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PGSS Council Adopts Secretary-General’s Proposal

Proposal and Motion Aims to Lessen Executive and Commissioner Burnout

The Post-Graduate Students’ Society ( PGSS) council meeting on May 17 approved a motion to treat as a priority a proposal to restructure the executive and commissioner roles. The proposal, created by the 2022-2023 Secretary-General Kristi Kouchakji, was originally presented at a general meeting in March. In spite of the impact of the motion on the future of PGSS governance, the council meeting got off to a slow start.  It took 24 minutes past the scheduled start time to achieve quorum. Once the meeting began, the council was unable to fill six vacant seats on the PGSS Appointments Board, as only one councillor volunteered. Despite the lack of any competition, the lottery process used to determine the three seats continued as planned with only one name in the hat. Although council members are encouraged to bring motions to be considered at council meetings, all motions presented that evening were brought by executives or commissioners.  

Attendees discussed a motion called “Motion to Establish Remedies for Structural Portfolio Issues as a Priority for 2023-2024” which includes Kouchakji’s aforementioned proposal. It calls for the executives and commissioners of the upcoming year to prioritize this proposal, which outlines some suggested changes to the portfolios of executives and commissioners. The resolutions in the motion compel the executive-commissioner caucus to develop a workplan and provide updates to the council on the implementation of the proposal. Kouchakji noted during the meeting that the proposal is simply meant as a starting point in a larger conversation. 

The current composition of the executive and commissioner caucus is six executives and nine commissioners. The proposal replaces these positions with six executives with slightly varying titles or duties from previous executives, one deputy, and seven commissioners. If the proposal was implemented as written, the Secretary-General position would be renamed to an Internal Governance Officer and would have a larger focus on inward facing tasks. In her defence of the motion, Kouchakji argued that the Secretary-General juggles too many roles: being a spokesperson, administrative coordinator, and governance officer. Other executive and commissioner roles would be slightly adapted, in name, responsibilities, and seats on committees. Kouchakji described some of these changes as “little tweaks which makes roles more legible for people who might want to run for them.”

Also in the proposal is that the executive position of the Financial Affairs Officer would be dissolved and replaced by a Fees and Grants Deputy. The concept of a deputy role was justified by Kouchakji as a middle ground between the 12-hour work week of an executive and the 4-hour work week of a commissioner – a compromise which has been shot down in the past, according to her. The proposal gives no recommendation as to whether this position be elected or appointed, but it does acknowledge that this issue warrants later resolution.

In a letter to the Daily, Kouchakji said that “we’re stuck in a structurally enforced situation of inequitable work distribution, inequitable compensation, burnout, and frustration”. These concerns are also found in the proposal’s claims of areas it intends to improve. The motion accompanying the proposal contains 19 whereas clauses, and it establishes a context of unbalanced executive and commissioner portfolios. One whereas clause states that some roles demand more hours than those calculated in determining the annual salary. Another clause states that “a significant amount of work is not undertaken as it does not appear to be understood as necessary by the individuals in the roles.” It is unclear why these individuals are purposefully forgoing responsibilities without the direction of the council. 

“We’re stuck in a structurally enforced situation of inequitable work distribution, inequitable compensation, burnout, and frustration”

Kristi Kouchakji

The 2022-2023 university Affairs Officer Houssein Poorhemati asked Kouchakj if she had spoken to the executive team about her proposal. She replied that she had not, as the executive team is answerable to the council. In a letter to the Daily, Kouchakji acknowledged that she did not involve her colleagues due to not wanting to “put anyone in a potential conflict of interest situation” and added that, “I did take into account their comments during mid-year reviews and at Council to help identify less-obvious stumbling blocks to addressing our structural issues and help shape potential solutions.” To write the proposal, Kouchakji also looked back on her notes from mid-year reviews and considered other proposals that she had made over her year as Secretary-General. 

The resolutions of the motion were split between how to implement the proposal and who will oversee its implementation. One confusion that arises is who will undertake the work of the proposal implementation. The proposal itself assigns responsibility to the Policy and Advisory Committee. Meanwhile, the 16th whereas clause cites councillors, members at-large, the Governance Committee, or the Policy and Structure Advisory Committee as candidates for implementing the proposal. This is followed by the clause which notes that the two committees are “often not seen as a priority for recruiting members to serve”. It is then suggested, in the following clauses, that executives and commissioners take on these responsibilities, effectively removing councillors and members-at-large from the decisions about internal structure. 

Poorhemati pointed out during the council meeting that while a whereas clause in the motion states “the outcome of [the general meeting] discussion was a generally favourable disposition among members towards the proposed changes,” one could equally argue that there was a generally unfavourable disposition among members. To this, Kouchakji replied that whereas clauses are typically not debated.

The motion passed with 20 votes for, 7 abstentions, and 2 against, despite the motion prompting mostly critical debate. That being said, it was the only motion of the evening to not be passed unanimously. Koulchakji’s term as Secretary-General has just ended, and as of now, there is no replacement. PGSS is currently undergoing its second by-election for the Secretary-General position. Koulchakji stated in the council meeting that the council needs to have a significant degree of participation in the execution of the proposal, but in her motion she predicts the need for executives and commissioners to take on the majority of the work. 

Without the explicit support of the rest of the executive team, it is unclear whether Koulchakji’s proposal will amend some of the current PGSS governance issues. It is also unclear who will conduct that work, and how they will ensure a council-centered decision making process. 

If regular members are interested in learning more about the meeting, the PGSS Bylaws mandate that the minutes of council meetings be available upon request.