a Policy governance model, which is a theory of governance that focuses on creating a policy for: 1) end goals (ie. Improving student wellbeing) 2) limiting the power of the president 3) classifying how the Board operates 4) identifying how governance is linked to the president. Essentially, the Board operates within the realm of policy, not operation. As Garwe describes it, “Noses in, hands out.” If students want to have microwaves in the library, that is not within the Board’s authority or jurisdiction to address. That responsibility falls under the domain and responsibility of the President and accompanying Vice Presidents.
The misconceptions about the power and role of the Board were evident throughout the Board of Directors forum that took place on February 13th. This has also been the case in previous elections. There was no shortage of candidates expressing desires to pursue specific actions, often falling into the sphere of operations. On several occasions, the moderator had to remind the candidates that the Board operated strictly at the policy level.
In all fairness, understanding the function and operation of the Board requires a knowledge of the policy governance model. Furthermore, the BOD policy governance is a 40-page document on the SMUSA website full of technical and legal language. Unless one is well versed in legal syntax, fully comprehending the board’s policy governance document is a lofty expectation. However, there is still the expectation that candidates running for such an influential position will possess basic knowledge and understanding of how the Board functions. There was a distinct lack of understanding showcased throughout the forum, so much so, that the moderator had to re-ask and re-frame questions directed at the candidates. Additionally, for a governing body that deals almost exclusively with policy, there was very little policy talk from the candidates themselves.
Fortunately, all newly elected board members undergo a learning period with SMUSA. They are given comprehensive walk-throughs of the legal language in the Board’s policy document and taught about their roles. Most Board members never realize the full scope of their role until they have undergone said training. Nevertheless, the training period does not excuse current and future candidates from researching and grasping the most basic functions of the Board.
This election is important. Seven of those candidates will oversee policy that will affect future students. It is paramount that those elected will exhibit overall competence, understanding and knowledge of their role on the board. Policy is a different arena, and as the Board’s Governance Policy emphasizes, they are focused “solely on the future and not the past or present.”
When asked what characteristics Saint Mary’s students should focus on during the election, Lindsay insisted that students should “vote for someone that is competent, voices their opinion and stands their ground.” Electing directors to the board should not be an exercise in popularity, rather it should ensure that the wellbeing of current and future students is in safe and competent hands.
Sometimes our friends don’t make the best leaders or policymakers. Vote wisely.
Simone Mutabazi, Section Editor