The Annual General Meeting of the Students’ Union, which was hosted at the University Theatre on November 24, 2023, was one of the most eventful ones yet, with students raising many questions about various issues related to accessibility, finances, and representation.

 As soon as the meeting started, a student pointed out that the AGM was not being hosted on Zoom, even though it was mentioned in the agenda, and criticized the SUO for not making the meeting more accessible. 

This was followed by another student adding an item to the agenda asking the SUO to pen a letter to UBC and the Board of Governors to direct the UBC Endowment Fund to divest from nine companies contributing to the development of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Many students walked up to the microphone to support this motion, expressing dissatisfaction over the use of their money to fund this flagrant violation of international law. A Palestinian International Student said,

“I am absolutely in support of this motion. As a Palestinian international student here, if you are still on the fence, some of my tuition money — tuition I’ve been paying for the last four years — is being invested in companies that are responsible for killing people who have the same last names as I do, and so it is really important that we take a stand on this.”

In response to this, Cade, the current President of the SUO, expressed his support for the motion and said he would even pen a letter within three days. The motion was passed with overwhelming support, with applause and cheers from the audience.

A change in the bylaw was also proposed, which aimed to make it mandatory for the audited financial statements to be released by the SUO at least two weeks before the AGM. This, however, could not be adopted because of no prior notice. The Chair said that adopting the new item would be in violation of the Societies Act, and the Executives said they would hold a special meeting to vote on the proposed bylaw change. Another suggestion that needed to be brought up in a special meeting instead is the appointment of an International Students Representative to make sure the voice of the community is heard.

The SUO proposed 3 bylaw changes. One of which was adding the General Manager as a non-voting advisory member on the Executive Committee, which led to a lot of discussion about the power dynamics of a permanent member influencing the decisions of members voted in. There were questions raised about the pay of the General Manager. The Directors said that even though the wage expenditure was public, they were apprehensive about revealing the salary of specific positions because of privacy concerns. Eventually, an amendment was proposed to add a Graduate Studies Representative to the committee, in addition to the General Manager, to ensure the welfare of graduate students. This amendment was passed by a majority. The other two bylaws — adding two weeks to the time when students can submit petitions, and removing the oversight of the Pantry as a presidential duty (now that the SUO has a Food Security Manager) — were passed without much discussion. 

Next came an auditor’s report, with the auditor mentioning that having audited multiple student unions and charities, he could say that the SUO’s reports were sound and done very well compared to the rest. Then, there was a presentation by Vice-President Finance, Osho Gnanasivam, explaining the budget. Students praised him for making the presentation accessible and easy to understand. Questions were raised about the cut in the budget for the Resource Centres, with a student emotionally saying that the Pride Resource Centre is a safe space for many students, and that the SUO should consider allocating money to these important resources instead of fun one-off events. Osho replied by saying that the delay in the opening of resource centres was not due to a budget cut, but because of a lack of students willing to take up those positions. He pointed out that the allocated budget for these centres went largely unused in previous years. Another student asked if it was possible to allocate more insurance money to access mental health resources instead of less important things, like massages. Osho replied by explaining the structure of insurance, saying that insurance companies, at the end of the day, are businesses. He explained that they allocate their budget in bundles, and you can control the proportion of allocation only to a certain extent. He added that the SUO is always looking for ways to control these proportions so students can get maximum benefits without sudden fluctuations in premiums, and that the student could contact StudentCare personally to discuss the options. 

There were questions about why the SUO Executives get paid. Osho said that he agreed with the sentiment, saying that in Singapore, where he is from, student union positions aren’t paid, and the elections still have over 60% of the student population voting. Cade expressed a different side, saying that they were paid below minimum wage considering the number of hours they worked. He said it was important to provide an honorarium to students as an incentive for students to run for these positions and take up time-consuming responsibilities.

Finally, there were short presentations by the VP External, VP Campus Life, the Graduate Studies Representative, the President of the Oversight Committee, and the VP Internal. A student questioned the selection process of artists performing at Frosh, concerned by the abuse allegations against one of them this year. The Executives replied by saying UBC does the vetting process, and promised to be more diligent going forward from their side.

In conclusion, the student participation at this year’s Annual General Meeting was one of, if not the, highest ever. It is amazing to see students involved, informed, and passionate about student governance. The effort put into taking a stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land was heartwarming to see. Despite some shortcomings on the SUO’s part, the Executives answered all questions in an informed and responsible way, and seemed keen to implement all student suggestions. This year’s AGM sets an excellent precedent for what future AGMs should look like.